Putin digs as evacuation corridors agreed in Ukraine


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “will go as planned”, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday despite fierce resistance and deep international isolation, as Kiev secured a valuable deal from Moscow on a humanitarian corridor allowing terrified civilians to flee.

How a corridor would work was not immediately clear, but the urgency was underscored by growing fears that, as Russia seized its first major city and dozens more died, the fighting could to be about to enter a new mortal phase.

Like Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky showed no signs of backing down after eight days of conflict, vowing that Russia would learn the meaning of the word “reparations” and calling on the West to increase military assistance.

“If we are no more, God forbid, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia will be next,” he told a news conference, adding that direct talks with Putin were “the only way to stop this war”.

The vast majority of the international community has rallied behind determined Ukrainians and their social media savvy government since Putin’s invasion on February 24, turning Russia into a global pariah in the worlds of finance, diplomacy , sports and culture.

Western analysts say the invading forces have been bogged down – but warn early failures could lead to a frustrated Moscow deciding to unleash its full might on Ukraine.

Putin’s comments on Thursday did nothing to dispel that fear.

He said Russia was rooting out ‘neo-Nazis’, adding in televised comments that he ‘will never give up [his] conviction that Russians and Ukrainians are one people.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke with Putin on Thursday, believes “the worst is yet to come”, an aide said.

“Maybe this is hell”

As a long military column appears pinned down north of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, Russian troops have seized Kherson, a Black Sea city of 290,000, after a three-day siege that left it short of food and medicine.

At least 13 civilians and nine Ukrainian soldiers were killed.

Russian troops are also pressing the port city of Mariupol east of Kherson, which is without water or electricity in the dead of winter.

“They are trying to create a blockade here, like in Leningrad,” Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said, referring to the brutal Nazi siege of Russia’s second city, now renamed Saint Petersburg.

In the northern city of Chernihiv, 33 people died on Thursday when Russian forces struck residential areas including schools and a high-rise building.

And Ukrainian authorities said residential areas in the eastern city of Kharkiv had been “shelled all night” by indiscriminate shelling, which UN prosecutors are investigating as a possible war crime.

Many Ukrainians were digging.

Volunteers from the Dnipro Industrial Center were making sandbags and collecting bottles for Molotov cocktails as they prepared for an assault.

In Lviv, volunteers organized food and supplies to send to other cities and made homemade anti-tank obstacles after watching tutorials on YouTube.

But for others, the worst has already happened.

Oleg Rubak’s wife, Katia, 29, was crushed in their family home in Zhytomyr, west of Kiev, by a Russian missile strike.

“One minute I saw her come into the bedroom. A minute later there was nothing left,” Rubak, 32, told AFP amid the ruins in the freezing cold of the city. winter.

“I hope she is in heaven and everything is perfect for her,” he said in tears.

Pointing to the pile of rubble, he said what was left was “not even a room, it’s…maybe it’s hell”.

“We left everything”

Meanwhile, the wave of stunned refugees continues, with thousands of Ukrainians appearing at train stations in neighboring European countries to be greeted by volunteers handing them water, food and medical treatment.

Both the EU and the US have said they will approve temporary protection for all refugees fleeing war – numbered by the United Nations at more than one million and counting.

“We left everything there as they came and ruined our lives,” refugee Svitlana Mostepanenko told AFP in Prague.

Fear of starting an all-out war with nuclear-armed Russia has limited Western support for Ukraine, although a steady supply of weapons and intelligence continues.

The main lever used to pressure Russia around the world has been sanctions, piled on by the West.

The ruble went into freefall, as Russia’s central bank – whose foreign exchange reserves were frozen in the West – imposed a 30% tax on all hard currency sales, following a run on lenders by ordinary Russians.

Ongoing financial costs were underscored as rating agencies downgraded Russia’s debt rating and unrest intensified in markets more broadly. European and US stocks fell and oil prices approached $120 a barrel.

On Thursday, the United States and Britain returned personal financial sanctions, targeting the oligarchs and their families who surround Putin, slapping them with travel bans and promising to seize their yachts and private jets.

Russia is also gradually cutting itself off from the worlds of commerce, sport and culture.

It lost the right to host Formula 1 races on Thursday as the International Paralympic Committee banned Russians and Belarusians from taking part in the Beijing Winter Games.

And Putin’s invasion has seen some Eastern European countries lean even further west, with Georgia and Moldova seeking EU membership on Thursday.

Russia protests

Despite efforts to stamp out dissent, a growing rift appears to be opening between Putin and his people.

Russian authorities imposed a media blackout on the fighting and two liberal media groups – radio and TV station Ekho Moskvy Dozhd – said they were halting operations, in another death knell for independent reporting in the region. Putin’s Russia.

Nearly 7,000 Russian scientists, mathematicians and scholars signed an open letter protesting “strongly” against the war, while oil giant Lukoil called for an immediate end to the fighting.

But with no sign that Putin will back down, Ukraine’s resolve was spelled out in black paint on a sheet hanging from a bridge on the Nizhyn road in Kyiv.

“Russians – welcome to hell,” says the makeshift banner.


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