Moscow says it will let Ukrainian civilians flee – to Russia
- Discussions on humanitarian corridors come after failed ceasefires
- Oil price soars as US mulls Russian oil ban
- Ukraine says Russian forces are planning an assault on Kiev
LVIV/IRPIN, Ukraine, March 7 (Reuters) – Ukrainian officials said a bread factory was hit by a Russian airstrike on Monday as the country’s negotiators met for talks with Russian officials after previous rounds that had brought no respite to the conflict.
The bodies of at least 13 civilians have been recovered from the rubble after a factory in the town of Makariv in Kyiv region was hit, local emergency services said. Five people were rescued out of the 30 believed to be there at the time. Reuters was unable to immediately verify the reported attack.
On Monday, Russia had offered Ukrainians evacuation routes to Russia and its close ally Belarus after ceasefire evacuation attempts over the weekend failed. In the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, hundreds of thousands of people have been stranded without food or water under regular shelling.
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A Ukrainian negotiator has urged Russia to end its assault on Ukraine, which the United Nations says has forced 1.7 million people to flee to central Europe. Read more
“In a few minutes we will start talking to representatives of a country that seriously believes that large-scale violence against civilians is an argument,” Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “Prove that it’s not.”
Under the Russian offer, a corridor from the capital Kiev would lead to Russia’s ally Belarus, while civilians from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, would be directed to Russia, according to maps published by the RIA news agency.
“Attempts by the Ukrainian side to deceive Russia and the whole civilized world… are useless this time,” the Russian Defense Ministry said after announcing the “humanitarian corridors”.
A spokesman for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the Russian proposal was “completely immoral”.
“They are Ukrainian citizens, they should have the right to evacuate to Ukrainian territory,” the spokesperson said.
A day earlier, Reuters reporters had seen people trying to flee the town of Irpin near Kiev getting caught in Russian shelling.
On Monday, people made their way over the twisting ruins of a large bridge in Irpin, with water from the river rushing just below them.
“It’s like a disaster. The city is almost in ruins and the neighborhood where I live (there is) no house that hasn’t been bombed,” a young woman leaving with her children told Reuters.
Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians. He calls the campaign he launched on February 24 a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and eliminate the leaders he calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and its Western allies call it a transparent pretext for an invasion aimed at conquering a nation of 44 million people.
Western nations have imposed heavy sanctions on Moscow to insulate it from world trade and are now considering banning Russian oil imports. Oil prices rose to their highest levels since 2008 amid falling supply from Russia, the world’s biggest oil and gas exporter. Read more
International businesses and sports bodies have suspended relations, and wider economic disruption is likely, with Russia and Ukraine both among the world’s top exporters of food and industrial metals. Read more
Prices for nickel, which is used to make stainless steel and batteries for electric vehicles, jumped about 60% on Monday and have nearly doubled since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Ukraine’s Armed Forces General Staff said Russian forces were “beginning to build up resources for the storming of Kyiv”, a city of more than 3 million people, after days of sluggishness in their main advance to southern Belarus.
Ukraine says 2,000 civilians have been evacuated from Irpin, where Reuters reporters on Sunday saw people running for their lives and diving for safety as explosions erupted and flames mounted in the sky. Gasping with exhaustion and shock, they were helped onto buses by Ukrainian troops.
In Mariupol, Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov said there were also continuous air raids overnight.
Orlov told CNN that authorities were ready to evacuate 6,000 people on Saturday, but the Russians bombed 29 large city buses that were supposed to transport them. Moscow has accused the Ukrainians of blocking planned evacuations.
Ukraine said on Monday that its forces had regained control of the town of Chuhuiv in the northeast, the site of heavy fighting for days, and the strategic airport of Mykolaiv in the south, which according to the regional governor , was under fire from the tanks. None of these claims could be immediately verified.
The United Nations has called for safe passage to reach people cut off from life-saving aid across Ukraine. In a humanitarian update, he described a psychiatric hospital 60 km (40 miles) from Kiev running out of water and medicine with 670 people trapped inside, including bedridden patients with serious needs.
The World Health Organization said at least six people had been killed in nine attacks on health facilities since the start of the war. Read more
ACCELERATE THE PACE
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters that Moscow would halt operations if Ukraine stopped fighting, changed its constitution to declare neutrality and recognized Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the independence of the regions held by Russian-backed separatists.
Ed Arnold, an analyst at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, said Russia should try to consolidate the gains it has already made and pause to mobilize more forces unless the pace of its assault picks up.
“At the current rate of Russian casualties…we have indications that this operation would be unsustainable in about three weeks,” he said.
While Russia’s advance into northern Kiev has been stalled for days with an armored column stretching for miles along a highway, it has made more progress in the south, pushing east and west along the Black Sea and Azov coasts.
Moscow has acknowledged nearly 500 dead among its soldiers, but Western countries say the real number is much higher and Ukraine says it is in the thousands.
The death toll cannot be verified, but footage widely filmed across Ukraine shows burnt-out wreckage of Russian tanks and armor, and parts of Ukrainian towns reduced to rubble by Russian strikes.
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Reporting from Reuters offices Writing by Peter Graff and Philippa Fletcher, editing by Tomasz Janowski and Angus MacSwan
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