Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for failing to provide safe passage for civilians fleeing two towns besieged and shelled by Russian forces, on the 10th day of a war that has fueled Europe’s biggest humanitarian disaster in decades .
The war, which began with the invasion of Russia on February 24, sent nearly 1.5 million refugees fleeing west into the European Union and prompted unprecedented international sanctions against Russia and warnings of a global recession.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its units had opened humanitarian corridors near the towns of Mariupol and Volnovakha, which were surrounded by its troops.
But in Mariupol, the city council said Russia was not respecting the ceasefire and asked residents to return to shelters and wait for further information.
The Russian Defense Ministry has accused Ukrainian “nationalists” of preventing civilians from leaving.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it understood that the relocation of civilians from Mariupol and Volnovakha would not begin on Saturday due to the conflict.
“We remain in dialogue with the parties on the safe passage of civilians from the various towns affected by the conflict,” the ICRC said.
“The scenes in Mariupol and other cities today are heartbreaking. Any initiative by the parties that gives civilians respite from the violence and allows them to voluntarily move to safer areas is welcome.”
The southeastern port has come under heavy shelling, a sign of its strategic value to Russia due to its position between separatist-held eastern Ukraine and the Black Sea Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
“Last night the shelling was harder and closer together,” said a staff member from Médecins sans frontières/Médecins sans frontières.
There was still no electricity, water, heating or cell phone, and food was scarce.
The Ukrainian government said the plan was to let around 200,000 people leave Mariupol and 15,000 leave Volnovakha.
Only 17 people left Mariupol on Saturday and no one left Volnovakha, Tass said citing pro-Russian separatists.
Despite limited ceasefire plans, the Russian Defense Ministry said a broad offensive would continue in Ukraine, where it denies targeting civilians or invading, calling its actions a “special military operation “.
Russian forces were carrying out strikes on military infrastructure and forces in separatist-held Donetsk were tightening the encirclement of Mariupol, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe across the country.
The number of refugees could reach 1.5 million by the end of the weekend from the current 1.3 million, the head of the UN refugee agency said on Saturday.
Women and small children walked through the Medyka checkpoint in southeastern Poland in freezing conditions.
A man crossing in the other direction shouted to the crowd that the men must return to Ukraine and fight.
A woman, struggling to carry half a dozen bags, cried when snacks she had prepared for her and her young son, who was holding a green dinosaur toy, fell to the ground.
She gave the boy a bag to carry as they walked slowly.
President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade has been condemned around the world.
Ukrainian authorities have reported thousands of dead and injured civilians.
Russia says its goal is to disarm its neighbor, counter what it sees as NATO aggression and capture leaders it calls neo-Nazis.
On Saturday, he accused the United States and its allies of acting like a bandit and threatened to retaliate without giving details.
“As you understand, there must be a corresponding response to economic banditry,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
The conflict has also rattled international diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program, one of the few areas where Russia and the United States have worked together to curb what the United States suspects is an Iranian development plan. nuclear weapons.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that new sanctions imposed on his country had become a stumbling block to reaching a nuclear deal with Iran.
A senior Iranian official told Reuters the Russian position was not helpful.
Ukraine says Russian forces have focused their efforts on encircling Kiev and Kharkiv while aiming to establish a land bridge to Crimea.
Australian Associated Press