War in Ukraine live updates: Russia's war will take a dire financial toll on Ukrainians' future

Published March 31, 2022 at 8:12 AM EDT
People in coats and hats stand or sit on mats, blankets or folding chairs for yards stretching down a subway station.
Chris McGrath
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Getty Images
Residents, some of whom have been there since the start of the invasion, shelter in a subway station on this week in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

The country's GDP will plunge by some 20% this year, a European bank predicts.

Here's what else we're following:

The damage worsens: Russian troops are leaving the area around Kyiv but continue to target the city with long-range artillery and airstrikes.

Desperately needed aid for Mariupol: The International Red Cross says Russia will allow a humanitarian convoy into the besieged city, although Russia has broken many previous cease-fires.

Americans approval of Volodymyr Zelenskyy: Some 72% of Americans have either some or a lot of confidence in Zelenskyy, a new poll finds.

Diplomacy

Russia’s biggest bank should be cut off from SWIFT, former U.S. ambassador says

Posted March 31, 2022 at 1:28 PM EDT
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor speaks at a Day of Solidarity with Ukraine at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C, on Feb. 20
Stafani Reynolds
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AFP via Getty Images
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor speaks at a Day of Solidarity with Ukraine in Washington, D.C, on Feb. 20. Taylor said the West must apply more pressure on Russia over its war in Ukraine.

Sberbank, the largest bank in Russia, has so far avoided being cut off from the SWIFT global financial messaging system. But William Taylor, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine says that should change.

“That’s just an obvious one they can do right away,” Taylor told NPR’s Morning Edition as he called on the West to impose more sanctions to punish Russia.

Sberbank has been rocked by U.S. and European sanctions, but it remains in the SWIFT system along with another large Russian bank, Gazprombank.

Taylor said the U.S. and its allies must send more weapons to Ukraine and apply more pressure to Russia over its war in Ukraine. He also said they should keep working to figure out what Russia’s motives and goals are — something he acknowledged is a challenge.

“The problem is that the leader of Russia, President Putin, is not a credible interlocutor,” he said. “I mean, there is no reason to be talking to him. He has lied to President Biden. He has lied to his people. He's lied to his military. So there's no merit, no benefit to having that conversation. But that said, sure, we should try to figure out what they're really after.”

Discussing what the peace talks might yield, Taylor said, “There seems to be a real disconnect, or confusion, or uncertainty or mixed messages coming out of Moscow about both the military side and the negotiating side…. It’s not clear anyone is in close communication or understands exactly what President Putin is after.”

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National Security

Russian troops are reportedly moving back from the Chernobyl nuclear plant

Posted March 31, 2022 at 1:17 PM EDT

A senior U.S. defense official says Russian troops are beginning to “reposition” away from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine. The official was not able to provide specific details on the number of Russian forces in the Chernobyl area, or how many were leaving.

“I can’t give you a nose count,” the official said.

Ukraine’s nuclear agency confirmed in a statement that two columns of Russian forces have left the plant, leaving only a small number behind.

The Russian move is seen as part of the broader pullback of troops from the area around the capital, Kyiv, and other parts of northern Ukraine.

The Chernobyl nuclear plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, is about 60 miles north of Kyiv and just a few miles south of the border with Belarus.

Russian forces seized Chernobyl at the beginning of the war, but Ukrainian workers have remained at the plant, where they monitor it for safety.

Energy

Russia says it will start enforcing ruble payments for gas Friday

Posted March 31, 2022 at 1:08 PM EDT
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on aviation Thursday. Putin signed a decree saying gas exports will be halted if payments aren't made in rubles starting Friday..
Mikhail Klimentyev
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SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on aviation Thursday. Putin signed a decree saying gas exports will be halted if payments aren't made in rubles starting Friday..

Russia on Friday will begin enforcing a new requirement that foreign buyers of Russian natural gas have to pay in rubles. President Vladimir Putin today signed this decree, saying exports will be halted if payments aren't made and laying out a process to convert foreign currency to rubles.

In televised comments to Russian officials, Putin said foreign buyers would have to open ruble accounts in Russian banks to exchange their foreign currency and complete payments — if these payments aren't completed, Russia will consider that a breach of contract.

