Red Cross Postpones Mariupol Evacuation, Will Try Again Saturday
The Red Cross said a team sent to help evacuate thousands of civilians from Mariupol on Friday had been forced to turn around, but would try again Saturday.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said its team of three cars and nine staff that had been heading to the besieged Ukrainian port city had been forced to turn back “after arrangements and conditions made it impossible to proceed”.
The team “did not reach Mariupol or facilitate the safe passage of civilians today,” the ICRC said in a statement, adding that they had returned to Zaporizhzhia, more than 200 kilometres away.
“They will try again on Saturday to facilitate the safe passage of civilians from Mariupol.”
But it stressed that “for the operation to succeed, it is critical that the parties respect the agreements and provide the necessary conditions and security guarantees.”
The ICRC had planned for its team to lead a convoy out of the city, which has been under intense Russian bombardment for weeks.
Previous attempts to evacuate residents have collapsed, though some have made the dangerous dash to freedom alone.
An estimated 160,000 people remain trapped in the southeastern city, with many left in the cold without food.
ICRC spokesman Ewan Watson had warned earlier Friday that it was not certain the evacuations would be able to go ahead as planned.
“If and when it does happen, the ICRC role as a neutral intermediary will be to lead the convoy out from Mariupol to another city in Ukraine,” he told reporters in Geneva.
“We’re unable to confirm which city at the moment. This is something the parties must agree to.”
‘Time is running out’
The ICRC would use their vehicles as a humanitarian protection marker to remind all sides of the non-military nature of the operation, he said.
The plan on Friday had been for a total of 54 buses, and many more civilian vehicles, containing thousands of people seeking to flee the city, to take part in the convoy, Watson said.
However, “In order for us to start leading civilians out at the top of that convoy, we will need to have assurances that the route we are taking is safe,” said Watson, adding: “We’ll need to know where we’re going.”
Also, there must be the “voluntary consent of the people concerned”, Watson said.
Following the invasion on February 24, Russian forces have encircled and relentlessly bombarded Mariupol to try to capture the strategic city.
Much of the urban landscape has now been reduced to rubble, with tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside with little food, water or medicine.
“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.