A three-day cease-fire announced by Russia was due to begin on May 5 in the morning to allow the evacuation of civilians still trapped in the devastated Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol a day after the Ukrainian military said “bloody battles” were being fought in the strategic Sea of Azov port city.
Russia’s announcement, which came after more than 300 people were evacuated from other parts of Mariupol, was met with skepticism, as previous cease-fires failed repeatedly, with Ukraine accusing Russian forces of continuing their attacks.
On the sanctions front, the European Union on May 4 unveiled a proposal to ban Russian oil imports by the end of the year, a move immediately rejected by Hungary — whose right-wing leader Viktor Orban is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest EU partner — and several other bloc members that depend heavily on Russian energy imports.
Russia’s Defense Ministry announced a daytime cease-fire for three days to evacuate civilians from Azovstal.
“The Russian armed forces will open a humanitarian corridor from 08:00 to 18:00 Moscow time on May 5, 6, and 7 from the site of the Azovstal metallurgical plant to evacuate civilians,” the ministry said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price voiced reservations about the cease-fire, saying Moscow had repeatedly violated such announcements in the past.
Meanwhile, Denys Prokopenko, the commander of the Azov Regiment, vowed to never surrender the plant.
There was heavy fighting as Russian forces broke into the territory of the plant, Prokopenko said on Telegram. The situation at the plant is extremely difficult and the Ukrainian military continues to defend itself, he said in a social media post.
David Arakhamia, a member of the Ukrainian delegation that has held now-stalled peace talks with Russia, told RFE/RL that Ukrainian authorities have contact with the defenders at the plant, despite earlier reports that contact had been lost.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied reports that Russian troops had stormed the plant.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced “another small victory,” saying that 344 women, children, and elderly people were evacuated safely from Mariupol on May 4.