Earlier, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Putin told them that they could continue to use euros for gas payments with a currency exchange in a Russian bank. Friday’s Kremlin decree offered conversions through Gazprombank.

The new rules apply to so-called unfriendly countries, a list that Russia — in response to Western sanctions — has expanded to include the entire European Union, which has relied on Russia for over a third of its gas imports. On Wednesday, Germany and Austria triggered early emergency procedures to begin preparing for a possible shortage of Russian gas.

Support

This Ukrainian bridal company is making wedding gowns and military uniforms

Posted March 31, 2022 at 12:11 PM EDT

Ukrainian bridal brand Milla Nova has relocated part of its operations to Poland, where its mostly female employees are making equipment for soldiers and medical workers alongside special-edition couture wedding gowns.

The Lviv-based company — which is reportedly stocked in bridal boutiques across 50 countries including the United States, United Kingdom and China — has been working to fulfill existing orders while also producing military nets, tactical vests and other supplies to support the war effort at home.

"Along with making brides around the world happy, we are focused on saving our country and not dying from the Russian missiles," it wrote on Instagram earlier this month. "That is the reality of Ukraine now."

As Russian attacks on Ukraine continued, Milla Nova opened another productionfacility across the border in Warsaw and partly evacuated its staff there. It said on Instagram that it was continuing to work, pay salaries and taxes and accept new orders, saying "the economy of our country must function" in order to survive the war.

CEO Ulyana Kyrychuk told CNN over the weekend that the company had created a business continuity plan before the war, and decided on the day of Russia's invasion to start making things that would be of use to Ukraine's military.

She said members of the "super professional team" immediately went to the supermarket to buy materials and start making military nets, and were soon inundated with requests from the military and hospitals to help produce other types of equipment.

"People were so inspired and so motivated to join this project, we had no question from no one that we should do that," Kyrychuk said. She has also shared photos of the seamstresses at work on her LinkedIn page.

The workforce in Poland is mostly made of women who evacuated with their children but have left their homes and loved ones behind, she added. She said her mission is to provide jobs for them, ensure they will be paid in the coming months and finish the orders they have promised their customers.

The seamstresses in Poland have taken on another job as well: sewing special-edition dresses in the Ukrainian colors of blue and yellow, which Kyrychuk told Vogue that the company plans to send to influencers for social media amplification and to turn into NFTs. She said children are also painting dresses with the words "No War," which offers them an emotional outlet.

Kyrychuk said last week that the company is also focused on supporting the employees who have chosen to remain in Lviv by providing alarm systems and clear instructions, setting up shelter areas in the factory and relying on an internal chat.

Milla Nova aims to provide supplies to the military and healthcare system for as long as possible, and Kyrychuk says she hopes their donations to the army will "soon be transformed into donations for rebuilding the country."

“I cannot hold a gun and I cannot provide medical support,” she told Vogue. “People who can make clothes are continuing to do so.”

Energy

Biden to announce the largest release of oil reserves in history

Posted March 31, 2022 at 10:59 AM EDT

President Biden is expected to announce on Thursday a plan to draw 1 million barrels of oil per day for the next six months from the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve — an unprecedented push to use the stocks to try to take the edge off of soaring gasoline prices.

Other oil-consuming countries with reserves are expected to join with releases of their own, the White House said in a release.

The plan to add up to 180 million barrels of U.S. oil reserves onto the market would be by far the biggest-ever draw from the emergency stockpile of oil, held underground in salt caverns in Louisiana and Texas. In contrast, the administration tapped the stocks for 50 million barrels in November, and an additional 30 million barrels in March — moves that had only temporary impacts on climbing prices. There were about 580 million barrels of oil in the U.S. reserves in February, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That means this new plan could draw down total reserves by about a third.

Price inflation — including painfully high gas prices — is a top issue for voters, and Democrats are concerned it could hurt them in the November congressional elections. Prices began rising a year ago as the economy picked up in the wake of the pandemic and have been extremely volatile since January, as it became clearer that Russia would invade Ukraine.

