Russian attacks halt plans to evacuate Ukrainian civilians

“There can be no ‘green corridors’ because only the sick brain of the Russians decides when to start shooting and at whom,” said and adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry.

By Associated Press

A second attempt to evacuate civilians from a besieged city in southern Ukraine collapsed Sunday amid renewed Russian shelling, while Russian President Vladimir Putin turned the blame for the war back on Ukraine and said Moscow’s invasion could be halted “only if Kyiv ceases hostilities.”

Food, water, medicine and almost all other supplies were in desperately short supply in the port city of Mariupol, where Russian and Ukrainian forces had agreed to an 11-hour cease-fire that would allow civilians and the wounded to be evacuated. But Russian attacks quickly closed the humanitarian corridor, Ukrainian officials said.

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

The news dashed hopes that more people could escape the fighting in Ukraine, where Russia’s plan to quickly overrun the country has been stymied by fierce resistance. Russia has made significant advances in southern Ukraine and along the coast, but many of its efforts have become stalled, including an immense military convoy that has been almost motionless for days north of Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky rallied his people to remain defiant, especially those in cities that Russian soldiers have entered.

“You should take to the streets! You should fight!” he said Saturday on Ukrainian television. “It is necessary to go out and drive this evil out of our cities, from our land.”

Zelensky also asked the U.S. and NATO countries to send more warplanes to Ukraine, though that idea is complicated by questions about which countries would provide the aircraft and how those countries would replace the planes.

The war, now in its 11th day, has caused 1.5 million people to flee the country. The head of the UN refugee agency called the exodus “the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.”

As he has often done, Putin blamed Ukraine for the war, telling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday that Kyiv needed to stop all hostilities and fulfill “the well-known demands of Russia.”

The Russian leader also told Erdogan he hoped Ukraine “would show a more constructive approach (to talks), fully taking into account the emerging realities.” A third round of Russia-Ukraine negotiations is scheduled for Monday.

Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke about the nuclear situation in Ukraine, which has 15 nuclear reactors and was the scene of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The men agreed in principle to a “dialogue” involving Russia, Ukraine and the UN’s atomic watchdog, according to a French official who spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with the presidency’s practices. Potential talks on the issue are to be organized in the coming days, he said.

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International leaders, as well as Pope Francis, appealed to Putin to negotiate.

In a highly unusual move, the pope said he had dispatched two cardinals to Ukraine, saying the Vatican would do everything it could to end the conflict.

“In Ukraine, rivers of blood and tears are flowing,” the pontiff said in his traditional Sunday blessing. “This is not just a military operation, but a war that sows death, destruction and misery.”

After the cease-fire in Mariupol failed to hold 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.

The handful of residents who managed to flee Mariupol before the humanitarian corridor closed said the city of 430,000 had been devastated.

“We saw everything: houses burning, all the people sitting in basements,” said Yelena Zamay, who fled to one of the self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists. “No communication, no water, no gas, no light, no water. There was nothing.”

British military officials compared Russia’s tactics to those Moscow used in Chechnya and Syria, where surrounded cities were pulverized by airstrikes and artillery.

“This is likely to represent an effort to break Ukrainian morale,” the U.K. Ministry of Defense said.

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Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Zelensky, said Ukrainian officials and international humanitarian organizations were working with Russia through intermediaries to establish humanitarian corridors from Bucha and Hostomel, which are Kyiv suburbs where there has been heavy fighting.

Ukraine’s military is greatly outmatched by Russia’s, but its professional and volunteer forces have fought back with fierce tenacity. In Kyiv, volunteers lined up Saturday to join the military.

Even in cities that have fallen, there were signs of resistance.

Onlookers in Chernihiv cheered as they watched a Russian military plane fall from the sky and crash, according to video released by the Ukrainian government. In Kherson, hundreds of protesters waved blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and shouted, “Go home.”

Russia has made significant advances in southern Ukraine as it seeks to block access to the Sea of Azov. Capturing Mariupol could allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 in a move that most other countries considered illegal.

The UN World Food Program has warned of an impending hunger crisis in Ukraine, a major global wheat supplier, saying millions will need food aid “immediately.”

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