By Reuters and published by The Irish Times plus BBC
A FIRST convoy of residents and foreign students has left the Ukrainian city of Sumy after an agreement with Russia on establishing a humanitarian corridor, officials said today (Mar. 8).
“We have already started the evacuation of civilians from Sumy to Poltava (in central Ukraine), including foreign students,” the foreign ministry said in a tweet. “We call on Russia to agree on other humanitarian corridors in Ukraine.”
Ukrainian officials said evacuations began from Sumy and from the town of Irpin near Kyiv today. The move came after Russian and Ukrainian officials agreed to establish “humanitarian corridors” to allow civilians out of some towns and cities besieged by Russian forces.
“As of 9.30 a.m.(2.30 p.m. in Thailand), more than 150 people have been evacuated and (evacuation) activities are underway,” said Oleksiy Kuleba, governor of the Kyiv region.
Civilians have been trapped by fighting since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24th. Moscow calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation.”
In the encircled southern port city of Mariupol, hundreds of thousands of people remained trapped without food and water under regular bombardments.
BBC got reports that Russian forces are shelling an evacuation route out of the besieged city of Mariupol.
Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said Russian forces were attacking the humanitarian corridor between the city and Zaporizhzhia, 225km (139 miles) to the north-east.
Eight trucks and 30 buses are on their way to deliver humanitarian aid to the city and to evacuate civilians to Zaporizhzhya, he said.
Civilians have been living there without running water or power for almost a week and food is running out.
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, previously called the mass exodus from the country the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War Two.
Russia opened humanitarian corridors today from Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and Mariupol, the Interfax news agency quoted the Russian defence ministry as saying.
The defence ministry added that Russian forces in Ukraine had introduced a “silent regime” from 7 a.m. GMT ( 2 p.m. in Thailand), Interfax reported.
Ukraine on Monday rejected Russian proposals to evacuate Ukrainians to Russia or Belarus.
Russia’s offensive in Ukraine continued but at a significantly slower pace today, Ukraine’s armed forces said. Ukrainian military and intelligence earlier said a second senior Russian commander had been killed, as frightened residents fled bombed-out cities.
Fears of an energy war between Russia and the West also grew today after the United States pushed its allies to ban Russian oil imports as punishment for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
In the city of Irpin, on the northwest edge of Kyiv, residents ran with their young children in strollers, or cradling babies in arms, while others carried pet carriers and plastic bags and suitcases.
“It’s like a disaster, the city is almost ruined, and the district where I’m living, it’s like there are no houses which were not bombed,” said one young mother, holding a baby beneath a blanket, while her daughter stood by her side.
“Yesterday was the hardest bombing, and the lights and sound is so scary, and the whole building is shaking.”
Ukraine’s military intelligence said today that Ukrainian forces killed a Russian general near the besieged city of Kharkiv, the second Russian senior commander to die in the invasion.
Major general Vitaly Gerasimov, first deputy commander of Russia’s 41st army, was killed on Monday, the chief directorate of intelligence of Ukraine’s defence ministry said in a statement.
Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces said the Russian offensive continues although at a significantly slower pace.
Russia’s defence ministry could not be immediately reached for comment and Reuters could not verify the reports.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
Kyiv has rejected Moscow’s offer of possible humanitarian corridors to Russia and Belarus.
However, Moscow has since proposed giving the residents of the cities of Sumy and Mariupol the choice of moving elsewhere in Ukraine today, setting a deadline in the early hours for Kyiv to agree, Russian news agencies reported.
After the third attempt to ease the bloodshed at talks in Belarus, negotiators warned not to expect the next round to bring a final result. The Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers are expected to meet in Turkey on Thursday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters Moscow would halt operations if Ukraine ceased fighting, amended its constitution to declare neutrality, and recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the independence of regions held by Russian-backed separatists.
Flow of gas
Meanwhile, Russia warned it could stop the flow of gas through pipelines from Russia to Germany in response to Berlin’s decision last month to halt the opening of the controversial new Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Russia supplies 40 percent of Europe’s gas.
“We have every right to take a matching decision and impose an embargo on gas pumping through the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline,” Russian deputy prime minister Alexander Novak said on Monday.
Novak also warned that oil prices could more than double to $300 (€276) a barrel if the United States and its allies banned imports of Russian oil, a crucial source of revenue after the country was effectively frozen out of Western financial markets.
Analysts at Bank of America however said that if most of Russia’s oil exports were cut off there could be a shortfall of 5 million barrels per day (bpd) or more, pushing prices as high as $200 (€184).
Oil prices see-sawed near 14-year highs today, with Brent crude futures up $1.06 (90c), or 0.9 per cent, at $124.27 (€114.21) a barrel at 2.23 a.m. GMT (9.23 a.m. in Thailand), after trading as high as $125.19 (€115.16).
US president Joe Biden held a video conference call with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain on Monday as he pushed for their support to ban Russian oil imports.
But if need be, the United States was willing to move ahead without allies in Europe, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters. Many countries on the continent are heavily reliant on Russian energy.
Japan tightened its sanctions today, freezing the assets of an additional 32 Russian and Belarusian officials and executives of companies with close ties to the government.
Estee Lauder Companies Inc joined a long list of firms exiting Russia, suspending all commercial activities and closing all its stores in the country.
A senior US defence official said Russian president Vladimir Putin had now deployed nearly 100 per cent of the more than 150,000 forces that he had pre-staged outside Ukraine before the invasion.
A Russian strike on a bread factory killed 13 in the town of Makarov in the Kyiv region, Ukrainian officials said. Reuters could not verify the details. Russia denies targeting civilians.
Top: Ukrainian civilians receive weapons training on the outskirts of Lviv on Monday. Photo: Bernat Armangue / AP and published by NBC News
Insert: People have been desperately trying to flee Irpin in recent days, such as in this photo from Monday. Photo: EPA and published by BBC
Home Page: Refugees arriving in Dorohusk on the Polish-Ukrainian border. Photo: EPA and published by BBC