Russia said Saturday it was observing a temporary cease-fire in the key Ukrainian port city Mariupol, which it has besieged for days, to allow the creation of humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians.
The cease-fire went into effect at 2 a.m. E.T. and will cover both Mariupol and the smaller nearby city Volnovakha, Russia’s ministry of defense said.
Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on Twitter that the evacuation corridors were being prepared and that a cease-fire was in effect in those areas. Mariupol’s city council said evacuations would begin at 4 a.m. ET and last until the end of the cease-fire at 9 a.m. ET.
The move comes after a second round of talks between the two countries earlier this week produced an agreement on the issue, though no progress on a broader cease-fire or end to Moscow’s attack on its democratic neighbor.
Latest developments on Ukraine:
- Russia announces limited cease-fire to let civilians leave two besieged Ukrainian cities.
- Zelenskyy accuses NATO of giving Russia “green light” to continue shelling Ukraine.
- United Nations says at least 1,006 civilian casualties, including 331 dead, in Ukraine since Russian invasion began.
- The Kremlin cracks down on dissent at home, limiting media and blocking Facebook.
For days Russia has encircled and bombarded Mariupol, a large southeastern city on the Azov Sea, hitting critical infrastructure leaving it without water, heat or electricity.
The strategically important city has remained in Ukrainian hands, but the city council accused Russia of creating a “humanitarian catastrophe” and hindering the supply of food.
Russian forces have made key gains in the south in recent days, seizing control of the city of Kherson, further along the coast, and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant after an attack that sparked a fire and brief fears of nuclear meltdown.
Though Ukraine has maintained control of Mariupol, Kharkiv and Sumy in the northeast and Chernihiv in the north, it is “highly likely” that those four cities have been encircled by Russian forces, according to Britain’s defense ministry.
But its progress has come with an aerial assault on civilian areas across Ukraine, leading to a growing humanitarian crisis that has seen more than a million people flee the country while others have been left to shelter in their basements or local metro stations.
Since Russia invaded Feb. 24, there have been 1,006 civilian casualties, including at least 331 civilian deaths and 19 children, the United Nations human rights office said Friday — but noted the “real toll is much higher.”
Russia has consistently denied targeting civilians.
Zelenskyy is expected to hold a video-conference call with U.S. senators and some House members on Saturday morning, according to multiple sources and a notice from the bipartisan Ukraine Caucus on Capitol Hill.
In an emotional appeal early Saturday local time, Zelenskyy criticized NATO for rejecting a no-fly zone, arguing the decision was giving Russia a “green light” to continue shelling Ukraine.
He called on the military alliance of 30 nations, including the U.S., to ban all unauthorized planes from flying over Ukraine.
U.S. and other officials have rejected that, saying it could lead to direct confrontation with the Russian military and risk an escalation to a wider war in Europe.
Russia’s attack has been condemned by nations across the world.
The U.S., European Union and other countries have imposed crippling sanctions that have sent Russia’s economy spiraling. Some of the sanctions have been against Russian President Vladimir Putin directly, a rare move.
Putin last week ordered his nuclear deterrent forces to be on alert, which one arms control observer called unprecedented in the post-Cold War era. He has also cracked down on dissent at home, including new restrictions on foreign and independent media.