Russian attacks halt plans to evacuate Ukrainian civilians
A second attempt to evacuate civilians from a besieged town in southern Ukraine collapsed on Sunday amid renewed Russian bombardment, as Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine for the war and said the invasion could be stopped “only if Kiev ceases hostilities”.
Food, water, medicine and nearly all other supplies were desperately short in the beleaguered port city of Mariupol, where Russian and Ukrainian forces had agreed to an 11 a.m. ceasefire that would allow civilians and injured to be evacuated. But the Russian attacks quickly shut down the humanitarian corridor, Ukrainian officials said.
“There can be no ‘green corridors’ because only the diseased Russian brain decides when to start shooting and at whom,” Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said on Telegram.
The news dashed hopes that more people could escape the fighting in Ukraine, where Russia’s plan to quickly invade the country has been thwarted by fierce resistance. Russia has made significant progress in southern Ukraine and along the coast, but many of its efforts have stalled, including a huge military convoy that stood almost motionless for days north of Kiev .
Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskyy rallied his people to remain defiant, especially those in towns the Russian soldiers entered.
“You should take to the streets! You should fight! he told Ukrainian television on Saturday. “We must get out and chase this evil from our cities, from our land.”
The war, now in its eleventh day, has caused 1.5 million people to flee the country. The head of the UN refugee agency called the exodus “the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II”.
As he has often done, Putin blamed Ukraine for the war, telling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday that Kiev must end all hostilities and meet “Russia’s well-known demands”.
These demands include what Putin called the “denazification” of Ukraine, which he says is led by neo-Nazis bent on undermining Russia.
Putin also told Erdogan that he hoped Ukraine would “show a more constructive approach (to the talks), fully taking emerging realities into account.” A third round of Russian-Ukrainian talks is scheduled for Monday.
Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday discussed the nuclear situation in Ukraine, which has 15 nuclear power plants and was the scene of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.
The men agreed on the principle of a “dialogue” involving Russia, Ukraine and the UN’s atomic watchdog, according to a French official who spoke on condition of anonymity, in accordance with the practices of the presidency. Potential talks on the issue are to be held in the coming days, he said.
Putin also blamed last week’s fire at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which Ukrainian officials said was caused by Russian attackers, on an “organized provocation by Ukrainian radicals”.
“Attempts to blame this incident on the Russian military are part of a cynical propaganda campaign,” he said, according to the French official.
International leaders, as well as Pope Francis, have called on Putin to negotiate.
In a highly unusual move, the pope said he had sent two cardinals to Ukraine, saying the Vatican would do everything it could to end the conflict.
“In Ukraine, rivers of blood and tears flow,” said the pontiff in his traditional Sunday blessing. “This is not just a military operation, but a war that sows death, destruction and misery.”
After the collapse of the ceasefire in Mariupol on Saturday, Russian forces stepped up their shelling of the city and dropped massive bombs on residential areas in Chernihiv, a town north of Kiev, Ukrainian officials said.
On Saturday, the emergency coordinator in Ukraine of the international aid group Doctors Without Borders described the situation in Mariupol as “catastrophic”.
The city of 430,000 inhabitants has “neither water, nor electricity, nor heating. Internet and telephone services were cut. Hospitals, supermarkets and residential buildings suffered heavy damage. And it is not possible to bring relief material into the city,” Laurent Ligozat said in a statement.
British military officials have compared Russia’s tactics to those used by Moscow in Chechnya and Syria, where encircled towns have been pulverized by airstrikes and artillery.
“It will probably represent an effort to break the morale of Ukrainians,” said the British Ministry of Defense.
Zelenskyy reiterated a demand for foreign protectors to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which NATO has so far ruled out due to fears such action could lead to war much wider.
“The world is strong enough to close the sky to us,” Zelenskyy said Sunday in a video address.
Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Zelenskyy, said Ukrainian officials and international aid organizations were working with Russia through intermediaries to establish humanitarian corridors from Bucha and Hostomel, which are Kyiv suburbs where heavy fighting has taken place. occurred.
The death toll remains lost in the fog of war, with the UN saying it has only confirmed a few hundred civilian deaths, but also warning that the number is grossly underestimated.
Ukraine’s army is vastly outmatched by Russia’s, but its professional and volunteer forces have fought back with fierce tenacity. In Kiev, volunteers lined up on Saturday to join the army.
Even in the fallen cities there were signs of resistance.
Onlookers in Chernihiv cheered as they watched a Russian military plane fall from the sky and crash, according to video released by the Ukrainian government. In Kherson, hundreds of protesters waved blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and shouted, “Go home.”
Russia has made significant progress in southern Ukraine as it seeks to block access to the Sea of Azov. Capturing Mariupol could allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 in a move most other countries considered illegal.
The West has largely backed Ukraine, offering aid and arms shipments and hitting Russia with sweeping sanctions. But no NATO troops were sent to Ukraine, leaving the Ukrainians to fight Russian troops alone.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spent the weekend visiting NATO member countries in Eastern Europe that have taken in refugees from Ukraine. In Moldova on Sunday, he pledged support for the western-leaning former Soviet republic which is watching Russia’s actions in Ukraine warily.
The World Health Organization on Sunday condemned attacks on healthcare workers in Ukraine, saying it verified at least six such attacks that killed six people and injured 11 others.
Attacks on health workers are a violation of international humanitarian law, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter.
The UN has said it will increase its humanitarian operations inside and outside Ukraine, and the Security Council has scheduled a meeting on Monday on the worsening situation.
The United Nations World Food Program has warned of a looming hunger crisis in Ukraine, a major global supplier of wheat, saying millions of people will need food aid “immediately”.