Ukrainian authorities said Saturday that bus convoys trying to evacuate civilians were being stopped and held by Russian forces, as part of what they claimed to be a pressure campaign to force some residents to go to Russia.
In a statement, Oleksandr Starukh, the head of the Zaporizhzhia regional administration, said an evacuation convoy of more than 50 buses driving from the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia was held overnight at a Russian checkpoint in Vasylivka, about 35 miles south of Zaporizhzhia. Starukh said the convoy included two ambulances carrying three children requiring urgent medical care.
Petro Andriushchenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, said Russians were holding thousands of Mariupol evacuees near Vasylivka in poor conditions without food and water. Some of the residents looking to flee Mariupol, Andriushchenko claimed, were being taken directly to the city of Donetsk — which is under Russian control — and then onward into the Russia.
CNN could not independently verify those reports, but Andriushchenko said any announcement of evacuation routes from Mariupol could be a potential "trap," as there were no routes from government-held Ukraine into the city.