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Russia Announces Ceasefire for Evacuations; Ukraine Says Routes ‘Unacceptable’

As battle continues, Russian Defence Ministry on Monday said civilians would be allowed to leave Kyiv, the southern port city of Mariupol, and Kharkiv and Sumy.

Lviv: Russia announced yet another ceasefire and a handful of humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to flee Ukraine starting on Monday, although the evacuation routes were mostly leading to Russia and its ally Belarus, drawing withering criticism from Ukraine and others.

It was not immediately clear if any evacuations were taking place. Russian forces continued to pummel some Ukrainian cities with rockets even after the new announcement of corridors and fierce fighting continued in some areas, indicating there would be no wider cessation of hostilities.

Efforts to set up safe passages for civilians to leave besieged areas over the weekend fell apart.

But the Russian Defence Ministry announced a new push Monday, saying civilians would be allowed to leave the capital of Kyiv, the southern port city of Mariupol, and the cities of Kharkiv and Sumy.

The two sides also planned to meet for talks again Monday, even though hopes were dim that they would yield any breakthroughs.

Well into the second week of war, Russia's plan to quickly overrun the country has been stymied by fierce resistance. Its troops have made significant advances in southern Ukraine and along the coast, but many of its efforts have become stalled, including an immense military convoy that has been almost motionless for days north of Kyiv.

The fighting has sent energy prices surging worldwide, stocks plummeting, and is threatening the food supply and livelihoods  of people around the globe who rely on farmland in the Black Sea region.

The death toll, meanwhile, remains unclear.

The UN has confirmed a few hundred civilian deaths but also warned the number is a vast undercount.

Police for the Kharkiv region said Monday that 209 people have died there alone, 133 of them civilians. 

The Russian invasion has also sent 1.7 million people fleeing Ukraine, creating what the head of the UN refugee agency called “the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.”

Many others are trapped in cities under fire. Food, water, medicine and almost all other supplies were in desperately short supply in Mariupol, which an estimated 200,000 people were trying to flee. Russia and Ukraine have traded blame for the failure of a cease-fire there over the weekend. 

In the latest ceasefire proposal, most of the evacuation routes were toward Russia or its ally Belarus, a move Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk called “unacceptable.” Belarus served as a launching ground for the invasion.

“Providing evacuation routes into the arms of the country that is currently destroying yours is a nonsense,” said UK. Europe Minister James Cleverly.

The Ukrainian government instead proposed eight routes that would allow civilians to travel to western regions of Ukraine where there is no Russian shelling.

The Russian task force said the new pledge for humanitarian corridors was announced at the request of French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin Sunday. Macron's office said he asked for a broader end to military operations in Ukraine and protections for civilians.

However, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a Telegram video address that “fierce battles” continued Monday in the Kyiv region, notably around Bucha, Hostomel, Vorzel and Irpin — areas away from the humanitarian corridors — and were hitting civilians. Irpin has been cut off from electricity, water and heating for three days.

He did not provide details, but said the head of the town council of Hostomel, Yuriy Prilipko, was killed while distributing bread and medicine.

Meanwhile, Russian forces continued their offensive in Mykolaiv, opening fire on the city some 480 kilometers south of Kyiv, according to Ukraine's General Staff.

Rescuers said they were putting out fires caused by rocket attacks in residential areas. 

Emergency officials in the Kharkiv region said overnight shelling killed at least eight people and wrecked residential buildings, medical and education facilities and administrative buildings.

“Russia continues to carry out rocket, bomb and artillery strikes on the cities and settlements of Ukraine,” the General Staff said, and repeated earlier Ukrainian accusations that the Russians have targeted humanitarian corridors.

The statement also accused Russian forces of taking women and children hostage and placing weapons in residential areas of cities — though it did not elaborate or provide evidence.

In the face of a series of punishing sanctions by Western countries, Russia has grown increasing isolated.

The ruble has plunged in value, and the country's extensive trade ties with the West have been all but severed. Moscow has also cracked down on independent reporting on the conflict and arrested anti-war protesters en masse. On Sunday more than 5,000 people in 69 cities were detained at, according to rights group OVD-Info — the highest single-day figure since the invasion began last month. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged even more punishment on Monday, calling for a global boycott of all Russian products, including oil.

“If the invasion continues and Russia does not abandon its plans against Ukraine, then we need a new sanctions package,” Zelenskyy said in a video address.

“If (Russia) doesn't want to abide by civilised rules, then they shouldn't receive goods and services from civilisation. It can be called an embargo, or it can be just morality.” 

Zelenskyy described shelling of Ukrainian cities in the centre, north and south of the country, describing “terror” facing civilians in the suburbs of Kyiv and in Kharkiv and Mariupol, surrounded by Russian troops. 

Putin earlier said Moscow's attacks could be halted “only if Kyiv ceases hostilities.” As he has often done, he blamed Ukraine for the war, telling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday that Kyiv needed to stop all hostilities and fulfill “the well-known demands of Russia.”

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