Ukrainian officials say Russia has agreed to a new all-day ceasefire along several evacuation routes for people fleeing cities, including Mariupol, the scene of the worst desperation of the war. Russian bombardment there destroyed buildings, leaving the port without water, heating, sewer operating systems or telephone service. Local officials said they planned to start digging mass graves for the dead.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed, both civilians and soldiers, in two weeks of fighting by President Vladimir Putin’s forces. The UN estimates that more than 2 million people have fled the country. Many more have been trapped inside cities bombed and surrounded by Russian forces, who have seen their advance slowed by harder-than-expected Ukrainian resistance.
Repeated warnings Wednesday morning urged residents of the capital, Kiev, to rush to bomb shelters amid fears of incoming missiles. All-clear was given every time, but periodic alerts kept people worried. Kyiv has been relatively quiet in recent days, although Russian artillery pounded the outskirts of the city.
A new effort is planned Wednesday to create safe corridors for people to flee Mariupol, Sumy in the northeast, Enerhodar in the south, Volnovakha in the southeast, Izyum in the east and several cities in the Kiev region, the vice president said. of the Government of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk said.
The crisis is growing in the capital for citizens, with the situation being particularly critical on the outskirts of the city, said the head of the regional administration of Kiev Oleksiy Kuleba.
“Russia is artificially creating a humanitarian crisis in the Kiev region, frustrating the evacuation of people and continuing to bomb and bomb small communities,” he said.
On the outskirts of the city, police and soldiers helped elderly people evacuate their homes on Tuesday, and people crossed a damaged bridge as they tried to flee Irpin, a city of 60,000 that has been the target of Russian bombardment.
Meanwhile, Russian forces have placed military equipment on farms and in residential buildings in the northern city of Chernihiv, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement. In the south, Russians dressed in civilian clothes are flocking to the town of Mykolaiv, a Black Sea shipbuilding center of half a million people, he said.
The Ukrainian army is building defenses in cities in the north, south and east, and forces around Kyiv are “holding the line” against the Russian attack, the general staff said.
The fighting largely thwarted previous attempts to create corridors for the safe evacuation of civilians.
An evacuation proved successful on Tuesday, with Ukrainian authorities saying 5,000 civilians, including 1,700 foreign students, had managed to escape from Sumi, a city of four million people that has seen heavy bombardment.
The corridor will reopen for 12 hours on Wednesday, with buses carrying people southwest to the city of Poltava returning the previous day to pick up more residents, said Dmytro Zhyvytskyy, head of the regional administration.
Priority was given to pregnant women, women with children, the elderly and people with disabilities.
In the south, Russian troops have advanced deep along the Ukrainian coastline in an effort to build a land bridge to Crimea, which Moscow occupied from Ukraine in 2014. As part of these efforts, the port of Mariupol at sea Azov has been surrounded by Russian troops for days and a humanitarian crisis is unfolding for its 430,000 inhabitants.
The corpses are on the streets and hungry people are raiding shops looking for food and melting snow for water. Thousands are crammed into the basements, trembling at the sound of Russian shells pounding this strategic port city.
“Why not cry?” Goma Jana demanded as she wept from the light of an oil lamp under the ground, surrounded by women and children. “I want my home, I want my job. I’m so sad for the people and for the city, the children.”
Tuesday brought no relief: An attempt to evacuate civilians and deliver the food, water and medicine we needed through a designated safe corridor failed, with Ukrainian officials saying Russian forces fired on the convoy before it reached the city.
Mariupol, said the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk, is in a “catastrophic situation.”
Natalia Mundrenko, a senior member of Ukraine’s mission to the United Nations, told the Security Council that the people of Mariupol had been “taken hostage” by the siege. Her voice trembled with emotion as she described how a 6-year-old died shortly after her mother died in a Russian bombing raid. “She was alone in the last moments of her life,” she said.
Theft has become widespread in food, clothing and even furniture, with locals referring to the practice as a “discount”. Some residents have limited themselves to collecting water from streams.
With power off, many people rely on their car radios for information, receiving news from stations broadcast from areas controlled by Russian forces or Russian-backed separatists.
Ludmila Amelkina, who was walking down an alley full of rubble and walls full of gunfire, said the disaster was catastrophic.
“We have no electricity, we have nothing to eat, we have no medicine. We have nothing,” he said, looking up at the sky.
Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed to this report.
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