LVIV, Ukraine, March 28 (Reuters) – The mayor of Mariupol said on Monday all civilians must be evacuated from the encircled Ukrainian city to allow them to escape a humanitarian catastrophe.
Mayor Vadym Boichenko said 160,000 civilians were still trapped in the southern port city on the Sea of Azov without heat and power after weeks of Russian bombardment.
He said 26 buses were waiting to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, which normally has a population of about 400,000 people, but Russian forces had not agreed to give them safe passage. He did not say where they were waiting.
“The situation in the city remains difficult. People are beyond the line of humanitarian catastrophe,” Boichenko said on national television. “We need to completely evacuate Mariupol.”
He added: “The Russian Federation is playing with us. We are in the hands of the invaders.”
Russia, which invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, denies targeting civilians and blames Ukraine for the repeated failure to agree on safe corridors for trapped civilians. President Vladimir Putin says Russian forces are on a special operation to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine.
Mariupol is widely seen as a strategic prize for the Russian invaders to create a bridge between Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014, and two separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine announced no plans to try to create safe corridors anywhere in the country on Monday, making clear it feared Russian attacks.
“Our intelligence has reported possible ‘provocations’ by the occupiers on the humanitarian corridor routes. So, for reasons of public safety, we are not opening any humanitarian corridors today,” said Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Editing by Timothy Heritage)