The UK government has accused Russia of proposing the failed ceasefire in Mariupol as cover to reshuffle its military for a renewed assault on Ukraine.
In an “intelligence update”, the Ministry of Defence said the brief pause in fighting on Saturday – which it was hoped would allow for mass civilian evacuations – “was likely an attempt to deflect international condemnation while resetting its forces for renewed offensive activity”.
Russia said earlier it had opened humanitarian corridors near the besieged eastern cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha – but local authorities soon urged residents to return to shelters, accusing Russia of continued shelling and bombing in Mariupol and its outskirts.
Moscow’s defence ministry, however, accused Ukrainian “nationalists” of preventing civilians from leaving, the RIA news agency reported.
“By accusing Ukraine of breaking the agreement, Russia is likely seeking to shift responsibility for current and future civilian casualties in the city,” the Ministry of Defence said.
Both Volnovakha and Mariupol have been under relentless and seemingly near-indiscriminate Russian bombardment over recent days.
On Friday, local MP Dmytro Lubinets warned the attack in Volnovakha was so intense that dead bodies lay uncollected and that there was “not any building which has not suffered from direct or collateral damage”.
Follow live updates as Ukraine defends against Russian invasion
In Mariupol – a key Azov Sea port city which Vladimir Putin will need to seize in order to create a land corridor between Russia and annexed Crimea – Moscow’s siege has seen shops, hospitals and schools wracked by explosions, also knocking out water, heating, lighting, and – vitally – communications.
It was in this environment of fear and confusion that the brief ceasefire was declared on Saturday morning, and some residents were reportedly unsure whether the announcement that it was safe to flee the city was merely false information spread by Moscow.
World news in pictures Show all 50 1 /50 World news in pictures World news in pictures 7 March 2022 People cross the destroyed bridge as they flee from the frontline town of Irpin, Kyiv region, Ukraine EPA World news in pictures 6 March 2022 A local resident reacts as a house is on fire after heavy shelling on the only escape route used by locals to leave the town of Irpin, while Russian troops advance towards the capital, 24km from Kyiv, Ukraine Reuters World news in pictures 5 March 2022 Austria’s Roman Rabl competing in the men’s downhil sitting para alpine skiing during the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games in Yanqing OIS/IOC/AFP/Getty World news in pictures 4 March 2022 People remove personal belongings from a burning house after being shelled in the city of Irpin, outside Kyiv AFP/Getty World news in pictures 3 March 2022 An aerial view shows a residential building destroyed by shelling, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in the settlement of Borodyanka in the Kyiv region Reuters World news in pictures 2 March 2022 A man with his newborn child takes shelter in the basement of a perinatal centre as air raid siren sounds are heard amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Kyiv Reuters World news in pictures 1 March 2022 Members of an Ukrainian civil defense unit pass new assault rifles to the opposite side of a blown up bridge on Kyiv’s northern front AFP/Getty World news in pictures 28 February 2022 Members of the Ukrainian community of Rome collect basic necessities to be distributed to the Ukrainian population, at the church of Santa Sofia in Rome, Italy EPA World news in pictures 27 February 2022 Protesters crowd around the victory column and close to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to demonstrate for peace in Ukraine AFP/Getty World news in pictures 26 February 2022 The Swiss Air Force fly in front of the Weisshorn mountain in the Swiss Alps prior to the start of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup in Crans-Montana, Switzerland AFP via Getty Images World news in pictures 25 February 2022 A Ukrainian firefighter walks between at fragments of a downed aircraft seen in in Kyiv AP World news in pictures 24 February 2022 Firefighters work on a building after bombings on the eastern Ukraine town of Chuguiv. Russian armed forces are trying to invade Ukraine from several directions, using rocket systems and helicopters to attack Ukrainian position in the south, the border guard service said AFP/Getty World news in pictures 23 February 2022 A woman wearing a face mask walks next to decorations at a shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand EPA World news in pictures 22 February 2022 Anganwadi workers take part in a protest march near Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence, demanding better facilities and working conditions for women AFP/ Getty World news in pictures 21 February 2022 An elderly woman stands in a street of the city of Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine AFP/Getty World news in pictures 20 February 2022 High waves in Doolin in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland PA World news in pictures 19 February 2022 Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China in action in Beijing, China Reuters World news in pictures 17 February 2021 A part of a damaged wall crashes onto the pavement during a storm in Berlin, Germany AP World news in pictures 16 February 2022 Syrian firefighters extinguish fire following artillery shelling by the Syrian regime on a fuel depot affiliated to the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) jihadist group in the northwestern rebel-held town of Dana AFP via Getty Images World news in pictures 15 February 2022 Austria’s Cornelia Huetter competes in the womens downhill final during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre AFP/Getty World news in pictures 14 February 2022 A Taliban fighter directs traffic as a street vendor sells red heart-shaped balloons for Valentine’s Day, in Kabul, Afghanistan AP World news in pictures 13 February 2022 Russian Navy’s diesel-electric Kilo class submarine Rostov-on-Don sails with an naval ensign of the Russian Federation, also known in Russian as The Andreyevsky Flag on it through the Bosphorus Strait on the way to the Black Sea AFP via Getty Images World news in pictures 12 February 2022 People participate in the Winter Snow Sports Festival in Kalam AFP/Getty World news in pictures 11 February 2022 A tank during joint exercises of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus as part of an inspection of the Union State’s Response Force, at a firing range near Brest Russian Defence Ministry/AFP/Getty World news in pictures 10 February 2022 Multiple exposure photo of Magdalena Czyszczon of Poland during the Speed Skating warm up at the 2022 Beijing Olympics Reuters World news in pictures 9 February 2022 An Indian hand rickshaw puller waits for customers in front of a building displaying posters of different theater shows in Kolkata, India AP World news in pictures 8 February 2022 Starlings overfly Zaragoza, Spain EPA World news in pictures 7 February 2022 Performers dressed as superhero characters pose with a child receiving the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine for children aged 5-11 at a gym in San Juan City, suburban Manila AFP via Getty Images World news in pictures 6 February 2022 Cars stop before a flooded area, after Cyclone Batsirai made landfall, on a road in Vohiparara, Madagascar Reuters World news in pictures 5 February 2022 A woman carries a child as locals who were displaced by Cyclone Ana find refuge in an evacuation centre at the West Ankorondrano neighbourhood, Madagascar Reuters World news in pictures 4 February 2022 Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, at the National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, in Beijing AFP via Getty Images World news in pictures 3 February 2022 Italian Air Force aerobatic display team, the Frecce Tricolori, perform during the inauguration of the president of the Italian Republic, in Rome. Sergio Mattarella was elected for a second term EPA World news in pictures 2 February 2022 Italian athletes during training ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics Reuters World news in pictures 1 February 2022 People are sprayed with foam at an amusement park as part of holiday festivities on the first day of the Lunar New Year of the Tiger in Yogyakarta AFP via Getty Images World news in pictures 31 January 2022 Arterial roads are lit up as morning commuters drive along at dawn in western Beijing ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games AFP via Getty Images World news in pictures 30 January 2022 Rafael Nadal reacts after beating Daniil Medvedev in the men’s singles Australian Open final. In doing so, the Spaniard won a record-breaking 21st grand slam title AFP/Getty World news in pictures 29 January 2022 A worker cleans up crude oil on Mae Ram Phueng beach following a spill caused by a leak in an undersea pipeline owned by Star Petroleum Refining Public Company Limited in Rayong, Thailand Getty World news in pictures 28 January 2022 Medical staff in personal protective equipment are seen at a speed skating training session for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Reuters World news in pictures 27 January 2022 Los Angeles sculptor Dan Medina has honored the anniversary of the deaths of Kobe and Gigi Bryant along with seven other passengers by placing a temporary statue of the