Ukraine Denies Deal Reached On Humanitarian Corridor For Mariupol, Says Assault Continues

By RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Ukraine has denied that an agreement was reached with Russia to form a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to escape a steel plant in the besieged port city of Mariupol, and said Russia continued to attack the plant on April 25 and also hit Ukrainian rail and fuel facilities far from the front lines.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said a Russian announcement on a humanitarian corridor for civilians to leave the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol had been announced unilaterally and did not exist.

"I declare officially and publicly: unfortunately, there are no agreements on humanitarian corridors from Azovstal today," Vereshchuk said. The corridor that Russia announced "does not provide security, and therefore, in fact, is not a humanitarian corridor," she said on Telegram.

She also asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres to "initiate and guarantee" a corridor for civilians to escape the Azovstal complex with representatives of the United Nations and the Red Cross present. Guterres is due to hold talks in Russia and Ukraine this week.

Shortly after she made the comments, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian forces were attacking the steel plant.

"The enemy continues to attack our defenses in the area of the Azovstal plant using aircraft, artillery...firing with tanks and trying to advance with assault groups, violating the order of their own supreme commander," Oleksiy Arestovych said, referring to President Vladimir Putin's statement last week it was unnecessary to storm the plant.

The sprawling steel complex has remained the last bulwark of Ukrainian resistance in the strategic Sea of Azov port city.

Ukrainian officials say that up to 1,000 civilians are sheltering in the maze of underground tunnels there. They have repeatedly urged Russia to offer them a safe exit, but previous attempts at organizing evacuations have failed repeatedly.

Russia also struck targets far from the front lines in what Ukraine's military command said was an attempt to bomb Ukraine's rail infrastructure in order to disrupt arms supplies from foreign countries.

Oleksandr Kamyshin, head of the state-run Ukrainian railways, said five railway facilities in central and western Ukraine were hit early on April 25. That included a missile attack near the western city of Lviv.

"Russian troops continue to systematically destroy railway infrastructure. This morning, within an hour, 5 railway stations in central and western Ukraine came under fire," Kamyshin said on Telegram.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its missiles destroyed six facilities powering the railways and an arms depot near Slovyansk in the Donetsk region. The claims could not be independently verified.

The governor of the Donetsk region said four civilians, including chidren, had been killed in the region on April 25.

Meanwhile, Russia launched rockets at two towns in Ukraine's central Vinnytsya region on April 25, causing an unspecified number of deaths and injuries, regional Governor Serhiy Borzov said.

Russia said its military struck Ukraine's Kremenchuk oil refinery with long-range missiles and hit military installations in Ukraine. However, the Russian statement could not be independently confirmed. The governor of Ukraine's Poltava region had said the Kremenchuk refinery near the Dnipro River was destroyed earlier this month.

To Ukraine's north on the Russian side of the border, a fire erupted early on April 25 at an oil facility, but no immediate cause was given for the blaze in oil storage tanks.

Unverified social-media footage, however, showed what sounded like two explosions followed by a tower of flame, with one unverified video showing a fire raging around a giant fuel reservoir.

NASA satellites that track fires showed something burning at coordinates that corresponded to a Rosneft facility some 110 kilometers north of the Ukrainian border. Moscow has previously blamed Ukraine for attacks in the Russian region of Bryansk, which borders Ukraine.

The developments came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Kyiv and announced more than $700 million in additional direct and indirect military aid.

About half of the money will go to Ukraine, with the remainder to be split among NATO members and other regional allies.

In addition, Washington will sell $165 million worth of ammunition to Kyiv, according to the U.S. officials, who met with Zelenskiy.

After the trip, which was confirmed only after the two had left Ukrainian territory, Blinken said Russia was failing in its war aims and "Ukraine is succeeding," while Austin said the United States believes that Ukraine can win the war with Russia if it has "the right equipment."

The United States has sent some $4 billion in military aid since President Joe Biden's term began last year, and already announced last week a new $800 million aid package.

Blinken, speaking to reporters near the Polish-Ukrainian border, said he and Austin traveled by train from Poland into Ukraine.

He said the visit to Kyiv was an opportunity to directly demonstrate "our strong ongoing support for the Ukrainian government."

Austin, in turn, said the United States believes that Ukraine can win the war with Russia if it has "the right equipment."

"The first step in winning is believing that you can win. And so they believe that we can win," Austin told journalists.

"We believe that we can win, they can win if they have the right equipment, the right support," he said.

Biden on April 25 also nominated the current U.S. ambassador to Slovakia, Bridget Brink, as the new ambassador to Kyiv, a post that has been officially unoccupied since 2019. The nomination comes as officials say U.S. diplomats will soon return to Kyiv, which they evacuated when the war began.

The United States will reopen its Ukraine Embassy, Blinken said. He said U.S. diplomats would first come to the western city of Lviv and should be back in Kyiv within weeks.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said late on April 25 that the crisis will end with an agreement but its content will depend on the military situation, criticizing Kyiv for only imitating negotiations.

Speaking in an in an interview on Russian television, Lavrov said NATO was essentially engaging in war with Russia through a proxy and arming that proxy and weapons delivered to Ukraine from the West will be "legitimate targets" for the Russian military.

He also warned of the threat of a third world war. "The danger is serious, it is real, it must not be underestimated," Lavrov said.

Earlier, Russia's ambassador in Washington told the United States to halt arms shipments, warning that large Western deliveries of weapons were inflaming the conflict.

With reporting by AP, AFP, BBC, and Reuters