Republicans have sought to pin the blame for higher prices squarely on Biden. Biden and Democrats have deflected blame for rising oil prices on Russia, a major oil exporter whose shipments have been somewhat crimped by financial sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine. While the United States has banned imports of Russian oil, most importers have not — but there have been some signs that transactions have been affected by shippers and insurers worried about stepping afoul of Western sanctions on Moscow.

The White House also announced it would use the Defense Production Act to support production of other materials used in electric car batteries — namely lithium and nickel. Trying to escape rising gas costs, Americans are flocking to electric vehicles and many of those materials are in China and other countries.

Public opinion

Americans have more confidence in Zelenskyy than Biden when it comes to world affairs

Posted March 31, 2022 at 10:49 AM EDT
People walk down a street where a wall is covered by blue and yellow street art of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy holding up two guns.
Mario Tama
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Getty Images
A street stencil by artist 1GoodHombre depicts Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gripping submachine guns in Venice, Calif., pictured on Wednesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his iconic green T-shirt have become recognizable figures on the world stage in the weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine. The television star-turned-wartime president has used social media to boost his country's morale and won standing ovations at virtual addresses to governments around the world.

Now, a new study puts a finer point on just how much support he has from the American public.

Some 72% of Americans have either some or a lot of confidence in Zelenskyy to do the right thing regarding international affairs, according to the Pew Research Center — a much higher number than for other world leaders, including U.S. President Biden.

Within that group, 33% have the highest level of confidence in Zelenskyy's leadership abilities. Older Americans are much more likely to hold those views than younger generations, as are those with more education (especially postgraduate degrees). There are faint divides along partisan lines, with Democrats and Democrat-leaners slightly more likely than Republicans and Republican-leaners to have confidence in Zelenskyy (80% vs. 67%).

Notably, Zelenskyy's domestic approval rating had dropped in the leadup to Russia's invasion, but a poll from inside Ukraine shows it has risen sharply in recent weeks.

Americans are more divided over Biden's handling of international affairs, with 48% saying they have confidence in this area and 52% having either not too much or none at all. Pew notes that this is a downturn since the start of his term, when that number was closer to 6 in 10 American adults. Three-quarters of Democrats and Democrat-leaners say they have confidence in Biden's international abilities, compared to just 16% of Republicans and Republican-leaners.

The survey also took Americans' temperatures on other world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

More than half of Americans have confidence in Macron and Scholz, while ratings for the Chinese leader remain unchanged from the past year at 15%.

Putin fared the worst of any head of state included in the survey, with only 6% of U.S. adults expressing confidence in him following his decision to invade Ukraine. Pew calls this an "all-time low" in surveys going back nearly two decades.

Some 92% of Americans have little or no confidence in the Russian leader's handling of world affairs, while 77% have none at all. The sentiment is shared nearly equally by Democrats and Republicans, even though Republicans have been much more likely to express confidence in Putin's leadership in recent years.

"Partisan divides are more evident when it comes to assessments of world leaders other than Putin," Pew says. "For instance, about two-thirds of Democrats voice confidence in Macron and Scholz, while only about four-in-ten Republicans say they have confidence in each European leader."

Read more here about the study's findings and methodology.

Military

Russia likely used cluster munitions in populated areas at least 24 times, U.N. rights office says

Posted March 31, 2022 at 10:13 AM EDT
The internal components of a 300mm rocket which appears to contained cluster bombs launched from a BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launcher are embedded in the ground next to graves after shelling near the Memorial to the Victims of Totalitarianism in a forest on the outskirts of Kharkiv on March 23, 2022.
Sergey Bobok
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AFP via Getty Images
The internal components of a 300mm rocket, which appears to contain cluster bombs, are embedded in the ground next to graves after shelling near the Memorial to the Victims of Totalitarianism in a forest on the outskirts of Kharkiv on March 23.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet says her office has received “credible allegations that Russian armed forces have used cluster munitions in populated areas at least 24 times” in Ukraine, in an update on the war that began five weeks ago.

Bachelet said her office is also looking into allegations that Ukrainian forces have used cluster munitions as well.

The controversial weapons open in midair and indiscriminately spray wide areas with dozens or even hundreds of small "bomblets" — often with tragic effects, especially in urban or civilian settings where unexploded ordnance might attract attention from children.

