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Mariupol evacuation halted again by assault

LVIV, UKRAINE (AP) — Plans to evacuate civilians from a besieged port city in Ukraine collapsed yesterday for the second time along with an expected Russian cease-fire, Ukrainian officials said as they tried to persuade Russia to agree on terms for safely getting residents out of areas under fire near Ukraine’s capital.

Residents expected to leave the port city of Mariupol during a 10am to 9pm local ceasefire, Ukrainian military authorities said earlier in the day. Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said the planned evacuations were halted because of an ongoing assault by
Russian troops.

“There can be no ‘green corridors’ because only the sick brain of the Russians decides when to start shooting and at whom,” Gerashchenko said on Telegram.

The news dashed hopes of progress in easing, much less ending, the war in Ukraine, which is now in its 11th day and has caused 1.5 million people to flee the country. The head of the United Nations (UN) refugee agency yesterday called the exodus “the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II”. The presidents of Turkey and France, as well as Pope Francis, appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate to end the conflict.

Separately, Ukraine’s national security service said Russian forces fired rockets at a physics institute in the city of Kharkiv that contains nuclear material and a reactor. Russian troops already took control of the Zaporizhzhia plant in Ukraine, as well as Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

Ukrainian fleeing the war cross the Irpin river on an improvised path under a bridge that was destroyed by a Russian airstrike. PHOTO: AP

The security service said a strike on the nuclear facility in Kharkiv could lead to “large-scale ecological disaster”. The service said on Facebook yesterday that the Russians were firing from Grad launchers. Those missiles do not have precise targetting, raising concern that one would go astray.

Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskyy reiterated a request for foreign protectors to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which NATO so far has ruled out because of concerns such an action would draw the West into the war. “The world is strong enough to close our skies,” Zelenskyy said in a video address yesterday.

Putin warned on Saturday that Moscow would consider a third-party declaration to close Ukrainian airspace to be a hostile act.

The disappointment for women, children and older adults who waited to leave Mariupol and the nearby city of Volnovakha while able Ukrainian men stayed behind to fight came after a similar cease-fire deal collapsed on Saturday and foreign leaders sought to bring diplomacy to bear on ending the war.

Putin told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could be halted only “only if Kyiv ceases hostilities and fulfils the well-known demands of Russia,” according to the Kremlin’s readout of the phone call the two leaders held yesterday.

Putin earlier listed “demilitarisation” of Ukraine, recognition of Crimea as part of Russia, and recognition of the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine as independent states as the Kremlin’s main demands.

“Hope was expressed that during the planned next round of negotiations, the representatives of Ukraine would show a more constructive approach, fully taking into account the emerging realities.” The third round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators is scheduled for Monday.

After the cease-fire in Mariupol failed to hold on Saturday, Russian forces intensified their shelling of the city and dropped massive bombs on residential areas of Chernihiv, a city north of Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said.

In Mariupol, bereft mothers mourned slain children, wounded soldiers were fitted with tourniquets and doctors worked by the light of their cellphones as bleakness and desperation pervaded.

On Saturday, Putin pinned the blame for the war on the Ukrainian leadership, slamming their resistance to Russian forces.

“If they continue to do what they are doing, they are calling into question the future of Ukrainian statehood,” the Russian leader said. “And if this happens, it will be entirely on their conscience.”

He also hit out at Western sanctions that have crippled Russia’s economy and sent the value of its currency tumbling.


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