Russia to open ‘humanitarian routes’ to Ukraine, but fears persist

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Kyiv (AFP) – Russia planned to open humanitarian corridors in Ukraine on Tuesday for civilians to flee besieged cities, but Kiev insisted the move was a publicity stunt and people would not be able to escape.

Moscow’s offer to evacuate residents was doomed because most roads led to Russia or its ally Belarus, and the invading forces were maintaining a devastating bombing campaign.

Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday, nearly two weeks into the war, that Russia was increasing its troops and equipment around key conflict zones.

The invasion sparked the biggest war in Europe and the continent’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II, while the West responded with sanctions against Russia that spilled over into the global economy.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said it would open “humanitarian corridors” from 07:00 GMT on Tuesday, subject to Ukraine’s approval, listing routes from the capital Kyiv as well as the towns of Mariupol, Kharkiv and Sumy – all of which were heavily attacked.

Ukraine did not initially respond to the offer.

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of reneging on previous agreements on escape routes and trying to stop people, for example by planting explosives on the roads.

“There was an agreement on the humanitarian corridors. Did it work? Russian tanks worked in its place, Russian Grads (multiple rocket launchers), Russian mines,” Zelensky said in a posted video. on Telegram.

Accusing Moscow of “cynicism”, Zelensky also said Russian troops had destroyed buses that were meant to evacuate civilians from combat zones.

“They assure that a small corridor to the occupied territory is open for a few dozen people. Not so much to Russia as to the propagandists, directly to the television cameras,” he said.

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 television channel LCI.

“I don’t know many Ukrainians who want to go to Russia,” he added, saying full ceasefires to protect civilians were needed rather than corridors.

Addressing the Security Council, senior UN humanitarian official Martin Griffiths also said civilians must be allowed to go in any direction they wanted.

“Reigning Terror”

At least 406 civilians have died since Russia’s assault on its ex-Soviet neighbor began, according to the UN, although it believes the actual numbers are “significantly higher”.

Ukrainian forces said on Tuesday they had repelled a Russian attack on the town of Izium in the Kharkiv region, and that underarmed troops tried to hold off a Russian push from the east and south in an attempt to encircle Kiev.

Twelve days of fighting have killed hundreds of civilians and injured thousands Aris MessinisAFP

Russian forces “suffered casualties and withdrew” to Izium after “creating terror in the town by shelling civilian premises and infrastructure”, the military said.

AFP journalists saw thousands of civilians fleeing the fighting on Monday via an unofficial evacuation route from Irpin, a suburb west of Kiev, to the capital.

Heavy Russian shelling of the center of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv
Heavy Russian shelling of the center of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv AFP

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

Desperate people abandoned strollers and heavy suitcases to pile into buses outside the war zone.

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

“Explosions were constantly happening…Near our house there are cars, there were dead people in one of them…very scary.”

Refugees trying to flee the city using agreed evacuation routes found themselves stranded because the road they were being directed to was mined, the ICRC said on Monday.

A Ukrainian paratrooper recounted “hand-to-hand” fighting in Irpin, saying “we are trying to push back (the Russian soldiers), but I don’t know if we will be fully able to do that.”

A father says goodbye to his daughter on an evacuation train leaving Odessa - feared to be the next target of the Russian offensive in the south
A father says goodbye to his daughter on an evacuation train leaving Odessa – feared to be the next target of the Russian offensive in the south BULENT KILIÇ AFP

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

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

“We believe the stories of them – the Russians – seeking Syrian fighters to reinforce their forces in Ukraine, we believe to be true,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

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

Zelensky recalled all servicemen working abroad to fight invading forces, according to Ukraine’s parliament.

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

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

He said his government would do “whatever it takes to win this war!”

World Bank support

The World Bank on Monday approved an additional $489 million program to support Ukraine, which will be made available immediately and dubbed “Ukraine Economic Emergency Recovery Funding” or “FREE Ukraine.”

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

A steady stream of people - mostly women and children - poured into neighboring countries, especially Poland
A steady stream of people – mostly women and children – poured into neighboring countries, especially Poland BULENT KILIÇ AFP

NATO countries have so far rejected Kiev’s request for a no-fly zone, fearing an ever-widening war against nuclear-armed Russia.

Western allies have instead imposed unprecedented sanctions on corporations, banks and billionaires in a bid to pressure Moscow to end its assault.

But German, British and Dutch leaders warned on 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 made, while Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak warned that any oil ban would have “catastrophic consequences” on prices which have fallen. already headed for a record level in 2008.

Putin equated the sanctions with a declaration of war and put nuclear forces on high alert, promising the “neutralisation” of Ukraine “either through negotiation or war”.

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