A U.N. convention banning the use of cluster munitions took effect in 2010. But neither Russia, Ukraine — nor the U.S. — have agreed to the international ban.

Bachlet also said her office has verified attacks that damaged or destroyed 50 hospitals, along with 27 other medical or health facilities. At least 10 facilities were destroyed, she said, adding that the actual figures were likely far higher than the number her office has been able to confirm.

Bachelet gave her account as part of an update on what she called “a living nightmare” in Ukraine. Millions of people have been displaced, and thousands have been killed or wounded. Missiles, artillery and airstrikes have been used persistently in populated areas of Ukraine, she said, destroying or damaging civilian objects on a broad scale.

Diplomacy

Ukraine recalls its ambassadors to Georgia and Morocco over their stance on Russia

Posted March 31, 2022 at 9:23 AM EDT
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, wearing a green t-shirt, speaks in a video shown on a large TV screen.
Martin Ollman
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Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the Australian parliament via video link on Thursday in Canberra. He has been urging world leaders to increase their support for Ukraine and sanctions on Russia.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he has recalled Ukraine's ambassadors to Morocco and Georgia, suggesting the diplomats had not done enough to persuade those countries to support Ukraine or punish Russia in the wake of its invasion.

In a public address on Wednesday night, Zelenskyy spoke of those "who waste time and work only to stay in office," saying he had signed the first two decrees to recall two ambassadors who fit that description.

"With all due respect, if there are no weapons, no sanctions, no restrictions for Russian business — please look for another job," he added, according to an English translation.

Zelenskyy has spent much of the last five weeks of the war imploring world leaders to provide Ukraine with more financial support and military equipment, and to enact tougher sanctions on Russia.

He said he expects concrete results from military attaches in Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East in the coming days, calling diplomacy "one of the key frontlines" in the war.

"Everyone there must work as efficiently as possible to win and help the army," he said. "Each on the diplomatic frontline must work just as each of our defenders on the battlefield."

His announcement came after Morocco emphasized its "non-interference principle" during last week's U.N. General Assembly vote calling for an immediate end to the war in Ukraine, as Morocco World News reports.

This was the second such vote that Morocco had abstained from in recent weeks, with its foreign affairs ministry saying earlier this month that its stance should not be "subjected to any interpretation."

Nasser Bourita, Morocco's foreign minister, explained his country's position on Tuesday at a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who visited Rabat as part of a multi-day trip to the Middle East and North Africa.

"We are in favor of territorial integrity and national unity of Ukraine, as of all the member states of the United Nations," he said. "We are against the use or the recourse to force in settling disputes. We are in favor of constructive neighborhood relations, and we are in favor of dialogue and negotiation to solve issues."

Georgia, which Russia invaded in 2008, is breaking with its European neighbors by not imposing sanctions on the country. Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has said joining Western sanctions “would only damage our country and populace more.”

However, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili disagrees, and polls suggest the Georgian people want their leaders to do more to support Ukraine.

Zourabichvili told NPR earlier this month that she does not fundamentally disagree with the fact that being in Georgia — where two breakaway regions are currently controlled by Russia — means political leaders need to be more cautious in their positions than other countries in the region, like Baltic states that are members of NATO. But she has been outspoken about the need to support Ukraine.

"So we are in this dilemma of not confronting Russia, not provoking at least Russian reactions," she said. "But at the same time, keeping our principles, which is solidarity with Ukraine, which is our closeness with [the] European Union and NATO."

Fallout

Russia’s GDP will fall by 10% and Ukraine’s by 20% this year, says European bank

Posted March 31, 2022 at 9:04 AM EDT
People stand in the dark in front of a large sign reading "Stop Putin's Oil" with high-rise buildings lit up in the background.
Valeria Mongelli
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AFP via Getty Images
Demonstrators hold a vigil for Ukraine near the European Union headquarters in Brussels on March 22. A new economic forecast says Russia's economy will shrink by 20% this year due to the fallout over the war in Ukraine.

In its first assessment of the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development paints a dire picture for the two countries’ immediate future, predicting Ukraine’s GDP will fall by 20% this year and Russia’s by 10%.

