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A Ukrainian official said Friday that Russia is refusing to allow evacuations from a Mariupol steel plant by “pretending” there is no difference between military surrender and civilian evacuations.
“The Russians refuse to open a corridor for civilians, cynically pretending that they do not understand the difference between a corridor for the military to surrender and a humanitarian corridor to evacuate the civilians,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereschuk said. “But they do understand it all.
“It’s just that they are trying to lay extra pressure on our military,” she added.
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Vereschuk has been attempting to facilitate the evacuation of civilians from the partially besieged port city for weeks, but her attempts have been repeatedly foiled by Russian troops.
After several consecutive days of negotiating with Russian forces to open humanitarian corridors, the deputy prime minister said no evacuations would be happening Friday and urged Mariupol residents to “be patient” and “please hold on.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory over the war-torn city Thursday, despite the thousands of resistance forces that remain in the city.
Roughly 100,000 residents are believed to still be in Mariupol and over 1,000 civilians and soldiers have taken to the tunnels under the steel plant – a site that has become a stronghold for the resistance.
In an attempt to root out those hunkered in the tunnels Putin advised his troops to block off the tunnels to bar access to resupplies, claiming those who voluntarily lay down their arms will be “guarantee[d] life and dignified treatment.”
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“The Russians are afraid to storm Azovstal, but at the same time they are knowingly and cynically blocking the release of civilians from Azovstal, thus trying to put additional pressure on our military,” the deputy prime minister said.
Ukrainian soldiers have reportedly refused to surrender.
“There is such thing as a corridor for the military to surrender. The Russians have provided one, but we don’t need it, as our military don’t want to surrender,” Vereschuk said. “There is also such thing as a humanitarian corridor to evacuate the civilians out of the combat zone.
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“We need such [a] corridor from Azovstal to evacuate women, children and the elderly,” she added.
Vereschuk pleaded with the international community to step in and help facilitate safe evacuations for civilians stuck in the fight.