The Russian military has said it will not wait for Kiev to get on board with its proposal for evacuation routes, and will ensure safe passage of civilians from Kiev, Kharkiv, Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities to Russia.
"We officially declare that humanitarian corridors toward the Russian Federation will be opened unilaterally, without any approvals, now daily from 10 a.m. [07:00 GMT], as well as in other directions upon coordination with the Ukrainian side," Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of the National Defense Management Center told a briefing on Thursday.
He added that the Russian military would "guarantee complete security" for those choosing to leave Kiev, Chernigov, Sumy, Kharkov and Mariupol through exits controlled by the Russian forces.
The military official estimated that Russian forces have so far evacuated some 187,000 people since Russia launched its military offensive in Ukraine on February, 24. Nearly 47,000 of those evacuated are children, Mizintsev claimed. He accused Kiev of stalling the evacuation effort, claiming that the Ukrainian government refused to facilitate the escape of some 7,000 foreigners from the conflict zone which he said were being "held hostage" by Ukranian militants.
"The Ukrainian side practically reacts neither to official nor to unofficial appeals, including those from international partners," Mizintsev said.
The official rejected Kiev's accusations that Moscow had broken the previously announced temporary ceasefire and was blocking humanitarian aid. He insisted that the Russian forces were the ones being shelled by the Ukrainian side near the humanitarian corridors.
Kiev had previously greenlighted only three of the ten Russia-proposed evacuation routes, suggesting three alternatives, which were all approved by Russia. The Russian military claimed that Ukraine came up with "absurd" and "unrealistic" demands for the establishment of other routes. One of the demands, according to Mizintsev, was for the Russian military to demine explosives planted by Ukranian units, and fix a bridge allegedly destroyed by the Ukrainian military themselves.
Moscow attacked its neighbor in late February, following a seven-year standoff over Ukraine's failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, and Russia's eventual recognition of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols had been designed to regularize the status of those regions within the Ukrainian state.
Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.