Ukraine war: Russia ‘reopens’ evacuation routes out of besieged cities
Russia has said it will ‘reopen’ five humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to flee from besieged Ukrainian cities today after the first successful evacuation took place yesterday, with 5,000 ferried to safety from Sumy.
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Two convoys of specially-marked medical buses departed the eastern Ukrainian city, which has been under heavy Russian bombardment for more than a week, and made their way to Poltava, 90 miles to the south. Hundreds of foreign students, many of them Indian or east Asian, were among those who escaped.
Russia has said the corridor will open again today raising hopes that more people can leave the battlefield, along with routes out of four other cities – Chernihiv, in the north, Mariupol, in the south, Kharkiv, in the north-east, and the capital of Kyiv. The Ukrainians said corridors will open from Enerhodar and Mariupol to Zaporozhia, Volnovakha to Pokrovsk, and the suburbs of Vorzel, Bucha, Borodyanka, Irpin and Hostomel into Kyiv.
Hopes for those routes are far dimmer. Three previous attempts to open a corridor out of Mariupol, which has been without water, food or electricity for a week, have failed after the Ukrainians accused Russia of mining and shelling the escape route. Evacuations out of Chernihiv failed yesterday for the same reason.
The Ukrainian government has also rejected proposed Russian routes out of Kharkiv and Kyiv because they lead directly to Russia or to its close ally Belarus, which has been assisting with the invasion. Air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv in the early hours as the city was bombed, despite Russian claims of a ceasefire.
It is feared the evacuations are simply a precursor to Russia stepping up its bombardment of the cities to wear down dogged Ukrainian defenders before trying to capture them. CIA Director William Burns, briefing Congress on Putin’s state of mind Tuesday, warned the ‘angry and frustrated’ despot is ‘likely to double down and try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties.’
At least 10 people were killed in a Russian military attack in the eastern Ukrainian town of Severodonestk on Tuesday, a local official for the Lugansk region said in a statement on Telegram.
The Russian military ‘opened fire’ on residential homes and other buildings in the town, he said, without immediately specifying whether it was an artillery attack. The region has seen heavy fighting in recent days.
Ukrainian commanders said today that Russia’s attack on the country has ‘slowed significantly’ with no major gains in any sector while its forces were bolstering defenses in key cities and ‘holding the line.’
In the northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces are placing military equipment among residential buildings and on farms, the Ukrainian general staff said. And in the south, it said Russians dressed in civilian clothes are advancing on the city of Mykolaiv. It did not provide any details of new fighting.
In Kyiv, back-to-back air alerts Wednesday morning urged residents to get to bomb shelters as quickly as possible over fears of incoming Russian missiles. Soon after an all-clear was given for the first alert, a second alert followed.
Buses transport people out of the city of Sumy, in Ukraine’s north east, in the first successful evacuation of a besieged city which took place on Tuesday. In total, 5,000 people were transported out
Civilians in the city of Sumy, which has been under heavy Russian bombardment for days, are loaded on to an evacuation bus as they flee the front lines for Poltava – located 90 miles to the south
Russia said the evacuation route out of Sumy will be reopened Wednesday to allow more people to flee, though there are fears it could be a pre-cursor to heavier shelling in the coming days
A large number of foreign students – including hundreds from India and east Asia – were among those allowed to flee from Sumy on Tuesday, with more transports planned for today
Two convoys of civilian vehicles were allowed to leave Sumy on Tuesday, the mayor has said, marking the first successful evacuation after other routes came under attack by Russia
Ukraine has rejected most Russian evacuation routes because they lead to Russian soil or that of its ally, Belarus, while routes that Ukraine has proposed have come under bombardment. The only successful evacuation to take place so far has been from Sumy to Poltava (in green)
Debris is seen next to houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Sumy
Debris and houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are seen in Sumy
Houses damaged by shelling, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are seen in Sumy
Houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are seen in Sumy
Debris is seen next to houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Sumy
Such alerts are common, though irregular, keeping people on edge. Kyiv has been relatively quiet in recent days, though Russian artillery has pounded the outskirts.
Kyiv regional administration head Oleksiy Kuleba said the crisis for civilians was growing in the capital, with the situation particularly critical in the city’s suburbs.
‘Russia is artificially creating a humanitarian crisis in the Kyiv region, frustrating the evacuation of people and continuing shelling and bombing small communities,’ he said.
More than 2 million people have now fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations.
It came as Russia warned the West that it is working on a broad response to sanctions that would be swift and felt in the West’s most sensitive areas, after the US announced a ban on gas and oil imports – with the UK also banning Russian oil and the EU presenting a plan to wean itself off Russian gas by 2030.
“Russia’s reaction will be swift, thoughtful and sensitive for those it addresses,” Dmitry Birichevsky, the director of the foreign ministry’s department for economic cooperation, was quoted as saying by the RIA news agency.
