Fighting hampers renewed efforts to evacuate Ukrainian cities

Renewed efforts to rescue civilians from increasingly dire conditions in many besieged Ukrainian cities have made little progress, as a ceasefire agreed upon by both sides failed to prevent fresh clashes.

The 12-hour humanitarian corridor on Wednesday aimed to allow civilians to escape from Sumy in the northeast, Mariupol and Enerhodar in the south, Volnovakha in the southeast, Izyum in the east, and several towns in the region around the capital, Kyiv.

But only limited signs of success in providing escape routes for hundreds of thousands of people trapped amid worsening humanitarian conditions have so far been reported.

The governor of Sumy said civilian cars were leaving for a second day through a safe corridor set up to Poltava further west. Ukrainian authorities said 5,000 civilians, including 1,700 foreign students, had managed to escape from the city of a quarter-million people on Tuesday.

But by midday in Ukraine, there was no confirmation that any of the other humanitarian corridors had been successfully opened.

It was not clear if anyone was able to leave Mariupol, seen as the most urgent evacuation. A children’s hospital was destroyed by Russian attacks on Wednesday in spite of the ceasefire, according to the city council.

“The Russian occupying forces have dropped several bombs on the children’s hospital. The destruction is colossal,” the council said in an online post.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter that “Russia continues to hold more than 400,000 people hostage in Mariupol, blocking humanitarian aid and evacuation.” Ukrainian officials have said previous attempts to establish safe evacuation corridors have largely failed due to attacks by Russian forces.

Russia has accused Ukrainian forces of violating ceasefires.

The mayor of Enerhodar, the site of Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, which Russian forces seized last week, said humanitarian supplies would be allowed in and buses would take residents out on the way back.

A planned evacuation of civilians from the Ukrainian town of Izyum, in the eastern Kharkiv region, was held up by Russian shelling, regional governor Oleh Synehubov said in an online post.

“Buses are still waiting at the entrance to Izyum,” he said, adding that negotiations with the Russians were under way with the support of the Red Cross.

Some people started streaming out of Kyiv‘s suburbs, even as air raid sirens repeatedly went off in the capital and explosions could be heard.

Kyiv regional administration head Oleksiy Kuleba said the crisis for civilians was growing in and around the capital. “Russia is artificially creating a humanitarian crisis in the Kyiv region, frustrating the evacuation of people and continuing shelling and bombing small communities,” he said.

Kyiv said 30 buses and eight trucks of supplies failed to reach it on Tuesday after they came under Russian shelling in violation of the ceasefire. Moscow has blamed Kyiv for failing to halt fire.

In the village of Demydiv, about 25km (15.5 miles) north of the capital, Russian troops fired on Ukrainian police officers, according to Ukrainian security forces cited by the German news agency dpa.

One policeman was killed and another seriously injured. In addition, a civilian was taken to hospital with serious injuries, officials said.

Russian forces have made advances towards Kyiv, approaching Brovary, the large eastern suburbs of the capital.

While the front line was five days ago near Chernihiv, about 100km (62 miles) north of Brovary, columns of Russian tanks were only about 15km (9.3 miles) away on Wednesday.

Ukrainian forces were trying to repel a column of Russian tanks heading towards the highway in the direction of Brovary, local residents and volunteers of the Ukrainian forces told the AFP news agency.

Moscow and Ukraine had pledged to respect the truce starting at 9:00am local time (07:00 GMT).

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