From The Associated Press
On the 11th day of Russia’s war against Ukraine, Russian troops bombarded surrounded towns with rockets and a second attempt to evacuate civilians from Mariupol failed when the besieged port city came under fire.
A Ukrainian official said dire conditions prevailed in the Kyiv suburbs that had thwarted efforts to evacuate civilians.
The number of Ukrainians displaced from their country rose to 1.5 million and Kremlin rhetoric mounted as Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Ukrainian statehood was under threat. He compared Western sanctions against Russia to a “declaration of war”.
Here’s a look at the top things to know about Conflict Sunday:
VIOLENCE AGAIN STOPS PLANNED CIVILIAN EVACUATIONS
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko blamed Russian artillery fire for halting a second attempt in as many days to evacuate civilians from Mariupol.
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The plan agreed with Russian forces was to allow people fleeing fighting and shelling to walk along designated humanitarian “green corridors,” but Gerashchenko said on Telegram that the Russians had not respected the ceasefire.
A day earlier, Ukrainian officials similarly said Russian artillery fire and airstrikes prevented residents from leaving the country before agreed evacuations began in Mariupol and the nearby town of Volnovakha. Putin then accused Ukraine of sabotaging the effort.
Russia has tried to cut off Ukraine’s access to the Azov Sea to the south. The capture of Mariupol could allow Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.
Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Ukrainian officials and international humanitarian organizations are working with Russia through intermediaries to establish humanitarian corridors from the hard-hit Kiev suburbs of Bucha and Hostomel.
WHAT ELSE HAPPENS ON SITE?
Russian forces launched hundreds of rocket and artillery strikes across the country, including powerful bombs dropped on residential areas of Chernihiv, a city north of the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said. But a kilometer-long column of Russian tanks threatening the capital stopped in front of Kyiv.
Heavy shelling also fell on Mykolayiv in the south and Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, on Sunday evening.
In the Kiev suburbs of Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, efforts to evacuate residents on Sunday were unsuccessful.
Ukrainian forces were also defending Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port city, from Russian ships, said Ukraine’s presidential aide Oleksiy Arestovich.
Russian troops took control of the southern port city of Cherson last week.
Russia’s Defense Ministry on Sunday announced plans to attack Ukraine’s military-industrial complex, prompting Zelenskyy to criticize Western leaders for not responding.
Zelenskyy said those who order and carry out such crimes should be brought to justice.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement to the state news agency Tass that employees at these plants should not go to work.
ZELENSKYY PRESSES CALL FOR FLY BAN
Zelenskyy called on foreign countries to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Establishing a no-fly zone would risk escalating the conflict through the direct involvement of foreign military personnel. Although the United States and many Western countries have supported Ukraine with arms shipments, they have not sent troops.
Zelenskyy said in a video address on Sunday that “the world is strong enough to close our skies,” and this weekend urged US officials to help his country procure fighter jets to fight the invasion and take control to keep track of its airspace.
NATO countries have ruled out policing a no-fly zone that would ban all unauthorized aircraft from flying over Ukraine.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Sunday that some Ukrainian warplanes had been routed to Romania and other Ukrainian neighbors whom he had not identified. He warned that an attack by planes operating from these nations could be viewed by them as involvement in the conflict.
European Union President Charles Michel also said on Sunday that the closure of Ukrainian airspace could trigger a world war.
WATCHED OR CONFIRMED DIRECTLY BY RELATED PRESS
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.”
In Mariupol, Associated Press journalists saw doctors unsuccessfully trying to save the lives of wounded children, pharmacies ran empty and hundreds of thousands of people faced food and water shortages in freezing weather.
In Irpin, near Kyiv, a sea of people, on foot and even in wheelbarrows, trudged over the remains of a ruined bridge to cross a river and get out of town. Assisted by Ukrainian soldiers, they carried pets, infants, purses and thin bags filled with minimal belongings. Some of the weak and old were carried along the path in blankets and carts.
Kyiv’s main railway station remained crowded with people desperate to get away, and frequent shelling could be heard from the center of the capital.
Intense diplomatic efforts continued, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Moldova pledging America’s support for the small, Western-leaning former Soviet republic. The country is coping with an influx of refugees from Ukraine and keeps a close eye on Russia’s deepening war with its neighbor.
According to Blinken, the United States and its allies are having a “very active discussion” about a ban on imports of Russian oil and natural gas.
In a nearly two-hour phone call with Putin on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated his calls for Russia to halt military operations, protect civilians and allow humanitarian aid. A French official, speaking anonymously in line with French Presidency practices, said Macron had told Putin that nuclear installations should not be attacked and that Putin had said he had no intention of attacking nuclear plants, acknowledging the principle of “dialogue”. agreed to this topic.
The Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said on Sunday that Ukrainian employees at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant must now obtain permission from the Russians for any operation, even maintenance work. He said the Russians, who seized Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant last week, had hampered normal communications by shutting down some cellphone networks and the internet at the site.
Putin continued to blame the war on the Ukrainian leadership and crushed their opposition to the invasion. He said if they continue to resist, “they are questioning the future of Ukrainian statehood.”
Speaking to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday, Putin said the invasion could only be stopped “only if Kyiv ceases hostilities,” according to a Kremlin statement in the phone call.
Israel’s prime minister spoke to Putin on Sunday, a day after they met directly in Russia. Naftali Bennett was in Moscow on Saturday to meet with Putin, then spoke to Zelenskyy and on Sunday to Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Israel is one of the few countries that has good working relations with both Russia and Ukraine.
Also on Sunday, Pope Francis said he had dispatched two cardinals to Ukraine – a most unusual move – saying: “The Holy See stands ready to do whatever it takes to put itself at the service of peace.”
THE HUMANITARIAN SITUATION
The death toll from the conflict was difficult to measure. The UN human rights office said at least 364 civilians have been killed since the February 24 invasion, but the true number is likely much higher.
The World Health Organization said it had confirmed at least six attacks, killing six healthcare workers and injuring 11 others.
Attacks on healthcare workers are a violation of international humanitarian law, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter.
The United Nations World Food Program says millions of people in Ukraine, a major global supplier of wheat, will need food aid “immediately”.
Ukrainian refugees continued to pour into neighboring countries, including Poland, Romania and Moldova. According to the UN refugee agency, the number of people who have fled the country since the fighting began has now reached 1.5 million.
Two of the so-called Big Four accounting firms – KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers – announced on Sunday that they were withdrawing from Russia and severing ties with member firms based in the country.
TikTok said users will not be able to post new videos in Russia in response to the government’s social media crackdown, and American Express announced it will halt all activity in Russia and Belarus.
Netflix also announced that it would end its service in Russia, but gave no further details.
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