Hundreds of thousands of people will be evacuated from Ukranian cities Mariupol and Volnovakha.
The Ukrainian port city of Mariupol postponed a planned evacuation of residents Saturday, blaming Russian forces for breaking their temporary ceasefire to allow civilians to flee one of the war’s fiercest battles.
Russia has laid siege to the strategic city, which proudly resisted Moscow-backed rebels during a 2014 conflict, cutting off electricity, food and water in the dead of winter.
Negotiations were underway “to establish a ceasefire and ensure a safe humanitarian corridor”, Mariupol authorities added.
After Russia’s defence ministry declared the ceasefire, officials announced that the port city’s 450,000-strong population could begin to leave by bus and private cars.
An aid worker in Mariupol for Doctors Without Borders said: “Last night the shelling was harder and closer. We collected snow and rainwater yesterday… We tried to get free water today, but the queue was huge.”
Dozens of civilians have been killed in shelling, missile attacks and air raids, and now those remaining live among the town’s ruins and in craters.
– Scenes of devastation –
Fears are rising in Kyiv that the capital will suffer the same fate once Russian missile artillery is deployed within range.
Ukraine, he said, had defeated Russia’s plan to quickly storm major cities and overthrow President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government, forcing Moscow to resort to “cowardly” attacks on civilians.
“We inflict such losses on the invaders that they have not seen even in their worst dream,” he said.
But Moscow has so far only seized two key cities in its 10-day-long invasion — Berdiansk and Kherson on Ukraine’s southern Black Sea coast.
The Kremlin said late Friday that Moscow was waiting for a third round of talks with Ukraine in Belarus, and one of Kyiv’s negotiators said it hoped to hold them this weekend.
Zelensky was to appeal to Washington for more assistance Saturday with an address to the US Senate after some lawmakers urged President Joe Biden to take tougher measures, including banning Russia’s oil imports.
Zelensky had earlier criticised NATO for ruling out imposing a no-fly zone, saying the Western military alliance had essentially given “the green light for further bombing of Ukrainian cities and villages”.
Russian forces attacked and seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant on Friday, pushing Kyiv to accuse Moscow of “nuclear terror”.
Moscow denied it had shelled the plant.
Russian authorities have imposed a news blackout and several media outlets have halted operations.
The BBC, Bloomberg and German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF said they were suspending work in Russia after lawmakers in Moscow passed legislation to impose fines and jail terms of up to 15 years for publishing “fake news” about the army.
The Kremlin on Saturday defended the new law, saying it was “necessary as the country was facing “an unprecedented information war”.
Putin has been unmoved as Russia has become isolated in economic, sporting and cultural fields.
Flagship airline Aeroflot said it was suspending all its international flights beginning March 8, citing “circumstances that impede the operation of flights”.
The UN says some 1.37 million refugees have fled into neighbouring countries.
“The bullets and bombs in Ukraine could take the global hunger crisis to levels beyond anything we’ve seen before,” said agency director David Beasley.
In the men’s vision-impaired biathlon race, Vitalii Lukianenko took gold and said: “I want to dedicate this medal to the guys who protect our cities.”