two where their helicopter crashed two years ago today in Calabasas, California REUTERS World news in pictures 26 January 2022 The Central Reserve Police Force during the 73rd Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi, India EPA World news in pictures 25 January 2022 A winter swimming enthusiast dives into a partly frozen lake in a partly frozen lake in Shenyang, in northeastern China’s Liaoning province AFP via Getty Images World news in pictures 24 January 2022 A newlywed couple from the US enjoys a snowfall during a photo shooting near the Acropolis in Athens AFP via Getty Images World news in pictures 23 January 2022 Anti-vaccine and mask activists act out getting a vaccine during a ‘Defeat the Mandates’ rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC, USA EPA World news in pictures 22 January 2022 Horse patrol of the 2nd Lublin Territorial Defense Brigade on the border with Belarus in Wlodawa, Poland EPA World news in pictures 21 January 2022 Carlos Hebert Plante dives into freezing waters to use his boogie board as extreme cold weather hits Montreal, Quebec, Canada Reuters World news in pictures 20 January 2022 Children wearing traditional uniform take part in the children’s ‘Tamborrada’ drum event to mark San Sebastian patron saint’s Day, in Basque Country, northern Spain EPA World news in pictures 19 January 2022 A woman poses for a picture near an ice hole as a man takes a dip during celebrations of the Orthodox Christian feast of Epiphany in the settlement of Ivanovskoye in the Moscow region, Russia REUTERS World news in pictures 18 January 2022 Soldiers march during celebrations to mark Royal Thai Armed Forces Day at Chulabhorn Camp in the southern Thailand province of Narathiwat AFP/Getty World news in pictures 17 January 2022 Novak Djokovic prepares to take his seat on a plane to Belgrade, in Dubai, after losing his bid to stay in Australia to defend his Australian Open title despite not being vaccinated against COVID-19 AP World news in pictures 16 January 2022 A dog drinks water from a tap on Bondi Beach in Sydney Getty
The ceasefire had been supposed to last for five hours from 7am GMT, with evacuations starting two hours in.
But by 10am GMT Mariupol authorities announced the evacuation had been postponed, accusing Russia of failing to uphold the ceasefire. Moscow claimed that no one had made use of the “humanitarian corridors”.
In comments carried on Ukrainian television, Mariupol mayor Vadym Boychenko said thousands of people had gathered for safe passage out of the city and buses were departing when shelling began.
As the ceasefire collapsed, Alexander, a 44-year-old engineer and Mariupol resident told the BBC: “I’m on the street, I can hear shelling every three to five minutes … I can see cars of people who tried to flee and they are coming back. It is chaos.”
The Russian defence ministry said it had resumed “offensive actions” after the failed ceasefire. Moscow denies targeting civilians and a spokesman claimed that members of Ukraine’s Aidar and Azov battalions were firing on pro-Russian forces in Mariupol from schools, hospitals and nurseries, Tass reported.
Marina Yatsko, left, runs behind her boyfriend Fedor carrying her 18 month-old son Kirill who was killed in shelling, as they arrive at a hospital in Mariupol (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
At least 351 civilian deaths have been confirmed since Mr Putin’s invasion began 10 days ago, but the true number is probably much higher, the United Nations human rights office has said.
Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian disaster across the country, with the UN forecasting the number of refugees could rise by some 200,000 to 1.5 million people by the end of the weekend.
As the Russian bombardment resumed on Saturday, the Associated Press reported that bleakness and desperation pervaded in Mariupol – with doctors working by the light of their mobile phones, fitting wounded soldiers with tourniquets as bereft mothers mourned their dead children.
Mr Putin, meanwhile, attacked the Ukrainian leadership’s resistance to his invasion, saying: “If they continue to do what they are doing, they are calling into question the future of Ukrainian statehood … if this happens, it will be entirely on their conscience.”
During a televised meeting with flight attendants from Russia’s flagship airline, Aeroflot, which announced it was halting all international flights – save to Belarus – in the wake of Western sanctions, Mr Putin likened the West’s economic pressure as “akin to declaring war”.
“But thank God, we haven’t got there yet,” Mr Putin said.
The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015.
Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here.
To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.