Russia-Ukraine news live: Ukraine tries to evacuate city amid weeks of Russian attack

Kyiv, Ukraine – Ukrainian authorities on Sunday prepared a second attempt to evacuate civilians from a southern city hit by a week-long Russian attack as economic pressures mounted on Moscow and diplomats shuttled across Europe to try to stop the to end war.

Evacuations from the port city of Mariupol were scheduled to begin at 12:00 p.m. local time (10:00 GMT) during a local ceasefire from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Ukrainian military authorities said. A similar ceasefire planned there and in the nearby town of Volnovakha collapsed on Saturday, trapping women, children and the elderly under more shelling and airstrikes from Russian forces.

The revived announcement came after Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and a Russian-speaking member of his cabinet traveled to Moscow and spoke with Ukraine’s president in hopes of reaching a broader agreement to end the fighting, which has now gone on for 11 days.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spent the weekend visiting NATO member states in Eastern Europe, which have seen 1.5 million refugees pour over their borders since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The head of the UN refugee agency called the exodus “the fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II.”

Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskyy reiterated a call for foreign protectors to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Saturday that Moscow would view a third-party statement to close Ukrainian airspace as a hostile act, and the West has so far rejected Zelenskyy’s pleas amid fears of a confrontation with Russia.

MAP: Locations of known Russian military strikes and ground attacks

“The world is strong enough to close our skies,” Zelenskyy said in a video address on Sunday.

As Russian forces surrounded several Ukrainian cities and maintained a convoy outside the capital Kyiv, Zelenskyy appeared on TV Saturday night wearing a customary military green T-shirt and called on his people to remain defiant.

“Ukrainians in all our cities where the enemy has entered – go on the offensive!” Zelenskyy said. “You should hit the streets! You shall fight! … It is necessary to go out and drive this evil out of our cities, out of our country.”

After the ceasefire failed in Mariupol, Russian forces increased their shelling of the city and dropped massive bombs on residential areas of Chernihiv, a city north of Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said.

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In Mariupol, bereaved mothers mourned slain children, wounded soldiers were fitted with tourniquets and doctors worked by the light of their cellphones, while desolation and despair pervaded.

“The city is in a very, very difficult state of siege,” Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko told Ukrainian TV. “Apartment blocks are being relentlessly shelled, planes have dropped bombs on residential areas. The Russian occupiers use heavy artillery, including Grad multiple rocket launchers.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to blame the war on the Ukrainian leadership and criticized its resistance to Russian forces.

“If they continue as before, they will question the future of Ukrainian statehood,” Putin said on Saturday. “And if that happens, it will be entirely on their conscience.”

He also attacked Western sanctions that have crippled Russia’s economy and sent its currency tumbling. Meanwhile, other companies are ceasing operations in Russia, including Mastercard and Visa.

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“These sanctions that are being imposed are akin to a declaration of war,” he said during a televised meeting with flight attendants from Russian airline Aeroflot, which suspended all international flights except to Belarus on Saturday. “But thank God we’re not there yet.”

The World Health Organization on Sunday condemned attacks on healthcare workers in Ukraine, saying it had confirmed at least six such attacks, killing six and injuring 11 others.

Attacks on healthcare workers are a violation of international humanitarian law, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter.

British military officials on Sunday compared Russia’s tactics in Ukraine to those in Chechnya and Syria, where airstrikes and artillery pounded surrounded towns after Russian troops met unexpected resistance.

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The strength of the Ukrainian resistance continues to surprise Russian forces, and they have responded by attacking populated areas including the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence briefing.

“This is probably an attempt to break Ukrainian morale,” the ministry said. “Russia used similar tactics in Chechnya in 1999 and in Syria in 2016, using both airborne and ground-based munitions.”

The death toll from the conflict is difficult to measure. The UN human rights office said at least 351 civilians were killed, but the real number is likely much higher. Russian and Ukrainian defense officials have not provided any details on their military causalities.

Ukraine’s military far outnumbers Russia’s, but its professional and volunteer armed forces have fought back with bitter tenacity. Volunteers lined up in Kyiv on Saturday to join the military.

Even in the fallen cities there were signs of the resistance demanded by Zelenskyy.

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According to a video released by the Ukrainian government, onlookers in Chernihiv cheered as they saw a Russian military plane fall from the sky and crash. In Kherson, hundreds of protesters waved blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and chanted, “Go home.”

But Saturday’s struggle to enforce temporary ceasefires in Mariupol and Volnovakha highlighted the fragility of efforts to end fighting across Ukraine.

A third round of talks between Russia and Ukraine will take place on Monday, according to Davyd Arakhamia, a member of the Ukrainian delegation. He gave no other details, including where they would take place.

Previous meetings took place in Belarus. These talks led to the ceasefire agreement, which fell through on Saturday and was revived on Sunday.

Russia has made significant advances in southern Ukraine as it attempts to block access to the Avrov Sea. The capture of Mariupol could allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, which most other countries considered illegal.

Meanwhile, the head of the Chernihiv region said Russia dropped powerful bombs on residential areas of the eponymous city of 290,000 people. Vyacheslav Chaus has posted a photo online of an allegedly unexploded FAB-500, a 500-kilogram bomb.

“Typically, this weapon is used against military-industrial installations and fortified structures,” Chaus said.

The West has largely backed Ukraine, offered aid and arms supplies, and hit Russia with massive sanctions. But no NATO troops have been deployed to Ukraine, leaving Ukrainians to fight against Russian troops.

“Ukraine is bleeding, but Ukraine has not fallen,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a video released on Saturday.

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Zelensky attempted to rally support from U.S. lawmakers on Saturday by speaking via video link to more than 300 members of Congress. He asked for additional help, particularly fighter jets, to secure the skies over Ukraine, although he insisted that Russia be defeated.

Russian troops are advancing on a third nuclear power plant, Zelenskyy said. They have already taken control of the Zaporizhia power plant in Ukraine and Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

US President Joe Biden called Zelenskyy early Sunday, Kyiv time, to discuss sanctions against Russia and the acceleration of US aid to Ukraine. The White House said the call included talks between Russia and Ukraine, but gave no details.

Blinken was in Moldova on Sunday, where he pledged support for the western-leaning former Soviet republic as it copes with a flood of refugees and is wary of Russia’s moves in Ukraine.

Moldovan officials are appealing for international help in the refugee crisis while asking for security guarantees in case of Russian aggression. More than 230,000 people have fled Ukraine to Moldova since fighting began.

The United Nations said it would step up humanitarian operations both inside and outside Ukraine, and the Security Council scheduled a meeting Monday on the deteriorating situation.

The United Nations World Food Program has warned of a looming hunger crisis in Ukraine, a major global wheat supplier, saying millions of people would need food aid “immediately”.

Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Russia-Ukraine news live: Ukraine tries to evacuate city amid weeks of Russian attack

Dais Johnston

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