ICRC says it was forced to turn a ‘safe passage convoy’ around after failing to reach trapped civilians as fighting intensifies in the southern city.
A Red Cross convoy traveling to the besieged Ukrainian port of Mariupol turned around because it had become impossible to proceed with its mission to evacuate civilians, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
The Red Cross team of three cars carrying nine staff members aimed to lead a convoy of about 54 Ukrainian buses and a number of private vehicles out of the besieged city, where up to 170,000 people are without power and have limited food, according to the mayor.
“They will try again on Saturday to facilitate the safe passage of civilians from Mariupol,” the ICRC said in a statement. The convoy returned to Zaporizhzhia northwest of the southern port “after arrangements and conditions made it impossible to proceed”.
Mariupol has been encircled since the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24. A previous attempt by the Red Cross to reach it in early March failed because the route was found to be unsafe.
An ICRC spokesperson earlier on Friday stressed the operation had been approved by both Ukraine and Russia, but major details were still being worked out such as the exact timing and destination, which would be an undetermined location in Ukraine.
“Piecing together this safe passage convoy has been and remains extremely complex,” ICRC spokesperson Ewan Watson said.
After announcing Friday’s mission had been unsuccessful, the ICRC renewed its appeal for all parties to respect the agreements before the next attempt and provide “the necessary conditions and security guarantees”.
‘Time running out’
Much of the strategic city’s urban landscape has now been reduced to rubble.
“We are running out of adjectives to describe the horrors that residents in Mariupol have suffered. The situation is horrendous and deteriorating,” said Watson. “It’s now a humanitarian imperative that people be allowed to leave and aid supplies be allowed in.”
However, the ICRC said it had not received permission to bring aid into Mariupol on Friday to help civilians still surviving in the city.
The organisation had two trucks filled with food, medicine and relief items but they remained behind in Zaporizhzhia.
“Time is running out for the people of Mariupol. They are desperately in need of assistance,” said Watson.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Ukraine president’s office, said in an online post that 4,128 people had left the besieged city of Mariupol. On Friday, he said 9,145 people had managed to leave cities across the country during the day.