Russia announces ceasefire for evacuation due to heavy shelling

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia has announced another ceasefire and several humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to leave Ukraine starting Monday, but previous such measures have failed and Moscow’s military has continued to fire missiles at some Ukrainian cities even after the announcement .

A day earlier, hundreds of thousands of civilians trying to flee to safety were forced to take cover from what Ukrainian officials described as Russian shelling of cities in the center, north and south.

Ahead of a third round of talks scheduled for Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry said a ceasefire would come into effect in the morning and safe passage would be opened for civilians from the capital Kyiv, the southern port city of Mariupol, and the cities of Kharkiv and Sumy. However, some evacuation routes have taken civilians towards Russia or its ally Belarus—an unlikely destination for many Ukrainians who would rather head to countries on the western and southern borders.

A senior Ukrainian official rejected these proposals.

It was not immediately clear whether the fighting would stop outside the mentioned areas or when the ceasefire would end. Hopes that the latest round of negotiations would lead to any breakthroughs were dim.

Already in the second week of the war, Russia’s plan to quickly seize the country was thwarted by fierce resistance. His troops made significant gains in southern Ukraine and along the coast, but many of them reached a stalemate, including a huge military convoy that lay almost motionless north of Kyiv for several days.

The fighting has sent energy prices skyrocketing around the world, plummeting inventories and jeopardizing the food supply and livelihoods of people around the world who depend on farmland in the Black Sea region.

At the same time, the number of those who died as a result of hostilities remains unknown. The UN says it has confirmed just a few hundred civilian deaths, but has also warned that the number is vastly underestimated. Kharkiv region police said on Monday that 209 people had died there alone, 133 of them civilians.

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

But many others were trapped in cities under fire. Food, water, medicine and almost all other supplies have been keenly felt in the southern port city of Mariupol, from which some 200,000 people are estimated to be trying to escape but where the old ceasefire agreement is crumbling. Russia and Ukraine exchanged blame for the failure.

The Russian task force said the new commitment on humanitarian corridors was announced at the request of French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday. Macron’s office said he demanded a wider cessation of military operations in Ukraine and the protection of civilians.

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

The Ukrainian government is proposing eight humanitarian corridors, including one from Mariupol, that will allow civilians to travel to western regions of Ukraine where there is no Russian shelling.

“Providing escape routes into the arms of a country that is currently destroying yours is nonsense,” British Europe Minister James Cleverley said.

The Russian proposal was similar to those in Syria. In 2016, a joint Russian-Syrian proposal to create humanitarian corridors from opposition-besieged eastern Aleppo was heavily criticized on humanitarian grounds. Human rights activists said that this tactic, combined with brutal sieges, effectively left residents with a choice between fleeing into the arms of their attackers or dying under gunfire.

Meanwhile, Russian troops continued their offensive, opening fire on the city of Mykolaiv, 480 kilometers south of the capital, according to the Ukrainian General Staff. Rescuers said that they were extinguishing fires in residential areas that arose as a result of rocket attacks.

Employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations in the Kharkiv region reported that as a result of night shelling, at least eight people were killed, residential buildings, medical and educational institutions, and administrative buildings were destroyed.

Shelling also continued in the suburbs of Kyiv, including in Irpin, which has been cut off from electricity, water and heating for three days.

“Russia continues to carry out missile, bomb and artillery strikes on the cities and towns of Ukraine,” the General Staff said.

The General Staff also repeated Ukraine’s earlier allegations that the Russians were targeting humanitarian corridors. The statement also accuses Russian forces of taking women and children hostage and planting weapons in residential areas of cities, although it does not provide details or evidence.

“Instead of humanitarian corridors, only bloody corridors can be made,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday. “Today, a family died in Irpin. Man, woman and two children. Right on the road. As in a dash.

Earlier, Putin said that Moscow’s attacks could be stopped “only if Kyiv stops hostilities.” As he often did, Putin blamed Ukraine for the war, telling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday that Kiev needed to stop all hostilities and comply with “known Russian demands.”

Putin began his invasion with a series of false accusations against Kyiv, including that it was led by neo-Nazis intent on undermining Russia by developing nuclear weapons.

As the Russian attacks intensified, the brief respite from the fighting in Mariupol collapsed. According to local authorities, heavy artillery bombarded residential areas in other major cities as well.

“There can be no green corridors, because only the sick brain of Russians decides when and whom to shoot,” Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, said on Telegram.

On what is known in Orthodoxy as Forgiveness Sunday, Zelenskiy said Ukraine would never forgive the shelling of its homes, the killing of unarmed people and the destruction of its infrastructure.

“And God will not forgive either today or tomorrow—never. And instead of the day of forgiveness, there will be a day of judgment. I am sure of this,” he said in a video message.

His adviser Alexei Arestovich described the “catastrophic” situation in the Kiev suburbs of Bucha, Gostomel and Irpin, where residents failed to evacuate on Sunday. According to the mayor of the city Alexander Markyshyn, as a result of Russian shelling in Irpin, about eight civilians were killed.

The video footage shows how the shell crashed into the city street near the bridge, on which people fled from the fighting.

British military officials compared Russia’s tactics to those used by Moscow in Chechnya and Syria, when besieged cities were destroyed by airstrikes and artillery.

“This is probably an attempt to break the morale of the Ukrainians,” the British Ministry of Defense said.

A handful of residents who managed to leave Mariupol before the humanitarian corridor closed said the city of 430,000 had been devastated.

“We saw everything: burning houses, all the people sitting in basements,” said Elena Zamai, who fled to one of the self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists. “No communication, no water, no gas, no light, no water. There was nothing there.”

Russia has made significant progress in southern Ukraine in an attempt 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, which most other countries have deemed illegal.

But much of the Russian advance has stalled, including a huge military convoy north of Kyiv.

A senior U.S. Defense Department official said Sunday that the U.S. estimates that about 95% of Russian forces that have been deployed around Ukraine are now inside the country. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said Russian forces were continuing their offensive in an attempt to isolate Kyiv, Kharkiv and Chernihiv but were meeting strong Ukrainian resistance.

The West has given Ukraine broad support, offering aid and weapons, and imposing extensive sanctions on Russia. But NATO troops were not sent to Ukraine.

Zelenskiy has lashed out at Western leaders for not taking a tougher turn against Russia. He reiterated a request for foreign forces to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which NATO has so far ruled out due to fears that such actions would lead to a much larger war.

Zelensky also asked the US and NATO countries to send more combat aircraft to Ukraine and impose additional sanctions against Russia.

Russia has become increasingly isolated since the invasion began, as sanctions have forced dozens of multinational companies to cease or scale down their operations in the country, and Moscow has sharply curtailed independent coverage of the conflict. The ruble has fallen in value, and Russia’s extensive trade ties with the West are all but severed.


Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed to this report.


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