Buenos Aires Weather | Attempt to evacuate Ukrainian port town fails again as civilian toll rises

Civil catastrophe unfolds in Ukraine as attempts to evacuate residents of the beleaguered port city of Mariupol fail for the second day in a row.

Further shelling and attacks have driven increasing numbers of refugees, sometimes under fire, as the death toll continues to rise.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its 11th day, has seen more than 1.5 million people flee the country in what the UN has called “the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis”. fastest in Europe since the Second World War”.

Pope Francis on Sunday lamented the “rivers of blood and tears” flowing in Ukraine, as Washington cited “very credible information” that Russia had committed war crimes by deliberately attacking civilians.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed and thousands injured, and hundreds of thousands of people – mostly women and children – have taken refuge in neighboring countries such as Poland, Romania or Moldova.

Efforts on Saturday to push people out of Mariupol – the scene of some of the war’s greatest ferocity – crumbled almost immediately, with both sides accusing each other of breaching a ceasefire agreement.

A new attempt on Sunday also failed, with the belligerents again exchanging recriminations.

Vladimir Putin blamed Kiev for not respecting “the agreements reached on this acute humanitarian problem”, the Kremlin said in a reading of a phone call between the Russian president and French President Emmanuel Macron.

But the governor of the eastern Donetsk region, Pavlo Kirilenko, said “the population evacuation column could not leave Mariupol” because Russian forces “started shelling the city”.

Very few refugees from the strategic Sea town of Azov came out on Saturday, but one family – who did not give their name – arrived in the central town of Dnipro and recounted their heartbreaking experience.

“We stayed in the basement for seven days without heating, electricity or internet and we ran out of food and water,” said one. “On the road, we saw that there were corpses everywhere, Russians and Ukrainians… We saw that people had been buried in their basements.”

Since hostilities broke out, disturbing scenes of the fighting have taken over social media. The New York Times posted a particularly gruesome photo on his website showing what he said was a mother and two children killed by Russian shelling outside Kiev.

‘Neutralization’

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal has urged the Group of Seven countries to expel Russia and Belarus from the International Monetary Fund and all World Bank organizations to further isolate Putin.

Western allies have imposed unprecedented sanctions on corporations, banks and billionaires in a bid to stifle the Russian economy and pressure Moscow to end its assault.

Further punitive measures, including a possible ban on Russian oil imports, could be imposed if Putin does not change course, world leaders have warned.

U.S. officials said Sunday they were in “active discussions” with European nations about such a ban.

But the Russian leader equated global sanctions with a declaration of war and warned that Kiev was “putting the future of the Ukrainian state into question”.

Russia would achieve its goals of “neutralizing” Ukraine “either through negotiation or through war,” Putin told Macron in their phone call on Sunday, an Elysee official said.

NATO allies have so far pushed back on Ukraine’s calls for a no-fly zone, with senior US senator Marco Rubio saying on Sunday it could lead to ‘World War III’ against Russia with nuclear weapons.

Putin threatened “colossal and catastrophic consequences not only for Europe but also for the whole world” if a no-fly zone was implemented.

In the latest sign that the sanctions were biting, however, Moscow said on Sunday that retailers in Russia would restrict sales of essential goods, including bread, rice and flour, to curb speculation on the black market.

Payments giant American Express halted operations in Russia on Sunday, a day after Visa and Mastercard announced similar measures.

As more people took to the streets across Russia against the military assault on Ukraine, Russia stepped up its crackdown on dissent, arresting more than 2,500 protesters.

Ukraine’s military said on Sunday it was engaged in “fierce battles” with Russian forces near the southern city of Mykolaiv and Chernihiv to the north.

“The main efforts are focused on defending the city of Mariupol,” he said in a Facebook post, adding that an operation by Ukrainian forces was also underway in the eastern part of the Donetsk region.

In the eastern city of Kharkiv, a television tower was hit in an airstrike, interrupting broadcasts, according to regional governor Oleg Synegubov.

“Last Bridge”

Elsewhere, Russian forces closed in on the capital Kiev in an assault that grew increasingly indiscriminate – and deadly.

In Bilogordoka, on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukrainian troops planted explosives on what they say is the last intact bridge preventing the advance of Russian forces.

“It’s the last bridge, we defend it and don’t let them penetrate to Kiev,” said a fighter who went by the name of Casper.

The former paratrooper, who joined the Ukraine Voluntary Territorial Defense, said his team would blow up the bridge if the Russians advanced and would “sink as many enemy tanks as possible while we were doing it”.

Dozens of civilians were killed in the northern city of Chernihiv. Some survivors were reduced to living in craters or amid mounds of debris.

“There were corpses all over the ground,” a man who only gave his name to Sergei told AFP as the air raid sirens sounded. “They were queuing here for the pharmacy which is right there, and they all died.”

AFP reporters saw scenes of devastation — despite Moscow’s insistence it is not targeting civilian areas.

Dismissing Moscow’s denials, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN that “we have seen very credible reports of deliberate attacks on civilians, which would constitute a war crime.”

Airport destroyed

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that the Russians are turning their attention to the historic port city of Odessa, which has so far been largely spared.

Kiev has urged the West to step up military assistance, with Zelensky pleading with Eastern European neighbors to provide Russian-made planes that its pilots are trained to fly.

A barrage of Russian missiles destroyed an airport in Vinnytsia, central Ukraine, Zelensky said, stressing his plea for help.

Blinken said Washington was “actively working” on a deal with Poland to supply it with American jets.

Washington is reportedly working on a deal for Poland to send Soviet-era planes to Ukraine in exchange for American fighter jets.

Weapons, ammunition and funds poured into Ukraine from Western allies as they sought to bolster Kiev.

Washington last week authorized $350 million worth of military equipment, a historically significant package.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated this weekend in cities ranging from London to Barcelona to Washington in support of Ukraine.

Twenty thousand international volunteers have traveled to Ukraine to join the fight, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNN, although a British official warned it would be “illegal” for Britons.

The invasion also had repercussions on the cultural world.

The musical director and chief conductor of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Tugan Sokhiev, has become the latest personality to leave his post because of his loyalty.

Diplomatic offer

A third round of Russian-Ukrainian talks aimed at finding a solution to this bloody conflict is scheduled for Monday, Ukraine announced on Saturday.

The frantic diplomatic talks continued, with Zelensky saying on Sunday he had spoken by phone with US President Joe Biden, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Britain’s Boris Johnson to discuss further support for his country and sanctions against Russia.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke with Putin on Sunday, urging his Russian counterpart to accept “an urgent general ceasefire”.

The day before, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett went to the Kremlin for three hours of talks.

– TIMES/AFP

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