Soon after Russia and Ukraine announced on Saturday that citizens in the besieged city of Mariupol would temporarily be allowed to evacuate through a humanitarian corridor, reports emerged of Russia blocking the routes.
Early Saturday, the Mariupol City Council said on its Telegram channel that Russian forces â€” which are over a week into an all-out assault on Ukraine â€” would reduce operations for five hours to allow civilians to flee. The Russian defense ministry also confirmed its plans in a separate statement.
A similar arrangement was established in the nearby town of Volnovakha, a senior Ukrainian official confirmed.
However, within hours, the city of Mariupol said that Russian forces were continuing the shelling, and it told its residents to stay home.
â€œUnfortunately, when we were already ready, the regular army of the Russian Federation began shelling along the corridor,â€ the city said on social media. â€œThis does not give us a sense of security â€¦ Negotiations are underway now. As soon as we â€¦ will receive a security guarantee, we will additionally announce this.â€
Mariupol and Volnovakha have been two of the hardest-hit cities during Russiaâ€™s offensive, bearing the brunt of Moscowâ€™s attempts to gain strategic sites in southeast Ukraine.
The development comes as Russian and Ukrainian delegations prepare to meet Saturday for a third round of talks amid the intensifying conflict, which has seen Russian forces bomb residential areas. Two prior rounds of talks failed to produce any substantial progress toward a ceasefire, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown no sign of backing down.
The planned talks follow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyyâ€™s urgent call to NATO Friday to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine â€” a step NATO has ruled out for fear that it could bring the military alliance into direct confrontation with Russia.
â€œAll the people who die from this day forward will also die because of [NATO], because of your weakness, because of your lack of unity,â€ he said.
This story has been updated.