First convoy of civilians escapes besieged Mariupol

More than 160 private cars manage to leave the Ukrainian city, the first evacuation in two weeks of Russian bombardment.

A man walks past a building damaged by shelling in Mira Avenue (Avenue of Peace) in Mariupol, Ukraine
A man walks past a building damaged by shelling in Mariupol [Evgeniy Maloletka/AP Photo]

More than 160 private cars have left the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, local authorities have said, in what would be the first successful evacuation since the city was encircled by Russian troops more than two weeks ago.

“It is known that as of 13:00 [11:00 GMT] more than 160 private cars managed to leave from Mariupol,” the city council said Monday on its official Telegram channel, adding that the convoy has already passed the town of Berdyansk and was on the move towards Zaporizhzhia.

The council also said that a “regime of silence” was being observed in the established humanitarian corridor.

The city has been subject to relentless bombardment since Russian troops surrounded it on March 2. Since then, the roughly 400,000 people who remain in Mariupol have been left with dwindling access to water, food and medicine. Heat, phone services – and electricity in many areas – have been cut.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned on Sunday that residents of the city faced the “worst-case scenario” unless Moscow and Kyiv agreed to allow access to humanitarian aid.

Explosion in an apartment building in Mariupol
Russian missiles have hit residential buildings in Mariupol [Evgeniy Maloletka/AP]

Previous attempts to establish evacuation corridors to allow civilians to escape the city, and to allow humanitarian aid to enter, have fallen apart as earlier ceasefires collapsed.

The two parties have traded the blame for such failures, with Ukrainian authorities accusing Russia of deliberately opening fire on aid convoys heading towards Mariupol. Russia has blamed Kyiv for sabotaging ceasefire agreements and holding civilians hostages.

On Monday, Mikhail Mizintsev of the Russian Ministry of Defence said that 450 tonnes of medicines, food and essential supplies have been brought to the city after Russia “eliminated the neo-Nazis’ main forces entrenched in the city’s perimeter residential areas,” he said, according to state media news agency TASS.

Moscow has repeatedly justified its offensive in Ukraine, saying that it was conducting a “special military operation” attacking military targets to “de-nazify” the country. Ukraine and its Western allies have said this is a baseless pretext to invade the country.

Ukrainian authorities ave said as many as 2,500 civilians have died so far in the city, a toll that cannot be independently confirmed. Russia has denied targeting civilians.

A pregnant woman, who became a symbol of Ukraine’s suffering when she was photographed being carried from a bombed maternity hospital in Mariupol last week, has died along with her baby, The Associated Press reported on Monday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies