The Ukrainian government on Thursday sent 45 buses to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol, in the southeast of the country, after Russia announced a truce, Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said.
“We have been informed by the International Committee of the Red Cross that Russia is willing to open access for humanitarian convoys from Mariupol to Zaporizhizha,” Vereshchuk said in a video released by Telegram.
“We sent 45 buses to the Mariupol corridor,” he added.
Seventeen buses have already traveled to Mariupol from Zaporizhzhia, which is 220 kilometers away, Vereshchuk said. The remaining 28 are awaiting permission to pass through a Russian checkpoint in the town of Vasylivka, near Zaporizhzhia.
“We will do everything possible for buses to enter Mariupol and remove those that remain in the city,” Verechchuk said.
So far, civilians have only been able to leave Mariupol with their own vehicles, a high-risk trip because the agreements for the departure of residents have not been respected.
Mariupol, a strategic port on the Sea of Azov, has been surrounded and under heavy bombardment by Russian forces since late February.
People who managed to get out of the city and NGOs described terrible conditions, with civilians entrenched in basements without water, food or communication, and with bodies strewn across the streets that no one bury because of the bombing.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced a “regime of silence”, that is, a local ceasefire, starting at 10 am on Thursday (04:00 GMT) in Mariupol to allow the evacuation of civilians.
On the diplomatic front, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu said Russian diplomacy chief Sergei Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba could meet within “a week or two”.
“A high-level meeting, at least among the ministers, could take place within a week or two,” Cavusoglu said. He explained that “it is impossible to anticipate a closing”, but that Turkey is willing to receive the meeting “as a sincere mediator”.
“The most important thing is that the parties come together and agree on a lasting ceasefire… It is impossible to negotiate under the pressure of weapons,” he said.
Commenting on the attempted evacuation of civilians from Mariupol, an operation in which Turkey established an association with France and Greece, the minister said his government had proposed opening “two humanitarian corridors, for Russia and Ukraine”.
“No one should pressure civilians to choose one corridor or another. Everyone should be able to go where they want,” he said.
In the economic area, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) released projections of a 10% contraction for Russia this year, and 20% for Ukraine, as a result of the war and the sanctions imposed against Moscow.
Before the war, the EBRD estimated GDP growth of 3.5% for Ukraine and 3% for Russia in 2022.