Mayor of Mariupol Vadym Boichenko said around 200 people were waiting to evacuate from the besieged Ukrainian city on Thursday but no buses had arrived as of mid-afternoon. He said a small convoy of buses had evacuated people from Mariupol on Wednesday and was now headed for the city of Zaporhizhia which is under Ukrainian control, reported news agency Reuters.
He added that there was no possibility to evacuate civilians from Azovstal plant, where Ukrainian troops are holding out.
The Ukrainian foreign ministry, meanwhile, called for a humanitarian corridor to be opened immediately to allow civilians and wounded fighters to be evacuated from the Azovstal plant holding out against Russian forces.
“Hundreds of civilians, children, injured Ukrainian defenders are trapped in plant’s shelters. They have almost no food, water, essential medicine. An urgent humanitarian corridor is needed from the Azovstal plant with guarantees people will be safe,” the ministry said in a statement on social media.
Earlier on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the “liberation” of Mariupol after nearly two months of fighting, but signalled he would forgo a final bloody offensive against beleaguered Ukrainian defenders there.
Putin, however, ordered his forces not to storm Mariupol but instead to block it “so that not even a fly comes through.”
His defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said the rest of the city beyond the sprawling Azovstal steel plant where Ukrainian forces were holed has been “liberated” – as Russian officials refer to areas of Ukraine they have seized. Putin hailed that as a “success.”
While the West remains nervous about igniting a direct conflict with nuclear-armed Russia, US President Joe Biden said he was “amazed” by Ukrainian resistance since the invasion began on February 24.
The Pentagon had said Ukraine was receiving fighter planes to bolster its air force — but it later said only aircraft parts had been delivered.
Meanwhile, in morgues around Kyiv, the bodies of some 1,020 civilians are being stored after Russian troops withdrew from the region, Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna told news agency AFP.