Nearly 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees as Russian aggression enters 11th day


The number of Ukrainian refugees is expected to reach 1.5 million on Sunday as Russia continued its attack 11 days after invading Ukraine and Kiev pressed for more West action, including more sanctions and weapons .

Moscow and Kiev have traded blame over a failed ceasefire plan that would have left civilians fleeing Mariupol and Volnovakha, two southern towns besieged by Russian forces. Another round of talks was tentatively scheduled for Monday as Ukrainians who could escape poured into neighboring Poland, Romania, Slovakia and elsewhere.

In a televised address on Saturday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on residents of areas occupied by Russian troops to go on the offensive and fight.

“We need to get out and drive this evil out of our cities,” he said, pledging to rebuild his nation. “My confidence in this is bolstered by the energy of our resistance, our protest.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier reiterated that he wants a neutral, ‘demilitarized’ and ‘denazified’ Ukraine, and likened Western sanctions ‘to a declaration of war’, adding: ‘Thank God we are not. didn’t get there.”

Ukraine and Western countries have denounced Putin’s motives as a baseless pretext for the invasion he launched on February 24 and imposed sweeping sanctions aimed at isolating Moscow and crippling its economy.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, after meeting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Ukraine-Poland border, said he expects new sanctions and weapons for Ukraine in the next few days.

The United States has said it will give Ukraine more weapons and has repeatedly warned it may step up sanctions, with President Joe Biden seeking $10 billion in emergency funding to respond to the crisis.

Washington is working with Poland as Warsaw plans to supply fighter jets to Ukraine, a White House spokesman said on Saturday, adding that the United States could replenish Poland’s plane supply if it does. they did, although challenges remained given the contested airspace.

Zelenskiy had asked for help securing planes from European allies during a video call with U.S. lawmakers earlier on Saturday. He also called again for more deadly aid, a ban on Russian oil, a no-fly zone and an end to the privileges of Visa Inc and MasterCard Inc in Russia, US media reported.

Biden spoke with Zelenskiy for about 30 minutes Saturday night in Washington at dawn on Sunday in Ukraine, the White House said. They discussed security, financial support for Ukraine and continued sanctions against Russia, Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter.

NATO, which Ukraine wants to join, has resisted Zelenskiy’s calls to impose a no-fly zone over his country, saying it would escalate conflict outside Ukraine.

Seeking to mediate, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Putin in the Kremlin on Saturday and later spoke with Zelenskiy, Bennett’s spokesman said.

“We continue the dialogue,” Zelenskiy tweeted after the call.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has released a six-point plan to respond to the Russian invasion ahead of meetings with leaders from Canada, the Netherlands and central Europe in London next week.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is expected to meet with Putin on Sunday. Turkey, a member of NATO, shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea.

Ukrainian negotiators said a third round of ceasefire talks with Russia would continue on Monday, although Moscow is less definitive.

FIERCE FIGHTS

The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces were carrying out a full-scale offensive in Ukraine and had taken several towns and villages, Russian news agency Interfax reported.

The Ukrainian military said the armed forces are “fighting hard to liberate Ukrainian cities from Russian occupiers”, counterattacking in some areas and disrupting communications.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said the army shot down two Russian planes and five helicopters on Saturday and also carried out airstrikes against 15 motorized brigades. Reuters had no way to substantiate this claim.

In Kherson, in southern Ukraine, the only regional capital to have changed hands since the invasion, several thousand people demonstrated in its main square on Saturday, chanting “Kherson is Ukraine” and demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces.

Eyewitnesses quoted by Interfax said Russian troops fired automatic rifles into the air in an unsuccessful attempt to disperse the crowd and then left.

Concerns about nuclear dangers remained after Russia seized Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, with a senior US official saying on Friday that Russian troops were 32 km from Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear facility.

Russia has again warned the EU and NATO to stop “pumping advanced weapons systems” from Kiev, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to RIA.

Putin, in one of several decrees signed on Saturday, also gave his government two days to draw up a list of nations engaged in “hostile acts” against Russia, his news agencies reported.

VISA, MASTERCARD EXIT

The International Monetary Fund has warned that the conflict will have a “serious impact” on the global economy, pushing up energy and grain prices. He said he would assess Kyiv’s request for $1.4 billion in emergency funding as early as next week.

Many Russians, reeling from a 30% drop in the value of the ruble, the restriction of money transfers and the exit of a growing number of Western companies, have expressed fear for their economic future. .

Visa and Mastercard announced on Saturday that their credit card operations would be suspended in Russia.

Elon Musk has promised to deliver more Starlink satellite internet terminals to Ukraine next week, Zelenskiy said on Saturday, adding that he has spoken to SpaceX’s chief executive. This could help bolster Ukraine’s internet access, but also poses potential security risks, experts say.

“HELP US IF YOU CAN”

Heavy shelling was heard in the background as Volnovakha residents tried to flee the fighting.

“Help us if you can, we all want to live, we have children, husbands, we are mothers and fathers, we are people too,” said resident Larisa. “Where should I go? What I have on me and a bag of things is all I have. That’s all I have.”

Blinken, following a meeting in Brussels of NATO, G7 and European Union counterparts, met with refugees staying at a disused shopping center in Poland, which hosted the vast majority of forced Ukrainians to flee their country.

Ksenia Tymofeeva, 41, worked in a bank in Kiev until she fled two days ago, leaving behind her husband, also a bank worker, who stayed to fight the Russian invaders.

“He has no military experience, but this is our homeland,” she told the site near the Polish-Ukrainian border.

Other refugees entered Moldova, Blinken’s next stop.

The World Health Organization said 249 civilians had been killed so far and 553 injured as of March 3. She put the number of refugees at 1.2 million and said another 160,000 people had been internally displaced.

“The human cost is likely much higher as access and security issues make it difficult to verify the true number of dead and injured,” he said in a statement.


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