Meanwhile China, which has been attempting to pacify both sides in the conflict, warned that moves by ‘US-led NATO’ have pushed Russia-Ukraine tensions to ‘breaking point’.
As Moscow’s forces have laid siege to Ukrainian cities, the fighting has thwarted attempts to create corridors to safely evacuate civilians.
One evacuation did appear successful, with Ukrainian authorities saying Tuesday that 5,000 civilians, including 1,700 foreign students, had been brought out via a safe corridor from Sumy, an embattled northeastern city of a quarter-million people.
That corridor was to reopen for 12 hours on Wednesday, with the buses that brought people southwest to the city of Poltava the day before returning to pick up more refugees, regional administration chief Dmytro Zhyvytskyy said.
Priority was being given to pregnant women, women with children, the elderly and the disabled.
In the south, Russian troops have advanced deep along Ukraine’s coastline in what could establish a land bridge to Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
The city of Mariupol has been surrounded by Russian soldiers for days and a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the encircled city of 430,000.
Corpses lie in the streets of the city, which sits on the Asov Sea. Hungry people break into stores in search of food and melt snow for water. Thousands huddle in basements, trembling at the sound of Russian shells pounding this strategic port city.
‘Why shouldn’t I cry?’ Goma Janna demanded as she wept by the light of an oil lamp below ground, surrounded by women and children. ‘I want my home, I want my job. I’m so sad about people and about the city, the children.’
Tuesday brought no relief: An attempt to evacuate civilians and deliver badly needed food, water and medicine through a designated safe corridor failed, with Ukrainian officials saying Russian forces had fired on the convoy before it reached the city.
Mariupol, said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, is in a ‘catastrophic situation.’
A Russian tank with overhead armour meant to protect against American-made javelin missiles is pictured burned-out by the side of a road in Ukraine, after the makeshift protection apparently failed
Ukrainian military and civilians inspect a tank abandoned by the side of a road, as Russian continues to suffer losses
A burned-out supply truck is seen amidst the ruins of other vehicles on a road in Ukraine
A destroyed Russian supply truck burns next to an abandoned vehicle, along a highway somewhere in Ukraine
The ruins of a Russian vehicle are seen on fire after it was destroyed by Ukraine’s military
Natalia Mudrenko, the highest-ranking woman at Ukraine’s U.N. Mission, told the Security Council that the people of Mariupol have ‘been effectively taken hostage,’ by the siege. Her voice shook with emotion as she described how a 6-year-old died shortly after her mother was killed by Russian shelling. ‘She was alone in the last moments of her life,’ she said.
Authorities in Mariupol planned to start digging mass graves for all the dead. The shelling has shattered buildings, and the city has no water, heat, working sewage systems or phone service.
Theft has become widespread for food, clothes, even furniture, with locals referring to the practice as ‘getting a discount.’ Some residents are reduced to scooping water from streams.
With the electricity out, many people are relying on their car radios for information, picking up news from stations broadcast from areas controlled by Russian forces or Russian-backed separatists.
Ludmila Amelkina, who was walking along an alley strewn with rubble and walls pocked by gunfire, said the destruction had been devastating.
‘We don’t have electricity, we don’t have anything to eat, we don’t have medicine. We’ve got nothing,’ she said, looking skyward.
The deputy mayor of Mariupol cast doubt on the evacuations, telling the BBC that Russian forces continued to pound areas where people were trying to gather ahead of being taken out. He said some roads were blocked, while others were mined.
‘So we cannot establish sustainable ceasefire and safety route at the moment,’ Serhiy Orlov said. ‘So we still have… a city in blockade.’
The city is without water, heat, working sewage systems or phone service. Residents have been getting water from streams or by melting snow.
Corpses lay in the streets and authorities planned to start digging mass graves.
With the electricity out, many people are relying on car radios for information, picking up news from stations broadcast from areas controlled by Russian forces or Russian-backed separatists.
The fighting has caused global economic turmoil, with energy prices surging worldwide and stocks plummeting. It also threatens the food supply of millions around the globe who rely on crops farmed in the Black Sea region.
Western countries have rushed weapons to Ukraine and moved to slap Vladimir Putin’s Russia with sanctions.
In a further effort to punish Russia, US President Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports, and Shell announced it will stop buying oil and gas from Russia.
Ukraine’s military said its forces continued defence operations in the Mariupol suburbs.
The military said ‘demoralised’ Russian forces were looting, commandeering civilian buildings and setting up firing positions in populated areas.
The battle for Mariupol is crucial because its capture could allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Late on Tuesday, Mr Zelensky released a video showing him standing near the presidential offices in Kyiv. Behind him were piles of sandbags, a snow-dusted tree and a few cars.
It was the second video in 24 hours showing him near the country’s seat of power, apparently made to dispel any doubts about whether he had fled the city.