Ukraine and Russia Agree on Evacuation Corridors as US Sanctions Oligarchs
Russia and Ukraine agreed on Thursday to the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians escape Moscow’s eight-day-long invasion, the first apparent progress in talks, as the United States and Britain hit more oligarchs with sanctions.
Thousands are thought to have died or been wounded as the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two unfolds, creating 1 million refugees, hits to Russia’s economy and fears of wider conflict in the West unthought-of for decades.
Russian forces, however, have continued to surround and attack Ukrainian cities, including Mariupol, the main port in the east which has been under heavy bombardment, with no water or power. Officials say they cannot evacuate the wounded.
After talks at an undisclosed location, Russia said “substantial progress” had been made while the Ukrainian side pointed to an understanding on helping ordinary people, but not the results Kyiv had hoped for.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said a temporary halt to fighting in select locations was also possible.
“That is, not everywhere, but only in those places where the humanitarian corridors themselves will be located, it will be possible to cease fire for the duration of the evacuation,” he said.
They had also seen eye-to-eye on the delivery of medicines and food to the places where the fiercest fighting was taking place. The negotiators will meet again next week, the Belarusian state news agency Belta quoted Podolyak as saying.
The West has responded to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion with military support and by tightening the economic screws on the Kremlin and Russians. The fallout so far has included queues outside banks, a plunge in the value of the rouble and an exodus of foreign companies.
On Thursday, both the United States and Britain announced sanctions on more oligarchs, helping bring them in line with measures the European Union took earlier this week.
Included was Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov, the founder of mining company Metalloinvest.
In Germany, his luxury yacht worth nearly $600 million was moored at a Hamburg shipyard. Hamburg’s economic authority said there were no plans for the vessel to be delivered to its owner, without providing further detail.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has also been hit with US sanctions. Visa restrictions will be imposed on 19 Russian oligarchs, their family members and associates, the White House said.
“We continue to impose very severe economic sanctions on Putin and all those folks around him, choking off access to technology as well as cutting off access to global financial institutions,” US President Joe Biden said.
“It’s had a profound impact already.”
1 MILLION REFUGEES
Ukrainian soldiers and civilians kept up their resistance to the Russian onslaught. The capital Kyiv and other main cities remained in their hands on Thursday evening.
The United Nations said one million people had now fled their homes, with most seeking refuge in Poland and other neighbours to the west.
Those who stayed were enduring shelling and rockets strikes, often on residential areas. Swathes of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city with 1.5 million people, have been blasted into rubble.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said earlier that a way out of war could be found if Russia treated Ukraine on an equal footing and came to talks with a will to negotiate in good faith.
“There are things in which some compromises must be found so that people do not die, but there are things in which there are no compromises,” he said.
In Moscow, Putin hailed his soldiers as heroes in a televised address.
“I want to say that the special military operation is proceeding strictly in line with the timetable,” he said.
Western military analysts believe a Russian battle plan that aimed for a swift advance and capture of Kyiv has faltered, forcing commanders to change tactics.
The main assault force — a huge convoy of tanks, artillery and logistics support — has been halted for days on a highway north of Kyiv.
In Washington, a US defense official said Russian troops were still 16 miles from Kyiv city centre. They were also just outside Kharkiv, the official said.
‘GIVE ME A MOLOTOV COCKTAIL’
The fate of Kherson, a southern Dnipro River port, was not clear. Russian tanks had entered on Wednesday and it was reported to have been captured.
But the US official said Washington believed there was still fighting and it was not ready to say it had fallen.
Russia has acknowledged nearly 500 of its soldiers killed since Putin sent his troops over the border on Feb. 24. Ukraine says it has killed nearly 9,000, though this cannot be confirmed.
Military analysts say Russia’s columns are now confined to roads as spring thaw turns Ukrainian ground to mud. Each day the main attack force lies stuck on the highway north of Kyiv, its condition deteriorates, said Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.
Emergency services in the eastern Chernihiv region said 33 bodies had been pulled from the rubble of a Russian air strike. Earlier, governor Viacheslav Chaus said at least nine people had been killed in an air strike that hit homes and two schools.
Rescue work has been temporarily suspended due to heavy shelling in the area.
Two cargo ships came under apparent attack at Ukrainian ports. Six crew members were rescued at sea after an Estonian-owned ship exploded and sank off Odessa, and at least one crew member was killed in a blast on a Bangladeshi ship at Olvia.
Amid Moscow’s increasing diplomatic isolation, only Belarus, Eritrea, Syria and North Korea voted with Russia on Wednesday against an emergency resolution at the United Nations General Assembly condemning Moscow’s “aggression”.
In Borodyanka, a town 60 km northwest of Kyiv where locals repelled a Russian assault, burnt-out hulks of Russian armor were scattered on a highway, surrounded by buildings blasted into ruins.
“They started shooting from their APC towards the park in front of the post office,” a man said in the apartment where he was sheltering with his family, referring to a Russian armored personnel carrier.
“Then those bastards started the tank and started shooting into the supermarket which was already burned. It caught fire again. An old man ran outside like crazy, with big round eyes, and said ‘give me a Molotov cocktail! I just set their APC on fire!'”