Evacuation buses en route to Mariupol held up at Russian checkpoint, Ukrainian minister says

A Ukrainian official said on Thursday that a convoy of buses en route to the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol had been held up at a Russian checkpoint in Vasylivka, a town located between the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia and the Russian city of Berdyansk.

“Our task is to open a humanitarian corridor and help people survive, especially civilians – women, children, the elderly,” said Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s minister for the reintegration of temporarily occupied territories.

“At 12:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m. EST), 45 buses left Zaporizhzhia for Berdyansk. At the moment, they are at the Vasylivka checkpoint, and the Russian Federation no longer allows our buses to pass. Again and again, we demand that all the global community is focusing its attention and helping people get out of occupied Mariupol,” Vereshchuk said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday it was preparing to facilitate the safe passage of civilians from Mariupol on Friday.

Vereshchuk said about 100,000 people in need of immediate evacuation remained in the city, out of a prewar population of more than 400,000.

“That’s another 100,000 women, children, elderly people and people with disabilities who need our help and that of the world,” she said.

Vereshchuk claimed 45,000 Ukrainian citizens were forcibly deported to Russia, a figure CNN could not immediately verify. The Russian military says thousands of people have been “evacuated” to Russia from separatist-held areas and “dangerous areas” of Ukraine.

Earlier in the day, Mariupol Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov told CNN’s John Berman that buses were moving through the evacuation corridor.

Orlov said up to 1,500 to 2,000 people could evacuate the city between today and tomorrow.

He added that there were “constant street battles” in the city, but the Ukrainian army still controls the city center.

The people who remain in Mariupol “live like mice. They live underground in shelters, bomb shelters down below. So people are trying their best to be alive in this situation,” he said. .

CNN’s Adrienne Vogt contributed to this post.

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