By agencies and published by Channel NewsAsia plus CNN
Moscow – Russia declared a partial ceasefire today (Mar. 5) to allow humanitarian corridors out of the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha, Russia’s defence ministry said.
“From 10 a.m. Moscow time (2 p.m. in Thailand), the Russian side declares a ceasefire and the opening of humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to leave Mariupol and Volnovakha,” it said.
The announcement comes after Mariupol’s mayor Vadim Boychenko said today that the city was under “blockade” by Russian forces after days of “ruthless” attacks.
While laying siege to Mariupol for days, Russian forces have cut its electricity, food, water, heating and transportation in the depths of winter, prompting comparisons to the Nazi blockade of Leningrad in World War II.
“For now, we are looking for solutions to humanitarian problems and all possible ways to get Mariupol out of the blockade,” said Boychenko, calling for a ceasefire and a humanitarian corridor for food and medicine.
Since President Vladimir Putin’s army invaded on Feb 24, Russia has pummelled Ukrainian cities, killed hundreds of civilians and assaulted Europe’s largest atomic power plant.
The invasion has drawn condemnation and severe sanctions from Western nations balancing punishment of the Kremlin with fears of a hazardous escalation.
“Every two days information comes out that I have fled somewhere — fled from Ukraine, from Kyiv, from my office. As you can see, I am here in my place, Andriy Borisovich (Yermak) is here. Nobody has fled anywhere. Here, we are working,” Zelensky said.
“We like jogging, but now we don’t have time for that, for various cardio exercises,” he joked. “Working. Glory to Ukraine.”
Russia is poised to deploy up to 1,000 more mercenaries to Ukraine in the coming days and weeks, as a senior Western intelligence official warned Moscow could “bombard cities into submission,” an escalation that could lead to significant civilian casualties.
The US has already seen “some indications” that Russian mercenaries may be involved in Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine “in some places,” a senior defence official said earlier this week, but it wasn’t clear exactly where or in what numbers.
“We’ve seen some indications that they’re being employed,” the official said.
Now, a US official tells CNN that Russia is planning to deploy up to 1,000 more mercenaries in the near future.
The mercenary forces would fortify the flagging units, the official said, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its second weekend.
The official added that the US believes the mercenaries already in Ukraine have “performed poorly when facing the stiffer-than-expected resistance from the Ukrainians,” and that as many as 200 such mercenaries have already been killed in the war as of late February.
Meanwhile, US and Western officials expect Russia to increase the pace and strength of its strikes on key Ukrainian population centres, including the capital Kyiv.
Russia now seems prepared to “bombard cities into submission,” one senior western intelligence official said on Friday, which could include a significant increase in the number of civilian casualties.
“It’s a very crude approach,” the official said. “The heavier weapons are not just heavier in the weight, they’re also heavier in terms of the damage that they can inflict. And they’re far less discriminating.”
Other officials have noticed a shift in Russian strategy from military targets to civilians, with more attacks becoming focused on population centres.
“The days to come are likely to be worse, with more death, more suffering, and more destruction, as the Russian armed forces bring in heavier weaponry and continue their attacks across the country,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed the sentiment during a press conference in Brussels on Friday where he is meeting with European allies.
“The Kremlin’s attacks are inflicting an ever-increasing toll on civilians there. Hundreds if not thousands of Ukrainians have been killed, many more wounded, as have citizens of other countries. More than a million refugees have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries. Millions of people across Ukraine are trapped in increasingly dire conditions as Russia destroys more critical infrastructure,” Blinken said.
Top: People sit and lie on the floor in the improvised bomb shelter in a sports centre, which can accommodate up to 2,000 people, in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Feb 27, 2022. Photo: AP/Evgeniy Maloletka and published by CNA
First insert: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/Instagram. Photo: CNN
Second insert: There has been heavy fighting around the south-eastern city of Volnovakha. Photo: Reuters/Ukrainian military handout and published by BBC
Home Page: Civilians from Ukraine are seen after crossing Ukrainian-Polish border in Medyka. Photo: Getty Images and published by BBC