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According to Aljazeera, civilians have a hard time evacuating from Mariupol which was surrounded by the Russian troops:

Previous attempts to establish evacuation corridors to allow civilians to escape the city, and to allow humanitarian aid to enter, have fallen apart as earlier ceasefires collapsed.

The two parties have traded the blame for such failures, with Ukrainian authorities accusing Russia of deliberately opening fire on aid convoys heading towards Mariupol. Russia has blamed Kyiv for sabotaging ceasefire agreements and holding civilians hostages.

I do not understand why the Russian troops would not allow the civilians to evacuate. Isn't trying to conquer a city easier if virtually only the combatants remain? It would also diminish the likelihood of committing war crimes committed during the bombardments.

It would make even less sense for the Ukrainians to sabotage the ceasefire, that's why my question is focused on the Russian part of the possible ceasefires agreement.

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    how is this not a duplicate of What is the purpose of the siege of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol by the Russian invaders? Not VTC to close yet, but it seems pretty much the same wrt to blocking civilian evacuation. Mar 24 at 18:02
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Thank you for bringing up that other Q; it should be linked as a related Q. I am the OP on that other question (= the alleged dupe target), and I say that my question is different. I was asking about the purpose of the entire operation of the siege. The Q from Alexei is asking only about the civilian non-evacuation issue. This is a small aspect of the entire operation, which also includes military, weapons, industrial & "area under control" aspects, etc. There are also Russia's alleged claims of Nazis, bioweapons, birds (!) & other amazing items. Mar 24 at 18:45
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    @TimurShtatland Yes, I know your question could be interpreted different ways (and that I had voted to close it too, at least based on me interpreting it strictly as concerning civilian evacuations). Yes, the Russian parade of dubious claims could fill an entire book by now. What are the birds about? Mar 24 at 19:47
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    What you mean by ukrainians? The regular ukrainian forces a defenetly not the ones who would keep citisents as hostages. Even Russia is not blaiming regular ukrainian forces. However there is a nationalistic battalion Asov, members of which have comited some crimes against locals. This relates to Mariupol.
    – convert
    Mar 24 at 23:24

6 Answers 6

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They do appear to be allow evacuations but only towards areas that they control and I assume they are doing this so they control the fate of those people and have more leverage.

https://www.npr.org/2022/03/07/1084875710/russia-sets-cease-fire-for-evacuations-amid-heavy-shelling

Some of the evacuation routes, however, would funnel civilians toward Russia or its ally Belarus — unlikely destinations for many Ukrainians who would prefer to head toward countries on the western and southern borders.

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    ...and ukrainian side does not allow civilians out of besieged cities to strip russian side of that leverage?
    – alamar
    Mar 24 at 19:06
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    @alamar From what I read in that article they don't want to go near Russia or its allies as they don't trust them. It isn't what Ukraine is allowing.
    – Joe W
    Mar 24 at 19:13
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    @alamar If the cities are besieged by Russia, there's little to no access to the Ukrainian lines anyway. The Ukrainian side basically isn't in control of that, or they probably would allow civilians to escape. Mar 25 at 3:13
  • Mariupol is also home to the Azov Battalion. It makes sense that one would want to control the evacuation to keep its members from easily escaping along with the civilians.
    – HK-51
    Mar 25 at 5:22
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I have not seen this directly mentioned in any news sources, but it makes sense.

Historically, the most basic way to win a siege is to starve the defenders out. Therefore defenders sometime expel noncombatants to reduce the strain on their supplies. When this happens, the attacker has occasionally refused to allow the noncombatants to leave. See Lieber code - the code of conduct for Union armies in the American Civil War.

Art. 18: When a commander of a besieged place expels the noncombatants, in order to lessen the number of those who consume his stock of provisions, it is lawful, though an extreme measure, to drive them back, so as to hasten on the surrender.

By not allowing civilians out of Mariupol, Russia forces Ukraine to provide for their sustenance. They will run out of food quicker, after which they will be forced to surrender.

Viewed from this perspective the humanitarian disaster in Mariupol is actually by design, and it's exactly what has won many sieges in the past. Why do we frown on it today then? I asked this on History SE some time ago, you might be interested in the answers there.

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  • I also think that makes sense, despite the fact that it is very unlikely for any official to confirm it.
    – Alexei
    Mar 25 at 7:01
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    @Alexei I would caution that this answer still speculative though. There's also a facet that it doesn't explain: if Russia is intending to win by starvation, then they do not need to assault the city, they can just wait until Mariupol surrenders. Yet the news indicates there's street-to-street fighting in Mariupol. Maybe I should add it to the answer?
    – Allure
    Mar 25 at 7:56
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    Also, if this is the reason for not allowing civilians to evacuate, Russia need not negotiate humanitarian corridors in the first place. They could just declare their intention outright, which would save time and avoid it looking like they are breaking their word.
    – Allure
    Mar 25 at 8:05
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    @Allure "They could just declare their intention outright" is in my opinion not entirely corerct. Imagine the outcry of the worlds community if russia would confirm, that they are not letting civilians escapse to that they can starve the defendes more quickly
    – SirHawrk
    Mar 25 at 8:39
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    @EricDuminil no reason. I'm going to delete it, because there's no reason to have it.
    – Allure
    Mar 25 at 13:15
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The publicly stated goals of Russia seem somewhat contradictory. Their use of nazi seems to translate as Russia's enemies, even if they are Jewish. Some journalists believe that Russia's goal is to take control of Ukraine, at the very least install a puppet government, possibly annex parts or all.

