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Russia to allow humanitarian corridors in Ukraine, evacuations begin soon

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Mariupol, a southern city of about 450,000 people on the Azov Sea, will begin evacuations at 0900 GMT, city hall announced on social media on Saturday in a message that added, “it will be possible to leave the city by private transport.”

“A huge request to all drivers leaving the city, to contribute as much as possible to the evacuation of the civilian population - take people with you, fill vehicles as much as possible,” the statement said.

The announcement said the evacuation would last over several days to allow the entirety of the civilian population to exit the city.

In the statement, city officials told residents leaving in private vehicles that it was “strictly prohibited” to go off course from the evacuation routes.

Municipal buses were also departing from three locations in the city to help people leave, the message said.
“This is not an easy decision, but, as I have always said, Mariupol is not its streets or houses. Mariupol is its population, it is you and me,” mayor Vadim Boychenko was quoted as saying in the statement.

With Russian troops surrounding the city, he said, “there is no other option but to allow residents - that is, you and me - to leave Mariupol safely,” he said.

Russia ceasefire

Russia’s defense ministry announced a ceasefire Saturday to allow residents of two Ukrainian cities that were surrounded by Russian forces, including the strategic port city of Mariupol, to evacuate.

“Today, March 5, from 10:00 a.m. Moscow time (0700 GMT), the Russian side declares a regime of silence and opens humanitarian corridors for the exit of civilians from Mariupol and Volnovakha,” it said.

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The ministry clarified that the location of the humanitarian corridors and exit points had been determined in agreement with the Ukrainian authorities, according to Russian news agencies.

Russian forces have been operating in Ukraine since February 24.

The announcement came after Mariupol’s mayor Vadim Boychenko said Saturday that the city was under “blockade” and asked for humanitarian corridors. Pro-Russian separatist forces and the Russian military had said the town was surrounded.

Mariupol, a city of about 450,000 people on the Azov Sea, is a strategic port city allowing important maritime access and its capture could see Moscow’s troops coming from annexed Crimean Peninsula connect with the forces of separatist-controlled Donbas.

Volnovakha is a town of around 20,000 people situated near Ukraine’s former frontline with Russian-backed separatists and around 60 kilometers (38 miles) from separatist-controlled Donetsk, a regional center.

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