Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 22. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Russia’s Ministry of Defense has offered to cease all hostilities around the Azovstal steel plant in besieged Mariupol to allow civilians to leave “in any direction they choose.”

“The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the formations of the Donetsk People’s Republic from 14:00 (Moscow time) on April 25, 2022 unilaterally cease any hostilities, units are withdrawn to a safe distance and ensure the withdrawal of the specified category of citizens in any directions they choose,” the statement said.

Issued on behalf of the head of the Russian Federation Joint Coordination Headquarters for Humanitarian Response, Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, the statement also claimed a “permanently operating round-the-clock humanitarian corridor” would be open for the evacuations of civilian plant workers, women and children.

Ukrainian officials have said Russia has repeatedly broken pledges to allow civilians safe passage from Azovstal. US and Ukrainian officials have also alleged that Russian forces have forced civilians looking to escape Mariupol into separatist-held territory and into Russia itself.

Ukrainian troops hunkered down in the vast plant have previously rejected Russia’s offers to surrender, and issued videos of women and children sheltering in the basement of the facility.

Mizintsev said Ukrainian troops should indicate readiness to accept the ceasefire by raising white flags around the Azovstal plant perimeter.

The ceasefire offer will also be broadcast to Ukrainian troops by local radio channels at 30-minute intervals, according to the statement.

“The Russian Federation publicly and officially declares that there are no obstacles to the exit of civilians from Azovstal,” the statement reads.

Some context: The CEO of the company that owns Azovstal told CNN last week that the situation was “close to a catastrophe,” with families running out of water, food and vital supplies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said there was no need for his forces to storm the Azovstal factory but ordered them to blockade it “so that a fly can’t get through.” He added that Russia would offer the remaining Ukrainian defenders the opportunity to lay down arms.

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