The Russian Ministry of Defense issued a statement Tuesday claiming that Russian forces had opened an evacuation corridor around the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, a claim dismissed by a Ukrainian police official on the scene.
“Given the catastrophic situation that has developed at the Azovstal metallurgical plant in the city of Mariupol, and also guided by purely humane principles, from 14:00 (2:00 p.m. Moscow time) on April 19, 2022, the Russian Armed Forces opened a humanitarian corridor for the withdrawal of Ukrainian military personnel who voluntarily laid down their arms and militants of nationalist formations,” the statement read. “For this purpose, a ‘ceasefire mode’ has been introduced, any hostilities have been stopped, units of the Russian Armed Forces and the formations of the Donetsk People’s Republic along the entire perimeter of Azovstal have been withdrawn to a safe distance.”
The statement also repeated a call for Ukrainian forces to surrender. “Realizing that the commanders of Ukrainian units may not receive such orders and commands from Kyiv authorities, we urge them to make the decision on their own and lay down their arms,” it said.
Myhailo Vershynin, chief of the Mariupol Patrol Police, called the Russian conditions “unacceptable” the Ukrainian forces holding out in the plant.
“No one will agree to them,” he said. “Exits, corridors, etc., they have already announced this a thousand times.”
Vershynin said the Azovstal plant, where Ukrainian defenders are holding out and civilians are sheltering, was being hit with “super-powerful bombs. And this will continue.”
Video of women and children, purportedly sheltering in the basement of the Azovstal plant in the besieged Ukrainian port of Mariupol, emerged Monday evening on social media. Vershynin said the Russians had allowed some civilians to leave, but others were reluctant to exit the city via evacuation routes that led into Russian-controlled territory.
“Those who remained in [Azovstal] shelters are people who categorically do not want to go to the DPR [the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic], they want to go to Ukraine,” Vershynin said.
“That is why we are requesting: Organise a corridor, the safety of the civilians must be guaranteed. The Russians believe it’s fake. It’s not fake. This is a real video filmed in the shelters of the plant. We cannot go to all the shelters due to constant shelling. We have filmed in a shelter that we could reach. And there are hundreds of such people all over the territory. They [the Russians] are declaring humanitarian corridors, a ceasefire. They say, come out, surrender, get the civilians out of here. Those civilians who wanted to leave, have left. Those who stayed they will not go to the Russians. That is why we are asking for a humanitarian corridor to Ukrainian side,” Vershynin said.
Russia claims evacuation corridors will be opened Wednesday: Later on Tuesday evening, the Russian Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying it was offering Ukrainian forces encircled in the besieged city of Mariupol a ceasefire effective Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. Moscow time (7:00 a.m. ET), claiming that Ukrainian forces had failed to take advantage of a previous offer to withdraw and lay down arms.
The Russian statement said Russian armed forces and separatist Donetsk People’s Republic formations would at that time cease combat operations along the entire perimeter of the besieged Azovstal steel factory and withdraw to a safe distance.
CNN’s Josh Pennington contributed reporting to this post.