Russian attacks halt plans to evacuate Ukrainian civilians – Press Enterprise


LVIV, Ukraine (AP) – A second attempt to evacuate civilians from a besieged town in southern Ukraine collapsed under renewed Russian fire on Sunday, while Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the war on Ukraine, saying Moscow’s invasion “can only be stopped if Kyiv ceases hostilities.”

Food, water, medicine and nearly all other supplies were desperately in short supply in the port city of Mariupol, where Russian and Ukrainian forces had agreed on an 11-hour ceasefire that would allow civilians and the wounded to be evacuated. But Russian attacks quickly closed the humanitarian corridor, Ukrainian officials said.

“There can be no ‘green corridors’ because only the sick brains of Russians decide when and at whom to start shooting,” Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko told Telegram.

The news dashed hopes more people could escape fighting in Ukraine, where fierce resistance has stymied Russia’s plan to quickly overrun the country. 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 has been nearly motionless north of Kyiv for days.

Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskyy called on his people to remain defiant, especially in cities invaded by Russian soldiers.

“You should hit the streets! You should fight!” he said on Ukrainian television on Saturday. “It is necessary to go out and drive this evil out of our cities, out of our country.”

Zelenskyy also urged the US and NATO countries to send more fighter jets to Ukraine, although that idea is complicated by the question of which countries would provide the planes and how those countries would replace the planes.

The war, now in its 11th 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 often did, Putin blamed Ukraine for the war and told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday that Kyiv must cease all hostilities and meet “the known demands of Russia”.

Among those demands is what Putin has called the “denazification” of Ukraine, which he falsely claims is being led by neo-Nazis intent on undermining Russia.

Putin also told Erdogan he hoped Ukraine would “show a more constructive approach (to talks) and fully take into account the emerging realities.” A third round of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine 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 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The men agreed in principle to a “dialogue” between Russia, Ukraine and the UN nuclear regulator, according to a French official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, in accordance with presidency practice. Possible talks on the matter will be organized in the coming days, he said.

Putin also blamed last week’s fire at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, which Ukrainian officials say was caused by Russian attackers, as a “provocation organized by Ukrainian radicals.”

“Attempts to shift responsibility for this incident onto the Russian military are part of a cynical propaganda campaign,” he said, according to the French official.

International leaders as well as Pope Francis appealed to Putin to negotiate.

In a highly unusual move, the pope said he had dispatched two cardinals to Ukraine and said the Vatican would do whatever it takes to end the conflict.

“Rivers of blood and tears are flowing in Ukraine,” the pope said in his traditional Sunday blessing. “This is not just a military operation, but a war that sows death, destruction and misery.”

After the ceasefire in Mariupol failed on Saturday, Russian forces stepped up their shelling of the city and dropped massive bombs on residential areas of Chernihiv, a city north of Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said.

The handful of residents who managed to flee Mariupol before the humanitarian corridor closed said the city of 430,000 was devastated.

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

British military likened Russia’s tactics to Moscow’s in Chechnya and Syria, where surrounded cities were pulverized by airstrikes and artillery.

“This is probably an attempt to break Ukrainian morale,” the UK MoD said.

Zelenskyy reiterated a call for foreign protectors to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which NATO has so far ruled out, fearing such action would lead to a far larger war.

“The world is strong enough to close our skies,” Zelenskyy said in a video address on Sunday.

The day before, in a video call, Zelenskyy asked American lawmakers to help bring more fighter jets to Ukraine.

US officials say Washington is discussing ways to bring the planes to Ukraine in a complex scenario that would involve shipping American-made F-16s to former Soviet bloc countries, notably Poland, which are now members of NATO. These countries would then send Ukraine their own Soviet-era MiGs, which Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly.

But because of backlogs in US fighter jet production, Eastern European nations would essentially have to hand over their MiGs to the Ukrainians and accept US promises that they would get F-16s as soon as possible. The situation is further complicated because the next shipment of F-16s is destined for Taiwan and the US Congress would be reluctant to delay those shipments.

The death toll remains lost in the fog of war, with the UN saying it has confirmed just a few hundred civilian deaths but also warning the figure is a huge undernumber.

Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Zelenskyi, said Ukrainian officials and international humanitarian organizations are working with Russia through intermediaries to set up humanitarian corridors from Bucha and Hostomel, the Kyiv suburbs where heavy fighting has been taking place.

Ukraine’s military far outnumbers Russia’s, but its professional and volunteer armed forces have fought back with bitter tenacity. Volunteers lined up in Kyiv on Saturday to join the military.

Even in fallen cities there were signs of resistance.

According to a video released by the Ukrainian government, onlookers in Chernihiv cheered as they saw a Russian military plane fall from the sky and crash. In Kherson, hundreds of protesters waved blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and chanted, “Go home.”

Russia has made significant advances in southern Ukraine as it seeks to block access to the Sea of ​​Azov. The capture of Mariupol could allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, which most other countries considered illegal.

The West has largely backed Ukraine, offered aid and arms supplies, and hit Russia with massive sanctions. But no NATO troops have been deployed to Ukraine, leaving Ukrainians to fight Russian troops alone.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spent the weekend visiting NATO member states 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 wary of Russia’s moves in Ukraine.

The World Health Organization on Sunday condemned attacks on healthcare workers in Ukraine, saying it had confirmed at least six such attacks, killing six and injuring 11 others.

Attacks on healthcare workers are a violation of international humanitarian law, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter.

The United Nations said it would step up humanitarian operations both inside and outside Ukraine, and the Security Council scheduled a meeting Monday on the deteriorating situation.

The United Nations World Food Program has warned of an impending hunger crisis in Ukraine, a major global wheat supplier, saying millions of people would need food aid “immediately”.


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


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