Ukraine war: Russian advance ‘slows significantly’ as children hurt in strikes

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has ‘slowly significantly’ as ‘demoralised’ troops suffer heavy losses, Kyiv‘s commanders have claimed, forcing Putin’s men to resort to indiscriminate attacks on civilians which killed and wounded a number of children overnight.

Dmytro Zhyvytsky, who heads up the military administration in the besieged eastern city of Sumy, said airstrikes that struck civilian areas shortly after 11pm killed more than 10 people and wounded others – with Ukraine’s parliament publishing a photo of a bloodied infant they said was injured in the attack.

The image emerged as Russia said it will again open up ‘humanitarian corridors’ to allow civilians to flee bombarded cities including Sumy – but the offer has already been dismissed by Kyiv, with President Volodymyr Zelensky accusing Moscow of ‘cynicism’, saying its troops have laid mines across the routes and blown up buses intended to be used as transports.

‘There was an agreement on humanitarian corridors. Did that work? Russian tanks worked in its place, Russian Grads (multiple rocket launchers), Russian mines,’ Zelensky said in a video posted on Telegram. ‘They ensure that a small corridor to the occupied territory is open for a few dozen people. Not so much towards Russia as towards the propagandists, directly towards the television cameras.’

In Bucha, to the northwest of Kyiv, the mayor said the city is under such heavy shelling that medics cannot get into the streets to retrieve the bodies of the dead – which are now being ‘pulled apart’ by stray dogs. ‘It’s a nightmare,’ he added.

Ukraine’s military, giving an overview of combat as the war enters its 13th day, said Russian advances have ‘slowed significantly’ even as US intelligence says Putin has now committed ‘100 per cent’ of the force he assembled on the border into battle without making significant territorial gains.

Defensive operations continue in the north, east and south of Ukraine, the military said, with all major cities other than Kherson – which fell last week – in Ukrainian hands. Russian troops are ‘demoralised and increasingly tend to looting and violations of international humanitarian law,’ commanders added. 

The invasion has sparked the biggest war in Europe and the continent’s largest refugee crisis since World War II, while the West has responded with sanctions on Russia that have reverberated around the global economy.

Russia’s defence ministry said it would open the ‘humanitarian corridors’ from 0700 GMT Tuesday, subject to Ukraine’s approval, listing routes from the capital Kyiv as well as the cities of Mariupol, Kharkiv and Sumy – all of which have been under heavy attack.

Ukraine did not initially respond to the offer. 

French President Emmanuel Macron also condemned the Russian plan. ‘All this is not serious, it is moral and political cynicism, which I find intolerable,’ Macron told French broadcaster LCI.

‘I do not know many Ukrainians who want to go to Russia,’ he added, saying full ceasefires to protect civilians were needed rather than corridors.

Meanwhile the mayor of one besieged Kyiv suburb has described artillery fire as being so relentless residents are unable to gather up their dead.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine well into its second week, a steady rain of shells and rockets continues to fall on population centres like Bucha. The mayor of the Kyiv suburb, Anatol Fedoruk, said military fire had been heavy and constant.

‘We can’t even gather up the bodies because the shelling from heavy weapons doesn’t stop day or night,’ Mr Fedoruk said.

Corridors intended to let Ukrainian civilians escape the Russian onslaught could open on Tuesday, Kremlin officials said, though Ukrainian leaders greeted the plan with scepticism since prior efforts to establish evacuation routes crumbled over the weekend amid renewed attacks.

In one of the most desperate cities, the encircled southern port of Mariupol, an estimated 200,000 people – nearly half the population of 430,000 – were hoping to flee, and Red Cross officials waited to hear when a corridor would be established.

Russia’s chief negotiator said he expected the corridors to be in use on Tuesday.

The Russian UN ambassador forecast a potential cease-fire for the morning and appeared to suggest that humanitarian paths leading away from Kyiv and other cities could give people choice in where they want to go – a change from previous proposals that offered only destinations in Russia or Belarus.

The office of embattled Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would not comment on the latest Russian proposal, saying only that Moscow’s plans can be believed only if a safe evacuation begins.

Demands for effective passageways have surged amid intensifying shelling by Russian forces. The steady bombardments, including in some of Ukraine’s most populated regions, have yielded a humanitarian crisis of diminishing food, water and medical supplies.

Through it all, Mr Zelensky said Ukrainian forces were showing unprecedented courage.

‘The problem is that for one soldier of Ukraine, we have 10 Russian soldiers, and for one Ukrainian tank, we have 50 Russian tanks,’ Mr Zelensky told ABC News in an interview that aired on Monday night.

But he noted that the gap in strength was diminishing and that even if Russian forces ‘come into all our cities,’ they will be met with an insurgency.

A top US official said multiple countries were discussing whether to provide the warplanes that Mr Zelensky has been pleading for.

