As delegations from Ukraine and Russia prepare for a third attempt at negotiations in the 12-day-old war, increased fighting has created scenes of chaos across the beleaguered nation.
Russian tanks were spotted in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin where thousands of people are crammed into apartment high rises, vulnerable to Russian missile attacks. As shelling picked up pace on Monday, women, children and elderly men crammed onto trains out of the city headed west in what has become an increasingly desperate situation for those who still can’t quite believe their country is being invaded. The United Nations predicts that at least 5 million Ukrainians will be displaced in the war.
As bullets rained down over the port city of Mariupol, which has seen some of the deadliest clashes of the war so far, a ceasefire agreement meant to allow civilians to escape has again been breached after neither side reportedly put down their weapons. The director of the International Committee of the Red Cross told the BBC on Monday that even if the ceasefire is honored, the way out is extremely dangerous. Some of his staff were trying to leave town along a path designated safe only to find it had been laced with land mines. It is unclear who laid the mines, but both sides blamed the other. “The road indicated to them was actually mined,” Dominik Stillhart told BBC Monday. “That is why it is so important that the two parties have a precise agreement for us then to be able to facilitate it on the ground.”
The escape routes that have been offered so far have proved to be a boobytrap with civilians fleeing the war bombed over the weekend.
A spokesman for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Reuters on Monday that civilians have been granted a safe route out of Kharkiv, but only heading straight to Russia or Belarus, which has aligned itself as Russia’s chief ally in this war. “They are citizens of Ukraine, they should have the right to evacuate to the territory of Ukraine,” he told Reuters, calling Russia’s invitation “completely immoral” accusing Russia of simply doing it for optics, to “use people’s suffering to create a television picture.”
British government minister James Cleverly called the corridor to Russia “cynical beyond belief,” telling BBC News: “Providing evacuation into the arms of the country that is currently destroying yours is a nonsense.”
Meanwhile, fighting rages on across the country with air raid sirens ringing out in the port city of Odessa and Russian tanks now concentrating on southern cities. “The Russian occupation forces command is shifting its focus to the South, trying to deprive Ukraine of access to the Black and Azov Seas, which, in their opinion, will create conditions for economic suppression of the Ukrainian Resistance,” Ukraine National Security and Defense Council posted on Facebook. “The enemy does not give up hopes to seize Kyiv and mounts resources to encircle Dnipro.”