Both countries’ economies had previously been forecast to expand — Ukraine’s by 3.5% and Russia’s by 3%. But the chaos of war and the jolt of sanctions on Russia have upended those predictions.

The war has plunged the global economy into “the greatest supply shock since at least the early 1970s,” the bank said, noting the outsize role both Russia and Ukraine play in supplying commodities, from energy and metals to wheat, corn and fertilizer.

“Prices of food commodities, oil, gas and metals increased sharply as markets anticipated a major reduction in exports from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus,” the bank stated, citing the importance of metals such as titanium and nickel.

“The EU imports 25% of oil, 47% of coal and 40% of its gas from Russia,” it said.

The war further raises the risk of inflation that was already high due to COVID-19 pandemic fluctuations, the bank said — and it added that some people and places will suffer more than others.

“Inflationary pressures have been greater in lower-income economies where food commodities (such as grain or corn) and energy account for a higher share of consumption,” the bank said. “This is because poorer people spend higher proportions of their incomes on food and energy. Furthermore, where incomes are lower, wheat accounts for a higher share of the cost of a loaf of bread in a supermarket.”

After Russia’s economy shrinks this year, the bank says, it will stagnate in 2023, with international sanctions expected to remain in effect. Those ills will ripple outward in eastern Europe and Central Asia in a variety of ways, the bank added, from a drop in remittances from workers in Russia to a lack of Russian tourists.

The bank says its forecast is subject to new changes in the unpredictable situation, pointing to new possibilities such as widespread bans on Russian gas or oil.

Military

Russian troops start leaving Kyiv, and will likely be redeployed to eastern Ukraine

Posted March 31, 2022 at 8:46 AM EDT
A soldier stands on a road next to a destroyed tank.
Anatolii Stepanov
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AFP via Getty Images
A Ukrainian soldier stands in front of a destroyed Russian armored personnel carrier in a village on the frontline of the northern part of the Kyiv region on Monday.

Five weeks into the war, Russia says it's pulling troops back from Kyiv and other locations — and appears to be refocusing on the eastern part of Ukraine.

An estimated 20% of the Russian troops outside Kyiv has begun withdrawing in the past day or so, according to the Pentagon, including frontline troops that were roughly just 10 miles from the city center. They're heading north towards Belarus, in what U.S. officials are calling a "repositioning" rather than a permanent withdrawal.

"Our assessment would be ... that they're going to refit these troops, resupply them and then probably employ them elsewhere else in Ukraine," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said yesterday.

So does that mean that Russia's initial military strategy has failed?

NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre explained onMorning Edition that Russian troops advanced fairly close to Ukraine's capital in the first two weeks of the war, signaling a major goal of ousting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and taking over the government. But they've been stalled for the past three weeks, he adds, and are now "clearly pulling back from an initial plan that didn't work."

That being said, most of the Russian forces near Kyiv are still there, and Russia continues to target the city with long-range artillery on the ground and airstrikes from above.

"So the Russians may not be able to take Kyiv at this point, but they can keep up this long-range bombardment indefinitely," Myre says.

He says that the troops are most likely to be redeployed in eastern Ukraine, as Russia has said this week it will focus on that region and both Ukrainian and U.S. intelligence say they're seeing operations intensify there.

Russian troops are still fighting on the edges of the hard-hit coastal city of Mariupol, and taking it would mean that Russia controls a pretty substantial swatch of Ukraine — from the Donbas in the east down through the Crimean peninsula in the south. Myre says that would allow Russia to potentially cut off Ukrainian forces to prevent them from defending other parts of the country.

The big question remains: What will Russian President Vladimir Putin do next, and what are his ultimate goals in Ukraine?

The White House said yesterday that it believes Putin is getting limited or even bad information from advisers who don't want to give him bad news on the state of the war or Russia's economy.

Myre points out that after the White House's statement, the Pentagon said it concurred and then a top British intelligence official agreed in a rare public speech. He called it "clearly a coordinated announcement," reminiscent of the kinds of intelligence leaks that came from the U.S. and its allies before Russia first invaded last month — and that intelligence did turn out to be accurate.

