Russia’s defence ministry has announced a ceasefire to allow residents of two besieged cities, Mariupol and Volnovakha, to evacuate.
“Today, March 5, from 10 am Moscow time, the Russian side declares a regime of silence and opens humanitarian corridors for the exit of civilians from Mariupol and Volnovakha,” the ministry said.
There is no immediate confirmation from Ukrainian forces, and it is not immediately clear how long the evacuation routes would remain open.
However, a top official in Mariupol said the ceasefire there is to last until 4 p.m. (14:00 GMT).
Russia’s RIA news agency cited city authorities saying civilians will be allowed to leave Mariupol, Ukraine between 12:00-17:00 Moscow time (9:00 GMT) on Saturday.
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko was quoted as saying “there is no other solution” but to allow residents to leave the city safely, “given that our hometown is constantly under ruthless fire from the occupiers”.
“This is not an easy decision, but, as I have always said, Mariupol is not its streets or houses. Mariupol is its population, it is you and me,” Boychenko was quoted as saying in a statement.
Both countries had earlier agreed on the need for humanitarian corridors to deliver aid and help civilians exit besieged Ukrainian cities, in the first apparent sign of progress in talks between the warring sides.
Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky reported “substantial progress” at Thursday’s talks – the second round of negotiations since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
He said the “main issue that we settled today is the salvation of people, civilians who have found themselves in a zone of military clashes.”
Additionally, Mariupol city council said in a statement that civilians will be able to proceed towards the city of Zaporizhzhia and will be able to use specially arranged bus routes as well as their own cars.
“A huge request to all drivers leaving the city, to contribute as much as possible to the evacuation of the civilian population – take people with you, fill vehicles as much as possible,” the statement, posted on social media, noted.
The announcement said the evacuation would last over several days to allow the entirety of the civilian population to exit the city.
In the statement, city officials told residents leaving in private vehicles that it was “strictly prohibited” to go off course from the evacuation routes.
Russia commenced attacking Ukraine about a week ago in what President Vladimir Putin said was a ‘special military operation.’
Over one million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, the United Nations said, warning that “at this rate” the exodus could become “the biggest refugee crisis this century.”