Wednesday, April 17

Shells rain down on Ukraine’s cities despite ‘cynical’ offer of safe passage | Ukraine

IIn the southern port city of Mariupol, police were going from basement shelter to basement shelter. The message to those who have been trapped by days of brutal Russian shelling in the besieged city of 430,000 on the Sea of ​​Azov was simple.

Do not come out, terrified residents were warned, until you hear a message on the loud speakers. Do not try to evacuate, despite the promises by Russian forces of safe passage.

The warning was well founded. On the main road out – eyed as a key escape route – heavy Russian shelling continued on Monday, Ukrainian forces said. The previous day officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross had identified it as having been mined.

“The route is not safe,” said Sergei Orlov, the senior deputy. “We do not have confirmation at the moment that a ceasefire started.”

The day after eight civilians including a family of three were killed by Russian mortar fire while trying to evacuate from Irpin on the outskirts of Kyiv, analysts and political leaders were experiencing a sense of deja vu, pointing to the cynical Russian use of humanitarian corridors in Chechnya and more recently in Syria, where Russian – or Russian-brokered – promises of safe passage were either worthless, or used as a ploy to allow the repositioning of forces.

In 2018, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, under siege from the Kremlin-backed Syrian government, the Russians, acting as mediators, brokered a ceasefire with the UN to allow civilians to escape. Instead civilians were shelled as they attempted to escape, prompting a US State Department spokesman to condemn the ceasefire as “a joke”.

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Analyst Anna Borshchevskaya, writing a paper for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a conservative thinktank, drew a line between Russian manipulation of ceasefires in Syria and what has been happening in Ukraine, describing “a string of broken ceasefires”.

The Russian offer of six humanitarian corridors out of Ukrainian cities, of which four led to Russia or pro-Russia Belarus, was being described in similar terms to the grim “joke” in Ghouta – as a “cynical” stunt, “immoral” and hypocritical.

In reality, as Ukrainian officials pointed out, despite the promise of a ceasefire, it was Russian shelling that was preventing the evacuation of civilians from Kyiv, Mariupol, Sumy, Kharkiv, Volnovakha and Mykolaiv.

“This prevents the safe passage of humanitarian columns with Ukrainian and foreign citizens, as well as the delivery of medicines and food,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

“All this is not serious, it is moral and political cynicism, which I find intolerable,” the French president Emmanuel Macron said. “I don’t know many Ukrainians who want to take refuge in Russia,” he told LCI television.

Ukrainian officials described the humanitarian corridor offer as “completely immoral” and called for genuine safe routes for civilians.

The Russian defense ministry later announced a new push, saying civilians would be allowed to leave Kyiv, Mariupol, Kharkiv and Sumy, but it came as Russian forces continued to pound other locations across the country. And as the hours passed on Monday with little sign of a ceasefire, it appeared there had been little meaningful evacuation.

A destroyed car after shelling in Ukraine’s second-biggest city of Kharkiv. Photograph: Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images

The conflict has driven over 1.7 million to flee the country and millions more are trapped under brutal Russian bombardment of civilian areas and are seeking to escape.

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The mayor of Irpin, where eight people were killed by Russian mortar fire during an evacuation attempt on Sunday, accused Russian forces of deliberately targeting those fleeing.

“Everyone knows where we are taking civilians out by car, along the evacuation routes. And they are targeting the routes,” said Oleksandr Markushin, echoing accusations that Russia had also shelled an evacuation route from Mariupol.

The handful of residents of the port city of 430,000 who managed to flee said it 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.”

The description was echoed by Dmytro Gurin, a Ukrainian MP whose parents were still in the city. “My mom is 67; my dad 69,” he said in a Twitter thread. “The last time I heard from them was day before yesterday at 9am. The conversation lasted 30 seconds. Their phones are dead. Their neighbor had 20% charge left. Yesterday he said they are alive. There is no mobile network anymore.”

Russian forces continued their offensive in Mykolaiv, opening fire on the city some 300 miles south of Kyiv, according to Ukraine’s general staff, while emergency officials in the Kharkiv region said overnight shelling killed at least eight people and wrecked residential buildings, medical, educational and administrative facilities.

“Russia continues to carry out rocket, bomb and artillery strikes on the cities and settlements of Ukraine,” the general staff said, and repeated earlier Ukrainian accusations that Russia has targeted humanitarian corridors. The statement also accused Russian forces of taking women and children hostage and placing weapons in residential areas of cities – though it did not elaborate or provide evidence.

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The accusation came as the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed seven attacks on healthcare infrastructure in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, up from four the previous day.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter on Sunday that “several” attacks had occurred, without giving details, adding they were a violation of international humanitarian law.

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