UKRAINE. Kyiv: On Thursday, Ukraine was attempting to evacuate as many trapped citizens as possible as Russian soldiers bombarded cities and towns in the country’s east and south.
Irena Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister, announced a deal with Russia to provide ten safe corridors, largely in southern and eastern Ukraine, but stated citizens wanting to flee Mariupol would have to use their cars.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, multiple attempts to reach an agreement on safe passage for buses carrying supplies to Mariupol and residents have failed, with each side blaming the other.
Officials in Ukraine say Russia is reorganizing for a fresh onslaught in the east and south, and they want civilians to flee while they still can.
“Evacuate! Every day, your prospects of escaping Russian death for yourself and your family are shrinking,” the governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Gaidai, indicated that Russian troops had achieved no substantial inroads.
In the last few days, local officials reported intense Russian shelling and rocket fire in Kherson’s southern sector.
Russian air operations, according to Ukrainian Presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovycvh, are now mostly concentrated on eastern Ukraine, with Mariupol holding out.
“The situation is under control,” he said, adding that he expected Russian efforts to surround Ukrainian soldiers in the east will be in failure.
Russia, according to Ukraine’s military, intends to establish a land corridor between two separatist, self-proclaimed people’s republics in Donbas in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which Russia captured and annexed in 2014.
The governor of the Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine, Oleh Synyehubov, said residential areas had been shelled 48 times in the previous 24 hours to “place pressure on Kharkiv’s civilian population and destroy civilian infrastructure.”
Three citizens were murdered and numerous homes were destroyed in the shelling of Balakliya, a settlement near the captured city of Izyum from which Ukraine claims it can no longer evacuate civilians, according to him.
Russia disputes that civilians are being targeted as part of a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing and “denazifying” Ukraine. Ukraine and the West reject the Kremlin’s position as an excuse for an unjustified invasion.
For the majority of the war, Mariupol has been under siege.
According to Mayor Vadym Boychenko, at least 160,000 inhabitants are stranded without power, food, or running water, and the city’s civilian death toll is estimated to be about 5,000.
Boychenko, who has since left Mariupol, estimates that at least 40,000 people were forcibly evacuated to Russia from Russian-controlled portions of the city. Russia has spoken of “refugees” arriving from the strategic port city.