Russia announces ceasefire for civilians at Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol

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Russian forces (AP)
Russian forces (AP)

Russia has announced a ceasefire around the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and claims it will allow civilians to evacuate.

Vladimir Putin’s troops will “unilaterally stop any hostilities, withdraw units to a safe distance and ensure the withdrawal of civilians” from 2pm Moscow time on Monday, they said.

The Russian defence ministry said civilians can leave “in any direction they have chosen”, adding that the Ukrainian side should show “readiness” to start the humanitarian evacuations “by raising white flags”.

According to the ministry, this information will be communicated to those inside Azovstal “via radio channels” every 30 minutes.

About 1,000 troops and as many civilians, including the elderly, women and children, are believed to be sheltered in the labyrinthine tunnel network beneath the steelworks.

Russian troops were said to be attempting to storm the plant on Sunday, backed up by aerial and artillery bombardment.

Kyiv had called for a truce for Orthodox Easter, celebrated in both Russia and Ukraine, and asked for special talks to help free those trapped in the steelworks.

President Vladimir Putin had reportedly ordered his defence minister on Thursday to block off the vast Azovstal complex “so not even a fly can get through” rather than try to storm it.

Shocking footage released online shows women and children sheltering underground in the Azovstal plant.

Some of them have been hiding in the plant’s tunnels for as long as two months, according to reports.

About 100,000 civilians still live in the ruined remains of Mariupol, which is now largely under Russian control after weeks of relentless fighting. Many of them are relying on humanitarian aid to survive.

Mariupol’s capture would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, free up Russian troops to fight elsewhere and allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to the Crimea, which was seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Ukrainian authorities estimate that more than 20,000 civilians have been killed in the city.

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