A police officer says goodbye to his son as his family flees from advancing Russian troops in the town of Irpin outside Kyiv on Tuesday. AFP
US President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a ban on Russian oil and other energy imports, a significant move in piling pressure on President Vladimir Putin to halt his devastating assault on Ukraine.
Ukraine's government accused Russian forces of shelling a humanitarian corridor that Moscow had promised to open to let residents flee the besieged port of Mariupol.
The civilian death toll in the conflict mounted. And with the war in its 13th day, the number of refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries surged past 2 million.
"Russia may continue to grind out its advance at a horrible price, but this much is already clear: Ukraine will never be a victory for Putin," Biden told reporters at the White House. "Putin may be able to take a city, but he'll never be able to hold the country," Biden said.
A woman attends to her children as they arrive to the temporary shelter for refugees in Przemysl. AFP
Addressing Britain's parliament via videolink, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the world to increase the sanctions. He said his people would fight to the end against the Russian invaders but it needed help, including no-fly zones.
"The question for us now is to be or not to be," said Zelenskiy, quoting Shakespeare. "I can give you a definitive answer: it's definitely to be." Lawmakers gave him a standing ovation.
Western sanctions imposed over the invasion have already cut off Russia from international trade and financial markets. Russia is the world's biggest exporter of oil and natural gas, and until now its energy exports had been exempted from the international sanctions.A child wrapped in a blanket sits on luggage while waiting to be relocated from the temporary shelter for refugees in Przemysl. AFP
Announcing the US ban on Russian energy imports, Biden said: "That means Russian oil will no longer be acceptable in US ports and the American people will deal another powerful blow to Putin's war machine."
The United States is not a leading buyer of Russian oil but Biden has worked with allies in Europe, who are far more reliant on it, to isolate Russia's energy-heavy economy and Putin.
Britain announced shortly before Biden's remarks that it would phase out the import of Russian oil and oil products by the end of 2022. The EU also published plans to cut its reliance on Russian gas by two thirds this year.
Britain's Shell, one of several Western oil majors to announce it is pulling out of Russian projects, said it would no longer buy any Russian oil or gas.
Family members hug each other after crossing the border between Poland and Ukraine. Reuters
In Mariupol, hundreds of thousands of people have been sheltering under bombardment without water or power for more than a week. Many tried to leave on Tuesday along a safe corridor but Ukraine said they came under Russian fire.
"Ceasefire violated! Russian forces are now shelling the humanitarian corridor from Zaporizhzhia to Mariupol," Ukraine's foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko wrote on Twitter.
Zelenskiy said a child had died of dehydration in Mariupol because water was cut off. This could not be independently verified.
Russia opened a separate corridor allowing residents out of the eastern city of Sumy on Tuesday, the first successful evacuation under such a safe route.
Buses left Sumy for Poltava further west, only hours after a Russian air strike which regional officials said had hit a residential area and killed 21 people. Reuters could not verify the incident.
Russia said 723 people had been evacuated via the Sumy-Poltava corridor, including 576 Indain nationals, in a first convoy.
Evacuations had however begun in Sumy, near the Russian border and 350 kilometres east of Kyiv, where Russia had formally declared a humanitarian corridor, officials said.
Residents were also leaving Irpin, a frontline Kyiv suburb. "The city is almost ruined, and the district where I'm living, it's like there are no houses which were not bombed," said one young mother on Monday, holding a baby while her daughter stood by her side.
The United Nations human rights office said it had verified 1,335 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 474 killed and 861 injured, since the invasion kicked off on Feb. 24. But the true toll was likely to be higher, it said.
Refugees fleeing the conflict from neighbouring Ukraine hold a baby after crossing the border in Siret, Romania. AP
There were allegations of hundreds of civilian casualties in Volnovakha, Mariupol and other urban areas from bombing and shelling of residential areas, it said.
Moscow denies targeting civilians. It describes its actions as a "special operation" to disarm Ukraine and unseat leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext to invade a country of 44 million people.
The corridors to let civilians escape and allow aid reach besieged areas have been the main subject of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations.
Russia's Interfax news agency said Moscow was opening humanitarian corridors for the cities of Sumy, Mariupol, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and the capital Kyiv.
People flee the city of Irpin, west of Kyiv. AFP
Ukraine has rejected Russian proposals for Kharkiv and Kyiv that would lead evacuees to Russia or its ally Belarus. Earlier attempts at the weekend to evacuate residents from Mariupol failed, with each side accusing the other of continuing to fire.
Western countries say Russia's initial battle plan for a rapid strike to topple the Kyiv government failed in the early days of the war, and Moscow has adjusted tactics for longer sieges of cities.
"The tempo of the enemy's advance has slowed considerably, and in certain directions where they were advancing it has practically stopped," Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych told a televised briefing on Tuesday.
Katerina, living in Krakow comforts her grandmother Valentina, who fled from Krywyj Rih, in Przemysl. Reuters
'Hiding in the basement'
Despite the sound of nearby shelling in Irpin, seen as a critical point for Russia's advance on Kyiv, civilians fled in icy wind and a thick snowfall, AFP reporters saw.
People waited in a long line to cross over the Irpin river on makeshift walkways of planks and mangled metal, after the Ukrainians blew up the bridge leading into the capital to hamper any Russian advance.
"I didn't want to leave, but there's nobody left in the homes around us, no water, no gas and no electricity," Larissa Prokopets, 43, said. She said she was leaving after several days spent "hiding in the basement" of her home, which kept "shaking" due to bombardment nearby.
A man helps a woman refugee as she arrives from Romania at Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv. Reuters
Russia had refused calls for a humanitarian corridor in Irpin and the nearby suburbs of Bucha and Gostomel "although we had everything ready for this," Ukrainian interior ministry official Anton Gerashchenko said.
Reuters / Agence France-Presse
President Zelensky said conditions in Mariupol, which has seen the worst fighting of the nearly eight-week long war, continued to worsen, though Reuters witnesses said a few dozen civilians managed to leave the city on Wednesday in a small bus convoy.
Zaburyna has become one of thousands of Ukrainians desperately seeking information about loved ones who might have been cut off, displaced and possibly killed in the war.
A little less than two million people have currently left. However, Kyiv has been transformed into a fortress. Every street, every building, every checkpoint has been fortified," the mayor told Ukraine television.
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