Hope for safe evacuation of civilians out of besieged Mariupol as bus convoy heads for city

Mariupol continues to feel the full force of Russian aggression, as ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent reports

There are fresh hopes for the safe evacuation of civilians out of Mariupol in Ukraine, as a convoy of buses headed to the besieged city to bring people to safety.

After the Russian military agreed to a limited cease-fire in the area, the Red Cross said its teams were travelling to Mariupol with relief and medical supplies - and hopes of rescuing people from the city.

Previous attempts at establishing a similar humanitarian corridor have fallen apart after Russia broke promises of a ceasefire.

A pledge by Moscow to de-escalate in some areas of Ukraine were further undermined on Thursday, as shelling and attacks continued on the outskirts of Kyiv and elsewhere.

Yet another broken promise from Russia casts little hope on the next round of peace talks set to take place on Friday.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 45 buses would be sent to collect civilians who have suffered in the worst humanitarian crisis of the war so far.

Food, water and medical supplies have all run low during a weeks-long blockade and bombardment of the city, once home to some 430,000 people.

Civilians who have managed to leave have typically done so using private cars, but the number of drivable vehicles left in the city has also dwindled and fuel stocks are low.

What's been done to Ukraine is on the conscience of the Russian high command, Correspondent Geraint Vincent has been told

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is helping run the evacuation, said its teams have already left for Mariupol.

“It’s desperately important that this operation takes place,” the Red Cross said in a statement. “The lives of tens of thousands of people in Mariupol depend on it.”

As the new evacuation attempt was announced, evidence emerged that a Red Cross warehouse in the city had been struck earlier this month amid intense Russian shelling of the area.

In satellite pictures from Planet Labs PBC, holes can be seen in the warehouse’s roof, along with a painted red cross on a white background. The aid organisation said no staff have been at the site since March 15.

In this satellite photo an International Committee of the Red Cross warehouse is seen with apparent damage from shelling in Mariupol. Credit: Planet Labs PBC via AP

On Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Russia does not appear to be scaling back its military operations in Ukraine but is instead redeploying forces to the eastern Donbas region.

Meanwhile the head of Britain’s GCHQ spy agency has said Vladimir Putin’s advisers are scared to tell him the truth about the progress of his Ukraine invasion.

Sir Jeremy Fleming said the extent of the Russian leader’s “misjudgements” must be “crystal clear to the regime”.

In a rare public address during a visit to Australia, the head of Britain’s GCHQ spy agency said Mr Putin had “massively misjudged the situation”.

And he warned China not to become “too closely aligned” with the Kremlin. He said: “It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people."

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“He underestimated the strength of the coalition his actions would galvanise," Sir Jeremy added.

"He under-played the economic consequences of the sanctions regime. He over-estimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory.

“We’ve seen Russian soldiers – short of weapons and morale – refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft.

“And even though we believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgements must be crystal clear to the regime.”

GCHQ director Sir Jeremy Fleming. Credit: Hannah McKay/PA

He added: “It’s become his personal war, with the cost being paid by innocent people in Ukraine and increasingly, by ordinary Russians too.”

Speaking at the Australian National University in Canberra, Sir Jeremy said western allies were making “deeply secret intelligence” public to get ahead of Mr Putin’s information war, while also tackling cyber threats.

On China, he said the country’s long-term interests are not well served by an alliance with a leader that “wilfully and illegally” ignores the international “rules of the road”.

His intervention comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week directly confronted President Xi Jinping over Beijing’s stance on the conflict in Ukraine in what was described as a “frank and candid” discussion.

On Thursday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will urge Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to work with other democracies to counter Mr Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.

The country has so far been reluctant to publicly condemn the actions of Russia – a long-standing ally dating back to the Cold War.

India, which is heavily reliant on Moscow for arms imports, has abstained in a series of votes in the United Nations on the issue.

A young girl sits on a suitcase in a queue as Ukrainian refugees wait in line to board a train to return to Ukraine Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

It comes as the Ukrainian president says his country’s defence against the Russian invasion is at a “turning point.”

In his nightly address to the nation, Volodymyr Zelenskyy again pressed the United States for more help, hours after the Kremlin’s forces reneged on a pledge to scale back some of their operations.

Russian bombardment of areas around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv and intensified attacks elsewhere added to doubts over progress toward ending the war.

Talks between Ukraine and Russia are set to resume Friday by video.

The British Ministry of Defence on Thursday issued an update on the invasion, saying "significant Russian shelling and missile strikes have continued" around Chernihiv.

It added that fighting continues in the besieged city of Mariupol, which has seen a worsening humanitarian crisis each day, but that the city centre remains under Ukrainian control.

A Ukrainian family walk out of the customs office at Przemysl Glowny train station in Poland Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Still the numbers of people fleeing Ukraine climb, with the UN refugee agency saying four million people have now left the country since Russia launched its war on February 24.

Boris Johnson was grilled by the Liaison Committee on Wednesday after it emerged just 2,700 visas have been granted to people wanting to come to the UK under the Homes For Ukraine scheme, despite applications reaching 28,300.

There have been 31,200 applications for a separate scheme, the family scheme, and 22,800 visas granted.

Red tape and a lack of communication are being blamed for the sluggish system that has granted so few Ukrainians safety in the UK despite tens of thousands of British people volunteering to home a refugee.