Ceasefires in two Ukrainian cities halted amid reports of shelling

Plans to remove civilians from Mariupol and Volnovakha scrapped after Ukrainian authorities accused Russian troops of continuing attacks

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Russian-declared ceasefires to allow the removal of civilians from two Ukrainian cities quickly fell apart on Saturday as Ukraine officials reported shelling hours after the suspension of hostilities was supposed to begin.

Russia's defence ministry said on Saturday morning that it had agreed with Ukrainian forces on evacuation routes for Mariupol, a strategic port in the south-east, and the eastern city of Volnovakha.

The agreement came days after Russian and Ukrainian delegations agreed on establishing humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to flee violence that has engulfed the country since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to enter the neighbouring country on February 24. More than one million civilians have fled Ukraine so far and at least 300 have been killed in the fighting, the UN has said.

The ceasefire announcement did not make clear how long the evacuation routes would remain open. A city official in Mariupol said the removal of people was supposed to start at 11am and the ceasefire was to last until 4pm.

“The Russian side is not holding to the ceasefire and has continued firing on Mariupol itself and its surrounding area,” said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office. “Talks with the Russian Federation are ongoing regarding setting up a ceasefire and ensuring a safe humanitarian corridor.”

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russia breached the deal in Volnovakha as well. “We appeal to the Russian side to stop firing,” she said.

Russia's defence ministry claimed that the firing came from inside both cities against Russian positions, the RIA Novosti agency reported.

The ceasefires were announced as the mayor of Mariupol said the city was under blockade by Russian troops who cut off electricity, water, heating and food supplies.

Russian forces have faced stiff resistance in Ukraine, while President Zelenskyy has been rallying global support for his country.

Mr Zelenskyy on Friday accused Nato of “weakness” after the western military alliance ruled out imposing a no-fly zone.

Ukraine requested the move to halt Russian bombing as Moscow’s forces advance on the capital Kyiv and other major cities.

"Knowing that new strikes and casualties are inevitable, Nato deliberately decided not to close the sky over Ukraine," Mr Zelenskyy said in a video published by the presidency.

"We believe that the Nato countries themselves have created a narrative that the closing of the skies over Ukraine would provoke direct Russian aggression against Nato."

Speaking after an urgent meeting in Brussels on Friday, Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would not intervene in the conflict over fears of a direct clash with Moscow that could spiral into a wider conflict.

"The only way to implement a no-fly zone is to send Nato fighter planes into Ukraine's airspace, and then impose that no-fly zone by shooting down Russian planes," Mr Stoltenberg said. "If we did that, we'll end up with something that could end in a full-fledged war in Europe, involving many more countries and causing much more human suffering."

Mr Zelenskyy said the Nato gathering was a "weak summit, a confused summit".

"All the people who die starting today will also die because of you. Because of your weakness, because of your disconnection," he said.

"Today the leadership of the alliance gave the green light for further bombing of Ukrainian cities and villages, refusing to make a no-fly zone."

Mr Zelenskyy was scheduled to speak to the US Senate on Saturday morning.

Diplomatic efforts continued as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Poland to meet the prime minister and foreign minister, a day after attending the Nato meeting in Brussels. He was scheduled to visit a border post to meet refugees later in the day.

Ukraine’s western allies have responded to Moscow's attack with hard-hitting sanctions aimed at Russian financial institutions, businesses and oligarchs considered close to the Kremlin, while also supplying direct military aid. International pressure for the crisis to be resolved through dialogue have yielded two meetings between the two sides, with another round expected this weekend.

Russian forces have so far taken two key cities in 10 days — Berdiansk and Kherson on Ukraine's southern Black Sea coast. They also seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant on Friday, triggering global alarm when a fire broke out at the plant during the attack.

Diplomats at the UN said the Security Council plans to hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

They told AFP a public session would be followed by a closed-door meeting of the council’s 15 members to discuss a possible draft resolution.

The latter meeting was proposed by Mexico and France, which are pushing a draft that calls for an end to hostilities in Ukraine, unhindered flow of humanitarian aid and protection of civilians.

But it has run into obstacles, namely a warning from the US that it will not support such a draft unless it states explicitly that Russia has caused the humanitarian crisis, a diplomat said.

Updated: March 05, 2022, 2:48 PM
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