Ukrainian commander calls for international evacuation effort at Mariupol plant as situation ‘critical’
The Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday claiming that Russian forces had opened an evacuation corridor around the besieged Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, a claim denied by a Ukrainian police official there.
“In view of the catastrophic situation that has developed at the Azovstal Metallurgical Plant in the city of Mariupol, and also guided by purely human principles, from 2:00 p.m. (2:00 p.m. Moscow time) on April 19, 2022 , the Russian Armed Forces have opened a humanitarian corridor for the withdrawal of Ukrainian military personnel who have voluntarily laid down their arms and militants from nationalist formations,” the statement read. “To this end, a ‘mode of ceasefire -fire” was introduced, all hostilities were stopped, Russian armed forces and Donetsk People’s Republic formations along the entire Azovstal perimeter were withdrawn to a safe distance.”
The statement also reiterated a call for Ukrainian forces to surrender. “Realizing that commanders of Ukrainian units might not receive such orders and commands from Kyiv authorities, we urge them to take the decision on their own and lay down their arms,” he said.
Mariupol patrol police chief Myhailo Vershynin called the Russian conditions “unacceptable” of the Ukrainian forces standing in the factory.
“No one will accept them,” he said. “Exits, corridors, etc., they have already announced it a thousand times.”
Vershynin said the factory in Azovstal, where Ukrainian defenders are resisting and civilians are sheltering, was hit by “super powerful bombs. And it will continue.”
A video of women and children, allegedly sheltering in the basement of the Azovstal factory in the besieged Ukrainian port of Mariupol, emerged on social media on Monday evening. Vershynin said the Russians had allowed some civilians to leave, but others were reluctant to leave the city through escape routes leading into Russian-held territory.
“Those who remained in [Azovstal] shelters are people who categorically do not want to go to DPR [the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic]they want to go to Ukraine,” Vershynin said.
“That’s why we ask: organize a corridor, the safety of civilians must be guaranteed. The Russians believe that is wrong. It’s not false. It’s a real video filmed in the shelters of the factory. shelters from the constant shelling. We filmed in a shelter that we could reach. And there are hundreds of these people all over the country. They [the Russians] declare humanitarian corridors, a ceasefire. They say, get out, surrender, get the civilians out of here. The civilians who wanted to leave left. Those who stayed will not go to the Russians. That is why we are asking for a humanitarian corridor on the Ukrainian side,” Vershynin said.
Russia says evacuation corridors will be open on Wednesday: Later Tuesday evening, the Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying it was offering Ukrainian forces surrounded in the besieged city of Mariupol a ceasefire effective Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. Moscow time (7:00 a.m. ET), saying that Ukrainian forces had failed to take advantage of a previous offer to withdraw and lay down their arms.
The Russian statement said that the Russian armed forces and the separatist formations of the Donetsk People’s Republic will at that time cease combat operations around the entire perimeter of the besieged Azovstal steel plant and withdraw to a safe distance .
CNN’s Josh Pennington contributed reporting for this post.