Ukraine launched a fresh effort to evacuate residents from battered areas across the country Wednesday, a day after thousands escaped the Russian assault through the war’s first successful safe corridor.
Russian forces have besieged Ukrainian cities but struggled to make progress in their military offensive after nearly two weeks of an increasingly devastating war. Hundreds of civilians have died and more than 2 million people have fled to neighboring countries in the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
For Moscow, the invasion has had major economic repercussions, sparking crippling sanctions and a growing exodus of companies from the West to leave the country isolated as the world lurches toward a new Cold War.
Latest developments on Ukraine:
- Ukraine tries again to establish humanitarian corridors in several hard-hit areas.
- U.S. rejects unexpected offer by Poland to transfer custody of Soviet-era fighter jets to send on to Ukraine.
- Vice President Kamala Harris set to visit Warsaw on Wednesday.
- The U.S. moved to ban imports of Russian oil, while the U.K. said it will phase out Russian oil and oil products this year.
Russia and Ukraine agreed daylong cease-fires and “humanitarian corridors” in six areas Wednesday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, after days of largely failed efforts to free civilians trapped without vital supplies.
About 5,000 people were able to escape Sumy, a northeastern city, aboard buses Tuesday, but residents in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol once again saw their hopes dashed after Ukrainian officials accused Russia of shelling the evacuation route.
The city has been without electricity, heat, water or food for many days and Ukrainian officials have called the situation there catastrophic.
“We don’t have electricity, we don’t have anything to eat, we don’t have medicine. We’ve got nothing,” Ludmila Amelkina told the Associated Press.
The six areas authorities were hoping to evacuate Wednesday were Sumy, Mariupol, Enerhodar in the south, Volnovakha in the southeast, Izyum in the east, and several towns in the Kyiv region.
It remained to be seen whether Russian forces would abide by the promise to halt fighting.
Russia’s invasion has brought increasing destruction from the air but slow progress in its military ground offensive.
Ukraine’s defense outside the capital, Kyiv, was holding off Russian troops’ attempts to advance, Ukraine’s military said early Wednesday. Britain’s defense ministry also said in its latest update that fighting north-west of the city “remains ongoing with Russian forces failing to make any significant breakthroughs.”
Russian forces encircling other major cities, including Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol, have subjected residents to heavy shelling, the U.K. said.
Ukraine’s military accused Russian forces of placing military equipment among residential buildings and on farms in the northern city of Chernihiv. Further south, forces dressed in civilian clothing advanced from occupied Kherson toward the city of Mykolaiv, the military said in a statement on Wednesday.
Russian troops have made some progress in the south, advancing along the coast and threatening to establish a land bridge to Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Ukraine’s surprising ability to prevent Russia from controlling the air has helped dent the advance, though the last week has seen intensifying Russian attacks on major cities and residential areas.
Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly called on the West to enact a no-fly zone over the country, something the United States and NATO have rejected, fearing it could escalate the conflict into a broader war on the continent.
Washington and Europe have instead focused on punishing Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invasion and backing the government in Kyiv that he was almost certainly hoping to remove and replace with a regime friendlier to the Kremlin.
But there was a rare sign of disunity in that effort Tuesday.
The Defense Department rejected what it said was an unexpected offer by Poland to have the U.S. take custody of Soviet-era fighter jets that would likely then be transferred to Ukraine.
U.S. officials said they were blindsided by Poland’s announcement, which differed from a previous proposal to have Warsaw deliver the MiG-29 jets to Kyiv directly.
“We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.