In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Russian forces began shelling the humanitarian corridor from Zaporizhzhya to Mariupol according to Ukraine’s foreign ministry. It is the fourth day in a row that Ukraine has accused Russia of firing on civilian evacuation routes.
These routes lead from besieged eastern Ukrainian cities, such as Sumy, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Mariupol to western Ukraine and neighboring countries. In what the United Nations has called the one of the fastest exoduses of our time, more than 2 million Ukrainians, half of them children, have fled their homes to neighboring countries since February 24th.
The hundreds of thousands of Ukranians who remain in its besieged cities lack access to power, heat, medicine, and water, while facing a Ukrainian winter and regular bombardment - a humanitarian crisis worsening by the day.
On March 5th, three hours after Moscow and Ukraine brokered a ceasefire in the southern cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha - to allow people to flee these cities - Mariupol’s city council suspended evacuation efforts, citing Russian forces shelling of the city. Britain has accused Russia’s proposed ceasefire in the city as an attempt to deflect international condemnation while giving itself a chance to reset its forces. Russia claims Ukrainian ‘nationalists’ are preventing citizens from leaving.
The breaking of the brokered ceasefires not only jeopardizes escape routes out of Ukraine’s battered cities, but also prevents delivery of basic necessities such as food and medicine to the remaining people in them.
The people of Mariupol have been without running water, electricity, and heat since the siege began on March 2nd when Russian forces surrounded the city. The 200,000 - 300,000 people remaining in the city face acute water shortages. Zelenskyy has said that a six year old girl died from dehydration in the ruins of her Mariupol home.
"Civilians in Mariupol have been trapped in a parched and freezing cold nightmare without electricity for the last six days, living under the constant threat of Russian bombardments," said Jonathan Pedneault, crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Russian along with Ukrainian forces need to take the necessary steps to allow civilians to safely leave the city and ensure the basic needs are met for civilians who remain."
The latest planned evacuation from Mariupol - a fleet of vehicles ready to deliver aid to the city and carry to western Ukraine - could not start Tuesday morning according to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk because of the ongoing violence. "Our humanitarian cargo is heading to Mariupol, and we are counting on the commitments made by Russia, that they are ready to adhere to the ceasefire. There are now signals that Russia is shelling the direction of the humanitarian convoy."