The military plan seems to have been a shock and awe campaign of quick mechanized thrusts, similar of what the US did to Iraq in 2003. This failed due to greater-than-expected Ukrainian resistance and Russian incompetence (possibly because the Russian leadership deceived their own troops). The campaign seems to be transitioning into a war of attrition, which ends when one side or the other is too exhausted to fight. It does help Russia if the defenders of besieged cities have to share their supplies with the civilian population.

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    Does not seem to answer the question.
    – alamar
    Mar 24 at 18:58
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    @alamar, the OP presumed that Russia would want the civilians out of the way. I suggest that doing so would make supply easier for the defenders, which is not in Russia's interest.
    – o.m.
    Mar 24 at 19:00
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    I think you should write that in your answer explicitly.
    – alamar
    Mar 24 at 19:02
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    Maybe you should give the bottom line up front.
    – alamar
    Mar 24 at 19:11
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    @alamar, I'd like to keep the conclusion after the reasoning, especially since it is quite damning of Russia.
    – o.m.
    Mar 24 at 19:13
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Russian news outlets report the opposite. According to them it is Ukrainian troops (Asov) that do not let people out while Russian troops have ceased fire as per agreement and schedule with Kiev and prepared transport to evacuate people.

Source: I read Russian and "Western" news. They blame each other for the same things with similar photos/videos.

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    Russia is blocking it's own reporters using force and "law" from reporting anything but the offical narrative of Russia's government on this subject. What's left of "mainstream" Russian news media is not credible at this stage. Mar 25 at 7:16
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    There is no such thing as Russian "news." Please, see the answers to this question.
    – wrod
    Mar 25 at 9:34
  • There's a lot of materials in Tg channels, especially LDNR sources, where people who were able to flee from Mariupol tell they were prevented from leaving Mariupol by Ukrainian armed forces. I can't judge on their authenticity since it's obviously not hard to film a fake, but there's quite a few of those.
    – alamar
    Mar 25 at 16:01
  • I think that there's this possibility after all. Why blaming always the russians to lie? I think that even if they lie much more than the other part the situation is strange in Mariupol because this city is in Donbass so I think they didn't want in the first place destroy everything of it. Maybe it is possible that lots of civilian buildings were shelled since they was occupied by ukrainian soldiers, I don't think many people will give the permission to do that risking the destruction of their home so maybe there's the possibility that both the parts are guilty
    – Tortar
    Apr 5 at 21:24
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It's a military tactic designed to draw defensive forces into a situation more favorable to the aggressors.

By inflicting high civilian casualties, the defensive army is baited to reposition in the direction which is already fortified by the offensive army. And by doing this, the defensive army is baited to leave its own fortified position.

A large portion of Ukraine's army is currently dedicated to defense of the capital city Kyiv. There is an opinion that Russia would be able to demoralize Ukrainian army if Russia manages to take Kyiv and arrest or kill most of the legitimate Ukrainian government. But taking a highly-fortified large city would result in a much higher number of casualties than Russia is willing to suffer. And, given how successful Ukrainian army has been so far, it is far from certain that the Russian army would, in fact, be able to take Kyiv even if commits all of its troops to that one task.

So Russia is trying to bait Ukraine's forces away from Kyiv by committing atrocities in places as far away from Kyiv as possible.

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According to Vitaly Portnikov, a political analyst, Putin's goals include occupation of the area that includes Mariupol. Possibly, the land connection of Donbass (occupied by Russia) to Crimea (ditto), possibly to Odessa and Transnistria (territory of Moldova occupied by Russia).

AFAIK, all other priorities are rescinded (such as preserving the industrial base, which could be reused later by the Russians).

The entire civilian population is expendable, according to the current apparent plan. Otherwise, why the bombings of the Drama Theater marked with huge word "DETI" ("children", in Russian), and of the maternity hospital (unless the pregnant women are Nazi troops of the Jewish President Zelensky, only in disguise).

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    Is there evidence that they specifically targeted these buildings with foreknowledge of their contents and purpose, or were they one of many destroyed buildings? This isn't a leading question; I haven't been keeping up with the news.
    – forest
    Mar 25 at 4:33
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    Yes, they did. You don’t hit the exact centre of a theater surrounded by large empty space with a precision bomb by accident. Mar 25 at 7:03

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