Russian forces have blocked scores of buses sent to evacuate people from Mariupol – and seized 12 lorries full of humanitarian supplies for the besieged city, Ukraine says.
Ukrainian authorities hope more residents can be evacuated today after Russia agreed to open a humanitarian corridor on Friday, although several previous deals have collapsed amid mutual recriminations.
And despite efforts to help people flee the city on Thursday, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said only 631 were able to get out in private cars.
She said the 45 buses sent to evacuate people were stopped late on Thursday by Russian forces outside Berdyansk, about 46 miles to the west.
“Tomorrow we will continue trying to push through a humanitarian corridor to Mariupol so as not to leave our people on their own,” she said in an online post.
• US President Joe Biden announced the release of a record 180 million barrels of oil to cool crude prices that have increased due to the war
• Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine are due to resume today. There has been little progress so far
• The Russian defence ministry said it would open a humanitarian corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia today, but Ukraine says this has not happened
• Russia’s President Vladimir Putin ordered 134,500 new conscripts into the army, although the defence ministry says this has nothing to do with the war and is, instead, part of its spring draft
• Ukraine’s defence ministry said Russian forces killed 148 children during shelling and airstrikes since the invasion started in late February, although those numbers cannot be verified
While Russian troops are building up outside Mariupol, Kyiv says Ukrainian forces are still holding the city – a gateway to the Black Sea which links a strategic corridor between Donbas and the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula.
Petro Andryushchenkom, an aide to the city’s mayor, said Russian forces had been preventing even the smallest amount of humanitarian supplies reaching trapped residents and that the planned humanitarian corridor had not been opened.
“The city remains closed to entry and very dangerous to exit with personal transport,” he said on the Telegram messaging app.
“In addition, since yesterday the occupiers have categorically not allowed any humanitarian aid – even in small quantities – into the city.”
Russian forces are also building up near the southern city of Mariupol, which has been targeted relentlessly over the past few weeks.
The city’s mayor said some 5,000 people have been killed there, with an estimated 170,000 people still trapped and struggling without food, water, or electricity.
Tens of thousands have been trapped there for weeks with scant food, water and other supplies in the city that was once home to 400,000 people but has been devastated by bombardment.
Reports emerged on Friday morning that Ukrainian helicopters had destroyed a fuel depot in Belgorod – in what would be the first airstrike by Kyiv’s forces on Russian territory since the conflict began.
Regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said the aircraft crossed the border at low altitude and that the resulting blaze injured two workers.
He added that some areas in the city were being evacuated following the attack.
Footage posted online of a fire at the depot in Belgorod has been geolocated by Sky News.
A Ukrainian official told Germany’s Bild newspaper they did “not have this information” when asked about the incident.
It came as British defence officials said Moscow was redeploying forces to Ukraine from Russian-backed breakaway regions in Georgia.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence said between 1,200 and 2,000 of these Russian troops were being organised into three battalion tactical groups.
“It is highly unlikely that Russia planned to generate reinforcement in this manner, and it is indicative of the unexpected losses it has sustained during the invasion.”
The MoD also said Ukrainian forces had retaken the villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka to the south of Chernihiv and located along one of the main supply routes between the city and Kyiv.
It reported Ukraine had continued to make successful but limited counter attacks to the east and north east of Kyiv – which has continued to face bombardment, along with Chernihiv, despite Moscow claiming to have reduced activity in both cities.
But Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia was instead moving towards a renewed push in the southeastern Donbas region.
He described the situation in the region – parts of which are controlled by Russian-backed separatists – as “extremely difficult”, adding that there are “battles ahead”.
Mr Zelenskyy said: “We know that (Russian troops) are moving away from the areas where we are beating them to focus on others that are very important – on those where it can be difficult for us.”
Russia has said it will concentrate on “liberating” Donbas, adding that the winding down of operations near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv is to increase “mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations”.
Also late on Thursday, Ukraine’s state nuclear energy company Energoatom said Russian forces have left the Chernobyl plant.
The site of the world’s worst nuclear accident was taken by the Russians near the beginning of the war but, according to one employee at the site, the troops had been unaware of the danger still posed by radiation there.
Energoatom said the soldiers had received “significant doses of radiation” after digging trenches and other fortifications in the forest around the plant.
Signs of illness “showed up very quickly”, Energoatom said, adding that this had prompted the soldiers to “panic” and head for Ukraine’s border with Belarus.
Workers told Reuters news agency that a convoy had driven through the forest around the plant without radiation gear, which they described as “suicidal”.