Russia says Ukraine blocked civilian evacuation in Sievierodonetsk

Ukraine says hundreds of civilians have taken refuge in the Azot plant (above) and that the factory is being constantly bombarded. PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia on Wednesday (June 15) said Ukrainian forces prevented civilians sheltering in a chemical plant in the besieged eastern city of Sievierodonetsk from being evacuated via a humanitarian corridor.

Russia created a corridor to evacuate civilians from the Azot chemical factory, but "the Kyiv authorities cynically scuppered the humanitarian operation", the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Russia said it would set up a humanitarian corridor between 5am and 5pm to allow civilians in the Azot plant to leave Sievierodonetsk for territories in the Luhansk region held by pro-Moscow separatists.

But the defence ministry accused Ukrainian forces of violating the ceasefire "on several occasions" and using the humanitarian operation to redeploy its troops in more favourable fighting positions.

It was impossible to verify the claims independently.

The Ukrainian authorities have said hundreds of civilians have taken refuge in the Azot plant and that the factory is constantly bombarded.

The situation there is reminiscent of the sprawling Azovstal steelworks in the southeastern port city of Mariupol, where civilians and fighters resisted a weeks-long Russian siege before being defeated.

Russia announced multiple ceasefires during the siege to evacuate civilians through humanitarian corridors, but many were unsuccessful as Moscow and Kyiv accused each other of reneging on their word.

Intense fighting for the strategic city of Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine has raged for weeks as Russia advances in the eastern Donbas region.

Capturing Sievierodonetsk - the largest city in Luhansk still under Ukrainian control - would allow Moscow's forces to advance on Sloviansk and Kramatorsk further west.

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