A convoy of 160 cars was allowed to escape Mariupol on Monday, the first time a humanitarian corridor was successfully used to let civilians flee the city which has been encircled and besieged by Russian forces, and become a grim symbol of Ukraine’s suffering during the 19-day war.
The convoy was allowed to leave amid reports of horrifying conditions in the Black Sea port city, where desperate residents are running out of food and medicines, and forced to drink water from radiators.
Monday’s column of cars followed 10 days of failed attempts to rescue people who have been under relentless bombardment. It was a small glimmer of hope but hundreds of thousands are thought to still be trapped in the city and as many as 2,500 residents are thought to have died.
“At one o’clock, the Russians opened a checkpoint and those who have cars and fuel began to leave Mariupol in the direction of Zaporizhzhia,” Andrei Rempel, of Mariupol city council.
“In the first two hours, 160 cars left. There are probably already many more now. The city continues to be bombed but this road is not being shelled. We don’t know when the first cars can get to Zaporizhzhia as there are still many Russian checkpoints that need to be passed.”
But Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a senior aide to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, later said Russia had yet again blocked a humanitarian aid convoy trying to reach the city with supplies.
Obtaining safe passage for aid to reach Mariupol and civilians to get out has been Kyiv’s main demand at several rounds of peace talks, the fourth round of which took place on Monday. All previous attempts at a local ceasefire in the area have failed.
“The city is encircled and civilians today cannot make it out,” said Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He said the situation for the city’s besieged civilians was “nothing short of a nightmare”.
Also on Monday, it was also reported that a pregnant woman whose picture was shown across the world, sparking global outrage after she was photographed being carried from a bombed maternity hospital in Mariupol last week had died.
Timur Marin, who treated the woman, said her pelvis had been crushed and her hip detached during the airstrike on the hospital where she was meant to give birth.
Medics said she shouted “kill me now” when she realised she was losing her baby. A surgeon confirmed both the child and mother had died over the weekend.
Drone video footage released by Ukrainian forces in Mariupol showed a desolate wasteland of bombed-out buildings, many in flames, with smoke pouring into the sky.
Elsewhere, Russia continued its assaults on other cities.
Kyiv was hit by heavy artillery strikes fired by Russian forces as they continued their gradual push towards the capital.
A nine-storey apartment building was struck, killing one person, according to Ukrainian emergency services. Further strikes took place during the day.
Ukrainian television footage showed firefighters clambering through rubble and into what was left of a smouldering apartment block in Kyiv’s Obolon district.
One resident, Maksim Korovii, said he had hidden in a closet after being woken by his mother.
“We thought that we were being captured, that the Russians were getting in through the door. But we were wrong. We got out from the apartment and saw that the staircase was not there any more, everything was on fire,” he said, before escaping with a guitar.
“We managed to put on whatever clothes we had at hand and made our way from balcony to balcony and in the end we climbed down by the next building’s entrance.”
The attacks on the capital came as peace talks resumed via videoconference. Ukrainian presidential adviser and negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that a fourth round of talks had begun, though it was unclear if there were any grounds for optimism.
“Communication is being held yet it’s hard. The reason for the discord is too different political systems,” Mr Podolyak tweeted.
Ukraine was seeking a ceasefire, immediate withdrawal of Russian troops, and security guarantees after previous talks ended with a focus on humanitarian corridors and ceasefires.
Talks will resume on Tuesday.
Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky posted on social media that Russia was sticking to its key objectives: “We’re aiming to do everything possible for the achievement of the goals set by Vladimir Putin, for Russia’s peaceful future.”
Russia says it is conducting a “special operation” to demilitarise and “deNazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of aggression.
Elsewhere, air strikes were reported in the southern city of Mykolaiv and the northern city of Chernihiv. Explosions also rang out overnight around the Russian-occupied Black Sea port of Kherson.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s grid operator says a high-voltage power line to the Chernobyl nuclear plant had been damaged by Russian forces, hours after electricity supplies were restored to the facility. There were also reports that Russian forces blew up explosives at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
In Moscow, Russia denied it has asked China for help with military equipment, despite claims from the US.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russia could take full control of major Ukrainian cities without any help or military assistance from China.
“Russia possesses its own independent potential to continue the operation,” Mr Peskov said. “As we said, it is going according to plan and will be completed on time and in full.”
China also denied the claim.
More than 2.8 million people have now crossed into Poland and other neighbouring countries in what the UN refugee agency has called Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.
France said that EU member states had agreed on a fourth package of sanctions against Russia.
Details were not officially disclosed, but diplomatic sources said they would include an import ban on Russian steel and iron, an export ban on luxury goods, and a ban on investment in the energy sector. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and 14 others would be added to the EU blacklist.
Additional reporting by agencies
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