While we don't know the exact source of this latest intelligence, Myre adds, it's clear that Putin has miscalculated in thinking this would be a quick and easy war.

Casualties

A Ukrainian MP says Russian shelling killed her husband near Chernihiv

Posted March 31, 2022 at 8:33 AM EDT

Ukrainian member of parliament Olga Stefanyshyna announced Thursday that her husband, Bogdan, was killed by Russian shelling near Chernihiv. At the time, he was working to help others, she said.

Stefanyshyna provided no other details, citing the need to focus on her children.

Stefanyshyna is a people’s deputy in Ukraine’s Rada, representing the Holos (Voice) political party. A similarly named politician serves as Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

Chernihiv is an area, like Kyiv, where Russia has said it is withdrawing forces to position them elsewhere. But shelling has continued in those areas — as it has for weeks, with the Russian force unable or unwilling to advance into the cities’ centers.

International Dispatch
From Beijing

Russia's foreign minister visits China, affirming close ties

Posted March 31, 2022 at 8:11 AM EDT
Two men in suits wearing face masks bump elbows while standing in front of Russian and Chinese flags.
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STR/CCTV/AFP via Getty Images
This screengrab taken on March 30, 2022 from video by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) via AFPTV shows Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Huangshan in China's Anhui province.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is in China this week.

He met in rural Anhui province with China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, and reaffirmed Russia's strong ties with China. The two agreed that the relations between China and Russia showed "strong resilience."

China's unwillingness to denounce Russia's invasion of Ukraine has stoked American and European criticism.

But China shows no sign it will distance itself from Russia. Wang Yi instead said China-Russia ties have "stood the new test of a changing international landscape."

Today, Lavrov is among representatives from the Taliban, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan being hosted by Beijing to discuss Afghanistan's future.

Humanitarian corridors

Russian cease-fire sets the stage for civilian evacuations from Mariupol on Friday

Posted March 31, 2022 at 8:08 AM EDT
A person in a sweatshirt carrying bags walks next to a child towards two buses in a parking lot.
Emre Caylak
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AFP via Getty Images
A family from Mariupol arrives at the registration center in Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday. 

A convoy of 45 buses is heading to the besieged city of Mariupol to try to bring in humanitarian supplies and evacuate some of the people who have been trapped there for weeks, according to Ukraine's deputy prime minister.

"Tonight, we received a message from the International Red Cross Committee that the Russian Federation confirms its readiness to open access for the humanitarian convoy to the city of Mariupol with transit through the city of Berdyansk," Iryna Vereshchuk said in a video posted on Telegram and translated by RadioFreeEurope/Radio Liberty.

She added that 17 buses had already departed from Zaporizhzhia, more than 130 miles away, and that the other 28 were awaiting authorization to pass a Russian checkpoint in the area, according to Al Jazeera.

The Russian Defense Ministry has reportedly agreed to let Mariupol residents evacuate to Zaporizhzhia via the Russian-controlled corridor of Berdiansk, with the direct involvement of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

A view shows an apartment building destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukraine on Wednesday.
Alexander Ermochenko
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Reuters
A view shows an apartment building destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukraine on Wednesday.

ICRC spokesperson Ewan Watson told Reuters today that teams are on the way to Mariupol, equipped with aid supplies and prepared to evacuate civilians. He added that Russia and Ukraine still need to agree to the terms of the operation, with "tens of thousands" of lives hanging in the balance.

"For logistics and security reasons, we’ll be ready to lead the safe passage operation tomorrow, Friday, provided all the parties agree to the exact terms, including the route, the start time, and the duration," Watson said.

Russia and Ukraine have reached multiple cease-fire agreements to allow for humanitarian evacuations from Mariupol in recent weeks, only for them to fall apart when Russian forces opened fire.

Ukrainian officials estimate up to 100,000 civilians are still trapped in the city, which has been encircled by Russian forces and lacking food, water and power for weeks. There have also been reports of Russian troops forcibly deporting city residents to Russia.

NPR's Jason Beaubien spoke to Mariupol evacuees as they arrived in Zaporizhzhia, where they described the dire situation they had escaped and the joy they felt at finally getting to safety. Listen here.