Russia resumes 'offensive actions' as 'ceasefire' attempt in two cities fails
Moscow: Russia's defence ministry said Saturday it had resumed "offensive actions" in Ukraine after announcing a ceasefire earlier in the day to allow residents of two besieged cities to evacuate.
"Due to the unwillingness of the Ukrainian side to influence nationalists or extend the regime of silence, offensive actions have been resumed at 18:00 Moscow time (1500 GMT)," defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a video briefing.
Earlier on Saturday, Russia announced a ceasefire and said it opened humanitarian corridors for the exit of civilians from the strategic port town of Mariupol and neighbouring Volnovakha.
Konashenkov said that "not a single civilian" was able to exit via the humanitarian corridors.
"The population of these cities is held by nationalist formations as a human shield," Konashenkov added.
He said "nationalist battalions" used the ceasefire to "regroup and reinforce their positions".
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that Moscow would consider any third-party declaration of a no-fly zone over Ukraine as participation in the armed conflict.
Speaking at a meeting with female pilots on Saturday, Putin said Russia would view any move in this direction as an intervention that "will pose a threat to our service members.
That very second, we will view them as participants of the military conflict, and it would not matter what members they are, the Russian president said.
Putin also warned that Ukrainian statehood is in jeopardy during a rambling speech from Moscow.
The struggle to enforce the temporary cease-fire in Mariupol and the eastern city of Volnovakha showed the fragility of efforts to stop the fighting across Ukraine as the number of people fleeing the country reached 1.4 million just 10 days after Russian forces invaded.
Putin accused Ukraine of sabotaging the effort and claimed the actions of Ukraine's leadership called into question the country's future as an independent state. Russia and Ukraine will hold a third round of talks on Monday about ending hostilities, Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamiya said in a Facebook post on Saturday, without providing further details.
What looked like a breakthrough cease-fire to evacuate residents from two cities in Ukraine quickly fell apart as Ukrainian officials said shelling had halted the work to remove civilians hours after Russia announced the deal.
The Russian defense ministry earlier said it had agreed on evacuation routes with Ukrainian forces for Mariupol, a strategic port in the southeast, and the eastern city of Volnovakha. The vaguely worded statement did not make clear how long the routes would remain open.
The Russian side is not holding to the cease-fire and has continued firing on Mariupol itself and on its surrounding area, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office. Talks with the Russian Federation are ongoing regarding setting up a cease-fire and ensuring a safe humanitarian corridor.
Russia breached the deal in Volnovakha as well, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told reporters. We appeal to the Russian side to stop firing, she said. Meanwhile, Moscow outlet RIA Novosti carried a Russian defense ministry claim that the firing came from inside both cities against Russian positions.
The struggle to enforce the cease-fire showed the fragility of efforts to stop fighting across Ukraine as people continued to flee the country on the 10th day after Russian forces invaded.
"We are doing everything on our part to make the agreement work, Zelenskyy said. This is one of the main tasks for today. Let's see if we can go further in the negotiation process.
Mariupol had been the scene of growing misery in recent days amid an assault that knocked out power and most phone service and raised the prospect of food and water shortages for hundreds of thousands of people in freezing weather. Pharmacies are out of medicine, Doctors Without Borders said.
A top official in Mariupol, Pavlo Kirilenko, the head of the Donetsk military-civil administration that includes the city, had said the humanitarian corridor would extend to Zaporizhzhia, 226 kilometers (140 miles) away.
In comments carried on Ukrainian television, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said thousands of people had gathered for safe passage out of the city and buses were departing when shelling began.
We value the life of every inhabitant of Mariupol and we cannot risk it, so we stopped the evacuation, he said.
Before Russia announced the limited cease-fire, Ukraine had urged Moscow to create humanitarian corridors to allow children, women and the older adults to flee the fighting, calling them question No. 1.
Diplomatic efforts continued as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Poland to meet with the prime minister and foreign minister, a day after attending a NATO meeting in Brussels in which the alliance pledged to step up support for eastern flank members.
Aeroflot, Russia's flagship state-owned airline, announced that it plans to halt all international flights. except to Belarus, starting Tuesday in the wake of Western sanctions imposed on Russia. The country's aviation agency, Rosaviatsiya, had recommended that all Russian airlines with foreign-leased planes halt passenger and cargo flights abroad to prevent the aircraft from being impounded.
As Russian forces batter strategic locations in Ukraine, Zelenskyy has lashed out at NATO for refusing to impose a no-fly zone over his country, warning that all the people who die from this day forward will also die because of you.
And in a warning of a hunger crisis yet to come, the U.N. World Food Program has said millions of people inside Ukraine, a major global wheat supplier, will need food aid immediately.
Ukraine's president was set to brief U.S. senators Saturday by video conference as Congress considers a request for 10 billion in emergency funding for humanitarian aid and security needs.
In a video message to antiwar protesters in several European cities, Zelenskyy appealed for help. If we fall, you will fall, he said.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled an open meeting for Monday on the worsening humanitarian situation. The United Nations estimates that 12 million people in Ukraine and 4 million fleeing to neighboring countries in the coming months will need humanitarian aid.
A vast Russian armored column threatening Ukraine's capital remained stalled outside Kyiv, but Russia's military has launched hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks on cities and other sites across the country.
As homes in the northern city of Chernihiv burned from what locals described as Russian shelling, one resident accused Europe of merely looking on. We wanted to join NATO and the EU and this is the price we are paying, and NATO cannot protect us," she said.
At least 331 civilians have been confirmed killed since the fighting began on Feb. 24, but the true number is probably much higher, the U.N. human rights office said.
Earlier on Friday, Russia informed the UN Security Council that Russian buses are ready at crossing points to go to the eastern Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv and Sumy to evacuate Indian students and other foreign nationals who are stranded there, amidst the raging conflict in the East European country.
During the meeting, Russia's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said that the Russian military is doing everything to ensure the peaceful evacuation of foreign nationals stranded in Ukraine.
He alleged that Ukraine nationalists were keeping over 3,700 Indian citizens by force in Kharkiv and Sumy cities of eastern Ukraine.
Terrorists do not let civilians leave cities. This impacts not only Ukrainians but foreigners as well. The number of foreign citizens whom Ukrainian nationals are keeping by force is shocking. Kharkiv 3,189 nationals of India, up to 2,700 nationals of Vietnam, 202 nationals of China. Sumy 576 nationals of India, 101 nationals of Ghana, 121 nationals of China, Nebenzia told the Council.
In the Belgorod region of Russia, 130 comfortable buses have been waiting (and standing ready) since 6.00 am today at the crossing points Nekhoteevka' and Sudja' ready to go to Kharkiv and Sumy to evacuate the Indian students and other foreign nationals, he said.
The Russian envoy said that the checkpoints are equipped to provide temporary accommodation, space for rest, and hot food. There are also mobile medical stations with a stock of medications.
"Everyone evacuated will then be taken to Belgorod, and from there transported to their homeland by air, he said.
In New Delhi, responding to reports of Indian students being held hostage in Ukraine, Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi said India has not received any reports of any hostage situation regarding Indian students.