Russia announces limited ceasefire and humanitarian corridors for fleeing Ukrainians

The corridors are unlikely while Russia keeps attacking, Ukraine says

Smoke rises after a building was struck during Russia's military offensive in Irpin on Sunday. AP

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Russia has announced a ceasefire and said it will open several humanitarian corridors even as it continues to pummel Ukrainian cities, with several rockets hitting residential buildings.

The limited ceasefire was due to start on Monday morning, the twelfth day of the war, for civilians from Kyiv, the southern port city of Mariupol, the second-largest city of Kharkiv, and Sumy, AP quoted a Russian task force as saying.

It was not immediately clear if fighting would stop beyond the areas mentioned by the task force, or when the ceasefire would end.

Ukraine said that while negotiations were taking place with Russia on establishing the corridors, they were unlikely to be set up while Russian forces keep trying to advance, Reuters reported.

Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to the Ukrainian president's chief of staff, said each Ukrainian should be allowed to decide where they want to go but advised against evacuation to Russia.

Ukraine earlier on Monday said Russia's proposal on humanitarian corridors was “completely immoral” after Moscow suggested it would allow people to flee Ukrainian cities provided they went to Belarus or Russia.

A third round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian leaders is planned for Monday.

The ceasefire announcement follows two failed attempts to rescue civilians from Mariupol, from which the International Committee of the Red Cross estimated 200,000 people were trying to flee.

Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for the failure.

The task force attributed the ceasefire and the opening of the corridors to the request of French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday.

Mr Macron’s office said he asked for a broader end to military operations in Ukraine and protections for civilians.

Routes published by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency, quoting its Defence Ministry, showed Ukrainian civilians will be able to go to Russia and Belarus.

Russian forces will be observing the ceasefire with drones, the task force said.

The ceasefire announcement came a day after hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians attempting to flee to safety were forced to take shelter from Russian shelling that pummelled cities in central, northern and southern Ukraine.

The outskirts of Kyiv, Chernihiv in the north, Mykolaiv in the south, and Kharkiv had faced stepped-up attacks late on Sunday, Mr Arestovich said.

Heavy artillery hit residential areas in Kharkiv while shelling damaged a television tower, said local officials.

The French President accused Mr Putin of hypocrisy and cynicism over Moscow’s condition for humanitarian corridors.

“All this is not serious, it is moral and political cynicism, which I find intolerable,” the French leader told LCI television in an interview on Monday. He added that promises to protect civilians so that they could merely flee towards Russia were “hypocritical".

“Humanitarian actors need to be able to intervene, so we must get full ceasefires when they intervene to place under protection women, children, men who need to be protected. And (we must) be able to get them out of the conflict area,” Mr Macron said.

British prime minister Boris Johnson said: “Clearly, what’s happening now is that Putin is doubling down on his aggression and he is deciding to attack in a pretty indiscriminate way.

“That’s producing huge waves of people. We’re going to have to respond to that and we will.”

He said he would speak to US President Joe Biden and other leaders later on Monday.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Russia stood ready to hold fire “in a moment” if Kyiv meets a list of demands.

Mr Peskov said for peace to come about the Ukrainians must lay down their weapons, and the government must change the constitution to enshrine neutrality, recognise the separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states, and acknowledge Crimea as a Russian territory.

His comments formed the most explicit Russian statement so far of the terms it wants to impose on Ukraine to halt what it calls its “special military operation".

Mr Peskov told Reuters in a telephone interview that Ukraine was aware of the conditions. He added: “And they were told that all this can be stopped in a moment.”

There was no immediate reaction from the Ukrainian side.

The UN rights office said on Monday that 406 civilian deaths had been recorded in Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion, and 801 injuries. The true totals are likely to be much higher.

Russian forces said they were preparing for an assault on Kyiv, as terrified civilians failed for a second day to escape besieged Mariupol, AFP reported.

With Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy urging his people to fight in the streets, Mr Putin said Moscow’s attacks could be halted “only if Kyiv ceases hostilities”.

“The enemy continues the offensive operation against Ukraine, focusing on the encirclement of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mykolayiv,” said the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. It added that Russian forces had begun to “accumulate resources for the storming of Kyiv".

“Instead of humanitarian corridors, they can only make bloody ones,” Mr Zelenskyy said on Sunday. “Today a family was killed in Irpin. Man, woman and two children. Right on the road. As in a shooting gallery.”

As he has often done, Mr Putin blamed Ukraine for the war, telling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday that Kyiv needed to stop all hostilities and fulfil “the well-known demands of Russia”.

The mayor of Irpin, a small town outside Kyiv, described seeing two adults and two children killed “in front of my eyes” when a shell hit them.

“It is impudence; they are monsters,” Oleksandr Markushyn said on Telegram. He said part of the city was in Russian hands. “Irpin is at war, Irpin has not surrendered.”

Fighting has forced 1.5 million people to flee the country, with the head of the UN refugee agency calling it “the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe” since the Second World War.

The most recent attacks dashed hopes that more people could escape the fighting in Ukraine, where Russia’s plan to quickly overrun the country has been stymied by fierce resistance.

Russia has made significant advances in southern Ukraine and along the coast, but many of its efforts have stalled, including an immense military convoy that has been almost motionless for days north of Kyiv.

Food, water, medicine and almost all other supplies are in short supply in Mariupol, where Russian and Ukrainian forces had agreed to an 11-hour ceasefire that would allow civilians and the wounded to be rescued.

But Russian attacks quickly closed the humanitarian corridor, Ukrainian officials said.

“There can be no ‘green corridors’ because only the sick brain of the Russians decides when to start shooting and at whom,” Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said on Telegram.

Meanwhile, international sanctions intended to punish Moscow have done little to slow the invasion, and the US has said it is holding discussions with Europe on a ban on Russian oil imports.

The comments sent the price of Brent crude soaring to its highest level in about 14 years, with markets in Tokyo and Hong Kong slumping.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said President Putin had “underestimated the unity of the West” in responding to his declaration of war on Ukraine.

Speaking to the House of Common Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday, she said Russia had been taken aback by Britain and America’s decision to release intelligence suggesting Moscow was planning to stage a false flag operation as a pretext to war.

Ms Truss argued the publishing of such information had been “absolutely critical in wrong-footing the Russians ahead of the invasion because they haven’t been able to declare the false pretext that they wanted to do, they haven’t been able to use the element of surprise”.

However, she said in the months leading up to their attack on Ukraine, the Russians did not take the West's sanctions threats and warnings of resistance from Ukrainians seriously because they did not believe either party would respond in a robust manner.

“They underestimated the unity of the West,” she said. “I think what we’ve seen since is that they’ve been surprised by the severity of the sanctions, the unity not just of the G7 but also countries like Singapore, South Korea, Australia have also joined the sanctions, so has Switzerland, and I think they have also not believed the Ukrainians would fight.

“I think the Russians have been very, very surprised.”

Deloitte, KPMG, EY and PricewaterhouseCoopers are the latest companies to cut business ties with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Deloitte said in a statement that it will no longer operate in Russia and Belarus, where it has about 3,000 staff.

Earlier, EY said it “has commenced a restructuring of its Russian member firm to separate it from the global network” and said it would no longer serve any Russian government clients or anyone linked to the Kremlin.

PwC said PwC Russia will leave the global network, and KPMG announced similar measures for its business. PwC has 3,700 staff in Russia, while its rival has more than 4,500 people in Russia and Belarus. “They did not ask for this senseless war,” a PwC note to staff seen by Bloomberg said. PwC member firms outside Russia will exit any work for Russian entities and individuals subject to sanctions.

Updated: March 07, 2022, 3:28 PM
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