Moscow condemned for “humanitarian corridors” leading Ukrainians to Russia

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Moscow was condemned after announcing the opening of humanitarian corridors that would lead Ukrainian civilians fleeing the invasion to Russia or its ally Belarus.

The announcement of a limited ceasefire came a day after hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians trying to flee to safety were forced to shelter from Russian shelling of central, northern and southern towns. south of the country.

Ahead of a third round of talks scheduled for Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry said a ceasefire would begin in the morning and safe passages would open for civilians from the capital Kiev, the southern port city of Mariupol and the cities of Kharkiv and Sumy.

A woman warms herself with a blanket in a crowd of refugees in Poland (Markus Schreiber/AP)

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

A senior Ukrainian official rejected these proposals.

During the second week of the war, Russia’s plan to quickly invade the country was thwarted by fierce resistance.

His troops have made significant progress in southern Ukraine and along the coast, but many of his efforts have stalled, including a huge military convoy that stood almost motionless for days north of Kiev. .

The fighting has caused energy prices to soar around the world, stocks to plummet, and threaten the food supply and livelihoods of people around the world who depend on farmland in the Black Sea region.

The death toll from the fighting remains uncertain. The UN says it has only confirmed a few hundred civilians killed, but also warned the number was grossly underestimated.

POLITICS Ukraine
(PA graphics)

Police in the Kharkiv region said on Monday that 209 people had died there, including 133 civilians.

The Russian invasion also caused 1.5 million people to flee the country, creating what the head of the UN refugee agency called “the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War “.

But many more found themselves trapped in towns under fire. Food, water, medicine and nearly all other supplies were desperately short in the southern port city of Mariupol, which around 200,000 people are trying to flee but where an earlier ceasefire has collapsed.

The Russian task force said the new promise of humanitarian corridors was announced at the request of French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday. Mr Macron’s office said he had called for a broader end to military operations in Ukraine and protections for civilians.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk called the proposed evacuation routes to Russia and Belarus “unacceptable”. Belarus is a key ally of Mr. Putin and served as a launching pad for the invasion.

POLITICS Ukraine
(PA graphics)

The Ukrainian government is proposing eight humanitarian corridors, including from Mariupol, which would allow civilians to reach western regions of Ukraine where there is no Russian bombardment.

The Russian proposal was reminiscent of similar proposals in Syria. In 2016, a joint Russian and Syrian proposal to set up humanitarian corridors out of opposition-besieged eastern Aleppo was criticized on humanitarian grounds.

Human rights activists said the tactic, coupled with brutal sieges, effectively gave residents a choice between fleeing into the arms of their attackers or dying in the shelling.

Meanwhile, Russian forces opened fire on the city of Mykolaiv, 480 kilometers south of the capital Kiev, the Ukrainian general staff announced on Monday morning. Rescuers said they were putting out fires in residential areas caused by rocket attacks.

The shelling also continued in the suburbs of Kiev, notably in Irpin, which was cut off from electricity, water and heating for three days.

“Russia continues to fire rockets, bombs and artillery at cities and settlements in Ukraine,” the General Staff said. “The invaders continue to use Belarus’ airfield network to conduct airstrikes on Ukraine.”

Russia Ukraine War
A woman cries during a religious service at St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kiev on Sunday (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

The Russians have also targeted humanitarian corridors, taking women and children hostage and planting weapons in residential areas of cities, according to the General Staff.

The previous breakdown in evacuations came as Ukrainian officials said Russian shelling was intensifying across the country.

“Instead of humanitarian corridors, they can only make bloody ones,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday. “Today a family was killed in Irpin. Man, woman and two children. Just on the road. Like in a shooting range.

Mr Putin said Moscow’s attacks could only be stopped “if Kiev ceases hostilities”.

As he has often done, Mr 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”. .

Mr Putin launched his invasion with a series of false accusations against Kiev, including that it is led by neo-Nazis determined to undermine Russia with the development of nuclear weapons.

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