Ukraine tries to evacuate civilians

Destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha.
Ukraine is trying to evacuate as many trapped civilians as possible as Russian forces renew attacks. -AP

Ukraine is trying to evacuate as many trapped civilians as possible as Russian forces pound cities and towns in the east and south of the country.

Deputy Prime Minister Irena Vereshchuk announced agreement with Russia on opening 10 safe corridors, mostly in southern and eastern Ukraine, but said residents trying to leave the besieged city of Mariupol would have to use their own vehicles.

Multiple attempts to agree safe passage for buses to take supplies to Mariupol and bring out civilians have failed since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, with each side blaming the other.

Ukrainian officials say Russia has been regrouping for a new offensive in the east and south, and want civilians to leave those areas while they still can.

"Evacuate! The chances of saving yourself and your family from Russian death are dwindling every day," said Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, adding that Russian troops had not made any significant breakthroughs.

Local officials reported heavy Russian shelling and rocket fire in the southern region of Kherson in the last few days.

Ukrainian Presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovycvh said Russian air attacks were now focused mainly on areas of eastern Ukraine, and that Mariupol was holding out.

He said he believed Russian efforts to surround Ukrainian troops in the east would be in vain, adding: "The situation is under control."

Ukraine's military says Russia wants to entrench a land passage between two separatist, self-proclaimed people's republics in Donbas in eastern Ukraine and the southern region of Crimea that Russia seized and annexed in 2014.

Oleh Synyehubov, the governor of Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine, said civilian areas had been shelled 48 times in the past 24 hours to "put pressure on the civilian population of Kharkiv and destroy civilian infrastructure."

He said three civilians had been killed and many homes destroyed in shelling of Balakliya, a town close to the occupied city of Izyum, from where Ukraine says it can no longer evacuate civilians.

Mariupol has been under siege for most of the war. At least 160,000 civilians are trapped without power and with little food or running water, according to Mayor Vadym Boychenko, who puts the civilian death toll in the city at about 5,000.

Boychenko, who has left Mariupol, estimated that at least 40,000 residents had been forcibly deported to Russia from areas of the city occupied by Russian forces. Russia has spoken of "refugees" arriving from the strategic port city.