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Second attempt to evacuate Mariupol civilians halted, Russia accused of ‘heavy shelling’

An attempt to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol was halted for the second day in a row Sunday after Ukraine said Russian forces violated a temporary cease-fire with a barrage of shelling.

“The Russians began to regroup their forces,” Mariupol City Council said on its Telegram channel, adding that “heavy shelling of the city” had resumed.

“It is extremely dangerous to evacuate people in such conditions,” the council said. It added that a humanitarian aid convoy that left for Mariupol from the city of Zaporizhia, around 125 miles away, had “not yet reached its destination.”

Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko also accused Russia of shelling the city in a post on his personal Telegram channel.

However, an official from the Russian-backed separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic” told Russia’s Ria state news agency that the Ukrainian side refused to guarantee the cease-fire. The same official had earlier confirmed a humanitarian corridor out of Mariupol was set to take place Sunday.

Russia has consistently denied targeting civilians.

The International Committee of the Red Cross in a news release, blamed both Ukrainian and Russian forces for failing to agree on the details of the safe passage. It estimated around 200,000 people had been preparing to leave the city.

Latest developments on Ukraine

  • For the second day in a row, a limited cease-fire is announced to let civilians leave the besieged city of Mariupol.
  • Officials in the key port city said Sunday no evacuations took place and accused Russian forces of shelling the area.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warns that Russian forces could be planning an attack on the key port city of Odessa.
  • U.S. begins talks with Poland about a deal to send fighter jets to Ukraine.
  • World Health Organization sounds the alarm about attacks on Ukraine’s health care.

Officials in Mariupol have sounded the alarm about a “humanitarian catastrophe” unfolding in the city of 400,000 people, saying Russian shelling has hit critical infrastructure and left the city without water, heat or electricity.

The renewed evacuation effort came after attempts to move civilians out of the key port city and the smaller nearby city of Volnovakha were aborted shortly after they began on Saturday. Both sides blamed the other for the thwarted efforts.

However, more than 1.5 million Ukrainians have now fled their homeland to neighboring countries, the head of the United Nations refugee agency tweeted Sunday.

Filippo Grandi called “the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.”

Pope Francis appealed for a ceasefire and peace negotiations in a speech Sunday, saying “rivers of blood and tears are flowing in Ukraine.”

“The need for humanitarian assistance in that troubled country is growing dramatically by the hour,” the pope said. “I make a heartfelt appeal for humanitarian corridors to be genuinely secured, and for aid to be guaranteed and access facilitated to the besieged areas, in order to offer vital relief to our brothers and sisters oppressed by bombs and fear.”

An agreement on the creation of humanitarian corridors for civilians came during a second round of talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials last week, though no progress was made on a broader halt to Russia’s attack on Ukraine. A third round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators is expected to take place on Monday.

Since Russia launched its military offensive on Feb. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin has seen his military’s progress slowed down by Ukrainian resistance on the ground and logistical issues, moving increasingly to bombarding cities and towns from the air.

In a Sunday phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Putin said his campaign in Ukraine was going to plan, according to the Kremlin’s readout of the call.

He said it would not end until Kyiv stopped fighting and Russia’s “well-known demands” are met.

He has previously called for “demilitarization” and “denazification” of Ukraine and insisted the country should not be allowed to join NATO. He has also called for Crimea to be recognized as part of Russia, and for separatist regions in eastern Ukraine to be recognized as independent states.

French President Emmanuel Macron had a call with Putin Sunday, according to an Élysée Palace source with knowledge of the call. Macron pushed Putin on ensuring the safety of nuclear power sites and to help guarantee clear passage of humanitarian aid to Ukrainians.

Putin denied allegations of his army targeting civilian sites and laid the responsibility of evacuating civilians on Ukrainian leadership, despite a reminder from Macron that it is the Russians who are on the offensive, the source said.

Putin also told Macron it is “not his intention target nuclear centres,” according to the source. He reiterated his demands to Macron as a condition of ending the attacks on Ukraine.

March 1, 202202:12

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the U.S. is in talks with European allies about potentially banning the import of Russian oil.

“I spoke to the President and the leading members of the cabinet about this just yesterday from Europe, and we are now in very active discussions with our European partners about banning the the import of Russian oil to our countries, while of course at the same time maintaining a steady global supply of oil,” said Blinken on “Meet the Press.”

Asked if the U.S. would ban Russian oil “unilaterally,” Blinken told host Chuck Todd: “A hallmark of everything we’ve done to date has been this coordination with allies and partners. We are much more effective across the board.”

Also on Sunday, American Express announced it was suspending operations in Russia.

“In light of Russia’s ongoing, unjustified attack on the people of Ukraine, American Express is suspending all operations in Russia. As a result, globally issued American Express cards will no longer work at merchants or ATMs in Russia,” the company said in a statement.

“Additionally, cards issued locally in Russia by Russian banks will no longer work outside of the country on the American Express global network.

American Express joins Visa and Mastercard which both announced Saturday they were suspending operations in Russia.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said rocket fire completely destroyed a civilian airport in the central city of Vinnytsia on Sunday, in video posted to his social media channels.

In an earlier video, he said Russia could be preparing to attack the southern city of Odessa, which has a population of more than 1 million people.

If captured, the key strategic port on Ukraine’s southern coast could largely shut the country off from international shipping.

Appealing to Russian citizens directly, Zelenskyy added that his countrymen wanted “peace.”

“This is a fight for your country as well,” he said.

Thousands of Russians have taken to the streets to protest against the invasion since it began. Almost 3,000 people were detained at anti-war demonstrations in 49 cities across Russia on Sunday, according to an independent Russian-based protest monitor OVD-Info.

Seeking to clamp down on such protests, the country’s parliament passed a bill introducing sentences of up to 15 years in prison for intentionally spreading “fake” information about Russian army on Friday.

Zelenskyy also praised President Joe Biden, who he spoke with for 30 minutes on Saturday evening, and thanked him for his decisiveness and preparing additional sanctions against Russia.

Their telephone conversation took place after Zelenskyy spoke with about 300 members of Congress Saturday, which saw him argue the case for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Ukrainian airspace.

The United States and its Western allies have said that the creation of no-fly zone would be likely to put them on course for a direct military confrontation with Russia and risk a wider war.

However, a White House spokesperson said Saturday that the Biden administration was in talks with Poland about a deal that would involve the country donating its old Russian-made MiG fighters to Ukraine, and replacing them with the purchase of U.S.-made F-16 jets.

Putin also warned Saturday that any move to create a no-fly zone above Ukraine would be viewed as “participation” in the conflict.

He also likened crippling Western sanctions that have sent Russia’s economy spiralling to a declaration of war.

This did not stop Visa and Mastercard from announcing Saturday that they would suspend operations in Russia, joining a host of other companies.

Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Putin in Moscow Saturday. Bennett told his cabinet Sunday that he tried to “assist the dialogue between all the sides,” but revealed no details from his talks with the Russian leader.

Israel is one of the few countries that has good working relations with both Russia and Ukraine, and Bennett’s office said he also spoke on the phone with Zelenskyy Sunday.

Meanwhile, the civilian casualties continue to mount. Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian disaster across the country as food, water and medical supplies run short.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Sunday that 351 civilians has been killed in the conflict, although it acknowledged that figure would likely be much higher.

Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian disaster across the country as food, water and medical supplies run short.

And the World Health Organization also said Sunday that it had verified six attacks on Ukraine’s healthcare facilities, transport and personnel since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

“Even in times of conflict, we must protect the sanctity and safety of health care, a fundamental human right,” the WHO said in a tweet.

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