More than 430,000 people trapped in the port city of Mariupol by encircling Russian forces are nervously preparing to evacuate after a ceasefire was announced, a day after a similar plan fell apart amid accusations that Moscow had failed to respect the agreement.
Local authorities in the south-eastern Ukrainian city said an evacuation supervised by the Red Cross would begin at noon local time (10am GMT) during a nine-hour cessation in Russian attacks.
Attempts to get residents out of the city failed on Saturday after Ukrainian authorities claimed the Russians reneged on an agreement to stop their shelling. The city council was forced to tell residents to return to shelters in the city.
The head of the military in the Russian-controlled territory Donetsk in eastern Ukraine said safe-passage corridors for residents in the besieged city of Volnovakha would also reopen Sunday. He did not say for how long nor whether a ceasefire would accompany that evacuation.
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Olha Stefanishyna, said she did not trust Russia’s word but hoped that the Red Cross would step up to secure the safety of Ukrainian citizens.
She said: “Hopefully, today we will manage to make the evacuation based on the agreement reached bilaterally between officials both on Ukrainian and Russian sides.”
Stefanishyna added that Ukraine “knows the Russian playbook by heart” and that agreements with the Kremlin could not be guaranteed, with continued shelling overnight of hospitals, nurseries, schools and civilian homes.
“This is how the reality looks, but it seems like … it does not look like [it is on] the agenda for the new wave of sanctions to be introduced by the democratic world,” she said.
The British deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, also voiced his concern about the trustworthiness of the Russian assurances. “We need to be very careful for testing assurances that Vladimir Putin gives,” he said.
Sunday’s evacuations were announced along with a third round of talks between Russia and Ukraine due to start on Monday at an undisclosed location.
A no-fly zone has been ruled out by Nato due to the inevitability of direct conflict with Russian forces. But Joe Biden’s administration is working with Poland’s government on a deal to provide Ukraine with Polish fighter jets.
Under the tentative agreement, Ukraine would receive Russian-made warplanes from Warsaw, which would in turn be provided with replacement F-16s by the US. Ukrainian fighter pilots are trained to operate the Russian planes.
In an address to Ukraine on Saturday night, Zelenskiy, urged citizens in cities taken over by the Russian forces to resist and spoke of his frustration at the failure of the west to come to the country’s aid.
He said: “It is a special kind of heroism – to protest when your city is occupied. Ukrainians in all of our cities that the enemy has entered, go on the offensive! You should take to the streets! You should fight!”
Stefanishyna, speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, echoed her president’s frustration at the lack of military support.
She said: “My president was as precise as it is possible [to be] and we absolutely support from the bottom of his, of our, hearts everything he says because this is what we feel.
“It is very upsetting when the group of 30 leaders or ministers or even ambassadors are … gathering itself in a fancy cabinet, with the fancy furniture, and talking about the fancy thing, knowing that Ukraine was over this table for all of [these] years sitting in this fancy offices.
“But now knowing that we can’t be there because we are operating under the bombarding of [the] Russian Federation and knowing that their intelligence also confirms that further severe attacks on the civil population – including carpet bombarding of the cities, which are basically happening these days already in some cities – will be taking place.”