(Kyiv) The population was trapped on Sunday in the besieged port of Mariupol, in southern Ukraine, where a second attempt at humanitarian evacuation failed, and in the Kyiv region where the Russian army is tightening its grip , forcing civilians to flee to join the more than 1.5 million refugees already outside the borders.
At 11and day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while the images of destruction recall those of Aleppo during the war in Syria or Grozny during that of Chechnya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has already estimated that It was ‘the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War’.
For the second day in a row, the population had to give up leaving the port city of Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, where for five days they had been living under a “humanitarian blockade”, according to Mayor Vadim Boïtchenko, deprived of water, food, heating or electricity.
“Amid devastating scenes of human suffering, a second attempt today to begin evacuating some 200,000 people from the city has been halted,” the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
This humanitarian corridor was to allow evacuation to Zaporozhye, about three hours away.
But “the column to evacuate the civilian population could not get out of Mariupol because the Russians regrouped their forces and began to bombard the city”, accused on Facebook Pavlo Kirilenko, Ukrainian governor of the region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has put the failure of the evacuations on the account of “Ukrainian nationalists”, who according to him, prevented that scheduled for Saturday from Mariupol and Volnovakha, a nearby city.
In an interview with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, he denied “that his army is targeting civilians”.
The fall of Mariupol would be a turning point in the Russian invasion, launched on February 24.
It would allow the junction between the troops coming from annexed Crimea, which have already taken the key ports of Berdiansk and Kherson, and those from Donbass. These consolidated forces could then move up towards central and northern Ukraine.
And now it is Odessa that worries Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to whom Russia is “preparing to bombard” this port of nearly a million inhabitants on the Black Sea, close to the Moldovan border.
Kyiv in sight
Meanwhile, Russian soldiers are closing in on Kyiv.
Intense fighting is taking place on the outskirts of the capital, according to the Ukrainian regional administration, in particular around the road leading to Zhytomyr (150 km west of Kyiv), as well as in Cherniguiv (150 km north of the capital) pounded for several days by the Russian air force and become a landscape of devastation.
In the western suburbs of Kyiv, in Irpine, the bombings threw thousands of Ukrainians onto the roads.
“From morning to evening, all the neighboring buildings were hit, a tank entered. It was scary, we were scared. Before that, we didn’t think we were going to leave,” testified Tetiana Vozniuchenko, 52.
200 km southwest of the capital, Vinnytsia airport was “completely destroyed” by Russian strikes, according to Mr Zelensky. In the morning, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that it had destroyed the Starokonstantinov military airfield, 130 km to the northeast.
“The enemy’s plan is to encircle key cities” and “to create a humanitarian catastrophe,” Ukrainian Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said in a Facebook post. The Russians are now trying to block Ukrainian access to the Black Sea and the Azov Sea, he added.
Moscow had mentioned Wednesday the death of 498 Russian soldiers and 2870 dead on the Ukrainian side. Kyiv reported Sunday more than 11,000 Russian soldiers killed, without revealing its own military losses. Figures impossible to verify independently.
For its part, the UN has confirmed the death of 351 civilians and more than 700 wounded, a toll which is “probably much higher because the verifications are in progress”.
The head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken judged on Sunday “very credible” reports of “war crimes” committed by Russia in Ukraine.
The exodus continues
The crush reigns in the stations of the cities threatened by the Russian army, women and children trying to leave after heartbreaking goodbyes with their husbands and fathers remaining to fight.
“We send our wives and children to Lviv, maybe further, and we stay here […] it’s a horrible situation, ”confided to Dnipro (center) Andrey Kyrytchenko, a 40-year-old mason.
In Irpine some, including young children or disabled elderly people, were forced to cross the rubble of a bridge crossing the Irpine River that the Ukrainian army had blown up last week.
This exodus is arousing strong mobilization, especially in neighboring states such as Moldova where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was on Sunday, after visiting Poland on Saturday.
Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe, through which 230,000 people from Ukraine passed through and of which 120,000 remained, asked for help from the United States, which announced that it wanted to mobilize 2.75 billion dollars (2.51 billion euros) for this humanitarian crisis.
On the diplomatic front, efforts are continuing before a new round of negotiations scheduled for Monday.
After the March 4 bombing of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, the largest in Ukraine and Europe, which raised fears of a catastrophe and heightened the concern of Western countries, the Russian President assured Emmanuel Macron that it was “not his intention” to attack Ukrainian nuclear power plants.
Those of Zaporozhye and Chernobyl are occupied by Russian forces.
On Saturday, Vladimir Putin had received Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for nearly three hours, who had offered to mediate “even if there is little chance of success”.
The Russian president has already declared that if Ukraine does not comply with his demands, it could lose its “statehood”. Moscow is calling in particular for a “neutral and non-nuclear” status for the country and its demilitarization, which Kyiv, which wishes to join the European Union and NATO, considers unacceptable.
He warned on Saturday to consider “as participation in the armed conflict” the establishment by any country of a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Despite Kyiv’s requests, NATO is refusing to do so for the moment, for fear of finding itself drawn into a direct confrontation with Russia.
Arrests in Russia
In Russia, the Kremlin continues to impose silence.
At least 2,500 people demonstrating against the military intervention in Ukraine were arrested on Sunday in around 50 cities in Russia, said the NGO OVD-Info, which specializes in monitoring demonstrations.
While the BBC reported that its international news channel, BBC World News, had stopped broadcasting in Russia, after the Russian authorities’ radical crackdown on the media since the start of the invasion of Ukraine .
But the effects of the war are beginning to reach the Russian middle class.
Foreign companies continue to leave Russia in droves. Latest: the American bank card giants Visa and Mastercard, which announced on Saturday the suspension of their operations in Russia. Visa and Mastercard cards issued by Russian banks will no longer work abroad, and vice versa.
The PayPal payment system has also suspended its services in Russia.
The ruble collapsed after international sanctions were imposed on Moscow and some of Russia’s biggest banks were cut off from the Swift international interbank system. The Central Bank has asked banks to no longer publish their financial statements.
The Russian authorities are stepping up all-out measures to curb capital flight and now fear the emergence of a black food market.