Russian forces push deeper into Mariupol as locals plead for help

  • Russian forces push deeper into besieged, battered port city of Mariupol.
  • Ukraine says 6,623 evacuated on Saturday, 4,128 of those left Mariupol.
  • UN says at least 847 civilians killed in Ukraine, 6.5 million internally displaced.
  • Local official says Ukraine city of Mykolaiv facing air raids.
  • Ukraine calls on China to condemn “Russian barbarism”, support “civilised countries’ coalition”.
  • Poland PM calls for total trade ban between the EU and Russia.
  • Russia says it used Kinzhal hypersonic missiles for the first time in Ukraine.

Here are the latest Russia-Ukraine war updates on March 20:

Germany courts Qatar, UAE for alternatives to Russian gas

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck will discuss liquefied natural gas (LNG) supply on a trip to Qatar and the UAE, as he aims to secure a hydrogen deal, making Germany less dependent on Russia for gas.

Russia is the largest supplier of gas to Germany, according to data on the Economy Ministry’s website. Roughly half of Germany’s LNG imports come from Russia.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Habeck has launched several initiatives to lessen Germany’s energy dependence on Russia, including large orders of non-Russian LNG, plans for a terminal to import LNG and slowing the nation’s exit from coal.

Read full story here.

What is China’s strategy on Ukraine?

US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping spoke on the phone on Friday, for the first time since the war began.

Washington is concerned about Beijing’s stance on the conflict as Chinese officials have refused to condemn the invasion. Biden has warned of consequences for China if it provides material support to Moscow.

So, what does it all mean for China’s relations with the West?

Ukrainian refugees seek ID cards in Poland

Hoping to restore some normalcy after fleeing the war in Ukraine, thousands of refugees waited in long lines on Saturday in the Polish capital Warsaw to get identification cards that will allow them to get on with their lives – at least for now.

Refugees started queuing by Warsaw’s National Stadium overnight to get the coveted PESEL identity cards that will allow them to work, live, go to school and get medical care or social benefits for the next 18 months. By mid-morning, many were told to come back another day.

The demand was too high even though Polish authorities had simplified the process.

Refugees who fled Russia's invasion of Ukraine wait in a queue to obtain Polish national identification number
Refugees wait to obtain Polish national identification number (PESEL) in front of National Stadium in Warsaw,[Maciek Jazwiecki/Agencja via Reuters]

Increased risk for child refugees – UNICEF

Children fleeing the war in Ukraine are at an increased risk of exploitation and abuse, UNICEF has warned.

“It’s a huge concern, almost 1.7 million children have fled Ukraine and a further 3.3 million are internally displaced,” UNICEF’s Joe English told Al Jazeera from Lviv in Ukraine.

“When children are separated from parents or caregivers, the risk of exploitation, trafficking, abuse and being forced into child labour is high. We know that gangs and criminal networks exist across Europe and it is critical that we scale up our programming and response to really mitigate that risk.”

Mykolaiv facing air raids: Local official

Russian air raids on Mykolaiv were taking place in quick succession on Saturday, a regional official said.

Vitaly Kim, head of the regional administration, said there was not even enough time to raise the alarm over the raids “because by the time we announce this tornado, it’s already there”.

“The [alert] message and the bombings arrive at the same time,” he said on social media.

Ukraine says 6,623 people evacuated on Saturday

A total of 6,623 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors on Saturday, a senior official said, considerably fewer than managed to escape the previous day.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, said in an online post that 4,128 people had left the besieged city of Mariupol. On Friday, he said 9,145 people had managed to leave cities across the country during the day.

Local residents sit in a car as they leave the besieged southern port city of Mariupol
Local residents sit in a car as they leave the besieged southern port city of Mariupol [Reuters]

‘The city is destroyed’

Russian forces have pushed deeper into Ukraine’s besieged and battered port city of Mariupol where heavy fighting shut down a major steel plant and local authorities pleaded for more help.

The fall of Mariupol, the scene of some of the war’s worst suffering, would mark a crucial battlefield advance for the Russians, who are largely bogged down outside key cities more than three weeks into the biggest land invasion in Europe since World War II.

“Children, elderly people are dying. The city is destroyed and it is wiped off the face of the earth,” Mariupol police officer Michail Vershnin said on Saturday from a rubble-strewn street in a video addressed to Western leaders.

A local resident walks inside a damaged apartment
A local resident walks inside an apartment which was damaged in Mariupol [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

Click here to read all the Russia-Ukraine war updates from March 19.

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