Ukraine called off its attempt to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol after accusing Russia of violating a ceasefire and attacking the escape route for hundreds of thousands of beleaguered civilians.
On Saturday morning, Russian officials announced they had reached agreement with the Ukrainian authorities on a temporary ceasefire in Mariupol and another town besieged by Russian forces, Volnovakha, so that civilians could be evacuated.
The struggle to enforce the ceasefire however, worsened conditions in the city, which has borne the brunt of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.
The barrage knocked out Mariupol’s power supply, disabled mobile connections and left many people who had taken cover in bomb shelters without heat or electricity.
Vadym Boichenko, Mariupol’s mayor, told Ukrainian TV that thousands of people had gathered for safe passage and buses had been departing when the Russian shelling resumed. “We value the life of every inhabitant of Mariupol and we can’t risk it, so we stopped the evacuation,” he said.
The 10-day war has targeted some of Ukraine’s largest population centres and driven 1.2mn people to flee their homes. International aid organisations warned that Ukraine could face a humanitarian disaster as food, water and medicine run short in the worst-affected areas.
The UN said 351 civilians have been confirmed killed, although the true number was probably much higher.
But most Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv and second city Kharkiv, remain under government control.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said that “safe passage operations from Mariupol and Volnovakha will not start today”. It said it was ready to help facilitate the evacuation of civilians “once the parties have reached an agreement”.