A tense and fleeting evacuation from Ukraine’s northeastern city of Sumy took place on Tuesday after Russian airstrikes killed 21 people, including two children, the night before, Ukrainian authorities said.
Ukrainian officials confirmed that an evacuation corridor allowing residents out of the city opened on Tuesday morning, following days of sustained Russian attacks. It came as the United Nations estimated that more than 2 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Moscow’s invasion on February 24.
The agreed ceasefire was set to last until 9 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET), with final evacuations taking place 90 minutes before that time. Buses have been used to take people to Poltava, around 100 miles away in central Ukraine, said Dmytro Lunin, head of the Poltava regional administration, on his Telegram channel on Tuesday.
One convoy was delayed by an outbreak of firing at the outskirts of Sumy, according to the city’s regional head, Dmitry Zhyvitsky. But Zhyvitsky was quoted in local media as saying the Russian forces did not shoot on the convoy.
“At the moment, citizens are being evacuated by their own vehicles,” Zhyvytsky said on Telegram. “After 19:30 the checkpoint closes and it will be impossible to leave Sumy.”
The frantic rush to escape the city, during a break in its assault by Russian forces, was not replicated in other cities. Officials across the country have condemned Russia in recent days for offering unfeasible routes of escape that lead to Russia or its ally Belarus, and for reneging on ceasefire agreements by opening fire on fleeing civilians.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Tuesday that Russian troops are holding 300,000 civilians “hostage” in the besieged southern city of Mariupol, where he said a child died of dehydration.
Ukrainian authorities said that a long-awaited convoy of humanitarian aid to the city appeared to have come under fire on Tuesday. Russian troops are not allowing “children, women and the elderly” out of the city, and have launched an attack “precisely in the direction of the humanitarian corridor,” Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operation said.
CNN has been unable to verify the status of the convoy and has reached out to the Russian side for a response.
A senior US defense official said Tuesday that Mariupol as of now been “isolated” by Russian forces, though Russian forces are only still bombarding the city and are not inside it “in any significant way.”
CNN has previously reported that Mariupol residents have been cut off from water and electricity for days.