The Russian defence ministry on Monday announced a ceasefire around Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine’s Mariupol city to allow evacuation of civilians from the area.
Issuing a statement on Monday, the defence ministry said, “From 14:00 Moscow time (1100 GMT) on April 25, 2022, will unilaterally stop any hostilities, withdraw units to a safe distance and ensure the withdrawal of civilians,” adding those stranded will be taken in any direction that they have chosen, news agency AFP reported.
The ministry also said that Kyiv should show readiness to begin the evacuation efforts by raising white flags at the steel plant. This information will be communicated to those inside Azovstal “via radio channels” every half hour, it further said.
The Azovstal steel plant is currently the last stronghold of Ukraine’s resistance since the beginning of the war on February 24.
The announcement of the ceasefire comes a day after the Ukrainian military said that Russian forces attempted to storm the plant, despite President Vladimir Putin’s earlier statement that the complex need not be taken.
“We are taking casualties, the situation is critical… we have very many wounded men, (some) are dying, it’s a difficult (situation) with guns, ammunition, food, medicines… the situation is rapidly worsening,” Serhiy Volyna, commander of Ukraine’s 36th Marine brigade forces in Mariupol, who is at the plant, said in an interview to an opposition lawmaker on Sunday.
On Friday, Russia had said Ukrainian fighters and foreign mercenaries were securely blockaded at Azovstal. Mariupol is currently one of the worst-affected regions by the Russian offensive in Ukraine.
On Saturday, fresh evacuation efforts in the city were “thwarted” by Russian forces, after Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk had said that there would be another attempt to shift women, children and the elderly.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a telephonic discussion regarding the prevailing situation in Mariupol.
Taking to Twitter, Zelensky said he “stressed the need for the immediate evacuation of civilians from Mariupol, including Azovstal, and immediate exchange of blocked troops,” in his discussion with Erdogan.
(With agency inputs)