By Emma Farge and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi
GENEVA – A Red Cross convoy travelling to the besieged Ukrainian port of Mariupol turned around because it had become impossible to proceed with its mission to begin evacuating civilians on Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
“They will try again on Saturday to facilitate the safe passage of civilians from Mariupol,” the ICRC said in a statement. It said the convoy returned to Zaporizhzhia northwest of the southern port “after arrangements and conditions made it impossible to proceed.”
Mariupol has been encircled since the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on Feb. 24. A previous attempt by the Red Cross to reach it in early March failed because the route was found to be unsafe.
The Red Cross team of three cars carrying nine staff members had aimed to lead a convoy of about 54 Ukrainian buses and a number of private vehicles out of the city, where up to 170,000 people are without power and have limited food, according to the mayor.
An ICRC spokesperson earlier on Friday stressed that the operation had been approved by both Ukraine and Russia, but major details were still being worked out such as the exact timing and destination, which would be an undetermined location in Ukraine.
“Piecing together this safe passage convoy has been and remains extremely complex,” ICRC spokesperson Ewan Watson said.
The Red Cross was not allowed to take humanitarian aid with the convoy, and it departed without the medical and other supplies it had pre-positioned in Zaporizhzhia, Watson said.
“The situation is horrendous and deteriorating. It is now a humanitarian imperative that people be allowed to leave and aid supplies be allowed in,” Watson said.
After announcing Friday mission’s had been unsuccessful, the ICRC renewed its appeal for all parties to respect the agreements before the next attempt and provide “the necessary conditions and security guarantees.”