Russia was again accused on Sunday of breaking a ceasefire agreement as a second attempt to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol fell through, while Vladimir Putin said that his war would not end until Ukraine stopped fighting.
Food, water and medicine are in short supply in the southeastern port city, where most of the 400,000 citizens are sleeping in bomb shelters for safety after a week of near-constant shelling by Russian forces. On Sunday morning, a second temporary ceasefire in two days was agreed upon, but Russian attacks swiftly put paid to the plan, according to Ukrainian officials.
Once more, Moscow deflected the blame back at Kyiv for the breakdown, while the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that the failed attempts highlighted the absence of a “detailed and functioning agreement” between the two sides.
About 200,000 people had been due to leave the city, the ICRC added on the eleventh day of a conflict that has now forced at least 1.5 million Ukrainians to flee abroad – in what the UN is calling the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second WorldWar.
“They lied to us… they’re destroying us,” Mariupol Major Vadym Boychenko said before the latest evacuation effort failed. “They will not even give us an opportunity to count the wounded and the killed because the shelling does not stop.”
For Russia, taking Mariupol would be a significant gain – providing a strategic link between the Russia-backed separatist territories of Donetsk and Luhansk to the north and the land route to the Crimean peninsula, which Mr Putin’s forces annexed in 2014.
Mr Putin on Sunday told his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan on a phone call that Russia would only halt its assault – which it calls a “special military operation” – if Ukraine “ceased hostilities” and if Moscow’s demands were met. The Russian leader said his operation was going to plan.
Naftali Bennett, the Israeli prime minister, also held talks with Mr Putin on Sunday – saying that Israel will continue trying to mediate between Russia and Ukraine even if success seems unlikely – while France’s Emmanuel Macron spoke to the Russian leader later in the day.
In another albeit highly unusual act of diplomacy, Pope Francis said he had sent two cardinals to Ukraine, adding that the Vatican would do everything it could to end the conflict.
“In Ukraine, rivers of blood and tears are flowing,” the pontiff said in his traditional Sunday blessing. “This is not just a military operation, but a war that sows death, destruction and misery.”
On Sunday at least eight people – including two children – were reportedly killed by Russian shelling while trying to flee the town of Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Photographs from media outlets showed three dead bodies on the street in Irpin, believed to be a mother and her two children.
“A family died, in front of my eyes, two small children and two adults died,” said Irpin Major Oleksandr Markushyn, who put the death toll of civilians during the evacuation in Irpin at eight.
Irpin – located 20km (16 miles) northwest of Kyiv – has been bombarded by artillery and airstrikes, which have caused heavy damage to residential buildings, roads and bridges. Ukrainian soldiers, who were bolstering defenses around the capital on Sunday, helped people to leave Irpin with their children, pets and some possessions, but reportedly had to take cover when missiles struck nearby.
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Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government said Russian rockets had destroyed the civilian airport of the central-western region capital of Vinnytsia, and that forces in the city of Kharkiv fired rockets at a physics institute containing nuclear material and a reactor.
Ukrainian president Voldymyr Zelensky later warned that Russia was preparing to bombard the southern city of Odessa, and repeated a request for countries to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which Nato has rejected because of concerns this would lead to a wider conflict.
“The world is strong enough to close our skies,” Mr Zelensky said on Sunday in a video address. Mr Putin on Saturday warned that Russia would consider any attempt to impose a no-fly zone as tantamount to entering the conflict.
Kyiv renewed its appeal to the west to impose tougher sanctions while also requesting more weapons, including a plea for Russian-made plans.
On a trip to neighboring Moldova, US secretary of state Anthony Blinken said Washington was looking “very actively” at supplying military aircraft to Poland should Warsaw choose to send its own to Ukraine.
Mr Blinken also said on Sunday that the US had seen “very credible reports” of deliberate attacks on civilians by Russia’s forces, and that Washington was documenting these reports for any future probes into whether war crimes have been committed.
This was echoed by the UK’s Ministry of Defense, which said that Russian forces were attacking populated areas in Ukraine, comparing the tactics to those Russia used in Chechnya in 1999 and Syria in 2016.
The civilian death toll from hostilities across Ukraine since Moscow launched its invasion on 24 February stood at 364 – including more than 20 children – the UN human rights office on Sunday, although it warned that the true figure is likely to be higher.
The conflict spurred anti-war protests around the world over the weekend, and also across dozens of cities in Russia on Sunday.
Police detained at least 4,300 people in about 50 Russian cities, according to the OVD-Info project – an independent monitoring group. Russia’s interior ministry said 3,500 demonstrators had been held, including 1,700 in Moscow and 750 in St Petersburg.
Meanwhile, American Express said on Sunday it was suspending all operations in Russia – as well as Belarus – joining a growing number of western corporations to severe ties over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. It follows US counterparts Visa and Mastercard, which announced a suspension of their Russian operations on Saturday, as well as online payments company PayPal.
Additional reporting by agencies
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