LVIV, Ukraine — (AP) — What looked like a groundbreaking ceasefire to evacuate residents of two Ukrainian towns quickly crumbled on Saturday as Ukrainian officials said continued shelling had halted work to evacuate civilians a few hours after the announcement of the agreement by Russia.
The Russian Defense Ministry said earlier that it had agreed evacuation routes with Ukrainian forces for Mariupol, a strategic port in the southeast, and the eastern city of Volnovakha. The vaguely worded statement did not specify how long the roads would remain open.
“The Russian side does not respect the ceasefire and continues to fire on Mariupol itself and its surroundings,” said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office. “Talks with the Russian Federation are ongoing regarding the establishment of a ceasefire and the guarantee of a safe humanitarian corridor.
Russia also violated the agreement in Volnovakha, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told reporters. “We call on the Russian side to stop shooting,” she said. Meanwhile, Russian media RIA Novosti published a claim by the Russian Defense Ministry that the fire came from inside the two cities against Russian positions.
The struggle to enforce the ceasefire showed the fragility of efforts to stop fighting across Ukraine as people continued to flee the country on the 10th day after Russian forces invaded the country.
“We are doing everything we can to make the deal work,” Zelenskyy said. “That’s one of the main tasks for today. Let’s see if we can go further in the negotiation process.”
Mariupol had become the scene of growing misery in recent days amid an onslaught that cut electricity and most telephone services and raised the prospect of food and water shortages for hundreds of thousands of people in freezing weather. Pharmacies are running out of medicines, Doctors Without Borders said.
A senior Mariupol official said the evacuations were to start at 11:00 a.m. (09:00 GMT) and the ceasefire was to last until 4:00 p.m. (1400 GMT). Pavlo Kirilenko, the head of Donetsk’s military-civilian administration which includes the city, said the humanitarian corridor would stretch to Zaporizhzhia, 226 kilometers (140 miles).
In comments broadcast on Ukrainian television, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said thousands had gathered to get out of the city safely and that the buses had just left when the shelling began.
“We value the life of every Mariupol resident and we cannot risk it, so we have stopped the evacuation,” he said.
Before Russia announced the limited ceasefire, Ukraine had urged Moscow to create humanitarian corridors to allow children, women and the elderly to flee the fighting, calling it “issue No. “.
Diplomatic efforts continued when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Poland to meet with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, a day after attending a NATO meeting in Brussels where the he alliance pledged to strengthen its support for members of the eastern flank. Blinken would go to a border post to meet refugees later in the day.
As Russian forces batter strategic locations elsewhere, Zelenskyy lambasted NATO for refusing to impose a no-fly zone on his country, warning that “everyone who dies from this day forward will also die from from you”.
NATO has said a no-fly zone could cause all-out war in Europe with nuclear-armed Russia. But as the United States and other NATO members send arms for Kiev and more than a million refugees pour into the continent, the conflict is already spreading to countries far beyond the borders of Ukraine.
Russia continues to crack down on independent media reporting on the war, also blocking Facebook and Twitter, and more outlets say they are suspending their work inside the country.
And in a warning of a coming hunger crisis, the United Nations World Food Program said millions of people in Ukraine, a major global supplier of wheat, will need food aid “immediately”.
Ukraine’s president was due to brief U.S. senators on Saturday via video conference as Congress considers a request for $10 billion in emergency funding for humanitarian assistance and security needs.
In a bitter and moving speech on Friday evening, Zelenskyy criticized NATO for the lack of a no-fly zone, warning that “Europe’s history will remember it forever”.
A no-fly zone would prevent unauthorized aircraft from flying over Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ruled out this possibility. “The only way to implement a no-fly zone is to send NATO fighter jets into Ukrainian airspace and then enforce this no-fly zone by shooting down Russian planes,” did he declare.
In a separate video message to anti-war protesters in several European cities, Zelenskyy appealed for help. “If we fall, you will fall,” he said.
The UN Security Council has scheduled a public meeting on Monday on the worsening humanitarian situation. The United Nations estimates that 12 million people in Ukraine and 4 million fleeing to neighboring countries in the coming months will need humanitarian assistance.
Russia’s Friday attack on Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, caused global alarm, but Russian forces have made no significant progress in their offensive to cut off access to the Ukraine to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, which would deal a severe blow to the country’s economy.
A large Russian armored column threatening the Ukrainian capital remained stuck outside Kiev, but the Russian military launched hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks on towns and other sites across the country.
As homes in the northern town of Chernihiv burned due to what residents described as Russian shelling, one resident accused Europe of simply watching. “We wanted to join NATO and the EU and that’s the price we pay, and NATO can’t protect us,” she said.
At least 331 civilians have been killed since the fighting began, but the real number is likely much higher, the UN human rights office said.
Kiev’s central train station remained crowded with people desperate to join the more than 1.4 million people who have fled Ukraine. “People just want to live,” said one woman, Ksenia.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.