At The Hague, Netherlands, Ukraine pleaded with the International Court of Justice to order a halt to Russia’s invasion, saying Moscow is committing widespread war crimes.

Russia ‘is resorting to tactics reminiscent of medieval siege warfare, encircling cities, cutting off escape routes and pounding the civilian population with heavy ordnance,’ said Jonathan Gimblett, a member of Ukraine’s legal team.

Russia snubbed the court proceedings, leaving its seats in the Great Hall of Justice empty.

The UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths addressed the Security Council and urged safe passage for people to go ‘in the direction they choose’.

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.

The fighting has sent energy prices surging worldwide and stocks plummeting, and threatens the food supply and livelihoods of people around the globe who rely on crops farmed in the fertile Black Sea region.

The UN human rights office reported 406 confirmed civilian deaths but said the real number is much higher. The invasion has also sent 1.7 million people fleeing Ukraine.

On Monday, Moscow again announced a series of demands to stop the invasion, including that Ukraine recognise Crimea as part of Russia and recognise the eastern regions controlled by Moscow-supported separatist fighters as independent. It also insisted that Ukraine change its constitution to guarantee it won’t join international bodies like Nato and the EU. Ukraine has already rejected those demands.

Mr Zelensky has called for more punitive measures against Russia, including a global boycott of its oil exports, which are key to its economy.

‘If (Russia) doesn’t want to abide by civilized rules, then they shouldn’t receive goods and services from civilization,’ he said in a video address.

Addressing the Security Council, the UN’s top humanitarian official Martin Griffiths said civilians must be allowed to leave in the direction they wish. 

At least 406 civilians have died since the start of Russia’s assault on its ex-Soviet neighbour, according to the UN, although it believes the real figures to be ‘considerably higher’.

Ukrainian forces said Tuesday they had repulsed a Russian attack on Izium city in the Kharkiv region, and outgunned troops have been trying to hold back a Russian push up from the east and south in an attempt to encircle Kyiv.

Russian forces ‘suffered losses and retreated’ in Izium after they ‘reigned terror in the city by bombing civilian premises and infrastructure,’ the military said.

AFP journalists witnessed thousands of civilians on Monday fleeing fighting via an unofficial escape route from Irpin, a suburb west of Kyiv, towards the capital.

Children and the elderly were carried on carpets used as stretchers on the route, which leads over the makeshift bridge and along a single path secured by the army and volunteers.

Desperate people abandoned pushchairs and heavy suitcases to cram on buses out of the war zone.

‘We had no light at home, no water, we just sat in the basement,’ Inna Scherbanyova, 54, an economist from Irpin, told AFP.

‘Explosions were constantly going off… Near our house there are cars, there were dead people in one of them… very scary.’

Refugees trying to escape the city using agreed escape routes were left stranded as the road they were directed towards was mined, the ICRC said on Monday.

One Ukrainian paratrooper told of ‘hand-to-hand’ combat in Irpin, saying ‘we are trying to push (Russian soldiers) out, but I don’t know if we’ll be fully able to do it’.

An international legion of volunteers has descended on Ukraine to fight the Russians.

But the Pentagon said Monday that Moscow was on a recruiting mission for its own foreign fighters – Syrians who fought for President Bashar al-Assad.

‘We do believe that the accounts of them – the Russians – seeking Syrian fighters to augment their forces in Ukraine, we believe there’s truth to that,’ Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday said he will not send conscripts or reservists to fight in the conflict.

Zelensky has recalled all servicemen working abroad to fight the invading forces, according to the Ukrainian parliament.

He again vowed to remain in place as Russian forces near the capital.

‘I am staying in Kyiv. Not hiding. And I’m not afraid of anyone,’ he said in a video late Monday.

He said his government will do ‘as much as it takes to win this war!’ 

The World Bank on Monday approved an additional $489-million package in support for Ukraine, to be made available immediately and dubbed ‘Financing of Recovery from Economic Emergency in Ukraine,’ or ‘FREE Ukraine.’

It came as Zelensky renewed calls for the West to boycott Russian exports, particularly oil, and to impose a no-fly zone to stop the carnage.

NATO countries have so far rebuffed Kyiv’s demand for a no-fly zone, fearing a widening war against nuclear-armed Russia.

Western allies have instead imposed unprecedented sanctions against businesses, banks and billionaires in a bid to pressure Moscow to halt its assault.

But the leaders of Germany, Britain and the Netherlands warned Monday against a ban on Russian oil, saying it could put Europe’s energy security at risk.

US President Joe Biden’s spokeswoman said no decision had been taken, while Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak warned any oil ban would have ‘catastrophic consequences’ on prices that have already headed towards a 2008 record high.

Putin has equated sanctions with a declaration of war and put nuclear forces on alert, pledging the ‘neutralisation’ of Ukraine ‘either through negotiation or through war’.

Despite harsh punishments for those voicing dissent, protests in Russia against the Ukraine invasion have continued, with more than 10,000 people arrested since it began.

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