Ukraine war: Evacuations continue amid continued reports of shelling

Kyiv, Ukraine - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has declared a state of war for the entire country after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion, triggering one of the worst crises Europe has seen since WWII. Follow the latest developments with TAG24 NEWS.

Footage from the Ukrainan Armed Forces and Mariupol City Council showed Mariupol's maternity hospital destroyed.
Footage from the Ukrainan Armed Forces and Mariupol City Council showed Mariupol's maternity hospital destroyed.  © Screenshot/Twitter/ArmedForcesUkr

In a dramatic escalation of hostilities, Putin announced a "special military operation" on February 24. Vowing to "denazify" Ukraine, his speech virtually amounted to a declaration of war, although the Kremlin still denies it aims to take over Ukraine – even as Russian troops poured in through the separatist regions in the east and Belarus to the north.

President Joe Biden has condemned the "unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces" on Ukraine.

The US and its allies have launched devastating sanctions on the Russian economy.

Cow Valley Fire deemed "megafire" as firefighters struggle to contain blaze
Wildfire Cow Valley Fire deemed "megafire" as firefighters struggle to contain blaze

Meanwhile, the situation on the ground is rapidly changing, as Russia's massive assault envelops Ukraine and a full-scale offensive pummels targets inside the country.

UPDATE, March 10, 6:00 PM EST: Thousands evacuate amid temporary ceasefires

Around 2,000 people have been evacuated from the city of Izyum in eastern Ukraine, the head of Kharkiv Oblast Oleh Syneyhubov said in a Facebook post. He confirmed they had been brought to safer regions in 44 buses, despite some Ukrainian officials claimed ceasefire had been breached from the Russian side.

Evacuations were also focused on the north-eastern city of Sumy and residents had already boarded buses.

However, it again proved impossible to bring people from the city of Mariupol to safety or to deliver much needed food, water, and medicine. The Ukrainian Vice Governor said several attempts to open an escape corridor had to be called off, amid reports of frequent shelling. Moscow and Kyiv each blamed the other for the failure. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has appealed to the international community, saying, "There is a real humanitarian disaster there."

"From the cities of Sumy, Trostyanets and Krasnopillya, we have brought out more than 60,000 people in the direction of Poltava within the past two days," Vereshchuk added of the successes elsewhere.

During her visit to Poland, US Vice President Kamala Harris announced the US will give an additional $53 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine. It is in addition to nearly $54 million in humanitarian assistance the US pledged earlier.

Ukraine’s Minister of Education and Science Serhiy Shkarlet stated that Russian forces have damaged 280 educational institutions through its shelling since the start of the war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the West's unprecedented sanctions on Russia will make the country more independent from the rest of the world.

"Just as we overcame these difficulties in the past years, we will overcome them now," he said, according to Interfax news agency. "We have to get through this period. The economy will undoubtedly adapt to the new situation. This will lead to an increase in our independence, self-reliance, and sovereignty."

Putin also said Russia has no intention of suspending oil and gas deliveries to Europe, despite threatening to cut off German natural gas supplies earlier this week.

UPDATE, March 10, 11:45 AM EST: Kyiv is half empty as evacuation attempts continue

The Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, besieged by Russian troops, was hit by fresh airstrikes on Thursday, according to the city council. The Technical University near the city center was hit. No casualty figures were immediately available.

Ukraine is planning further civilian evacuations from embattled cities in the north and east of the country, as well as in the capital Kyiv. Hundreds of thousands have already left Kyiv since the start of the war, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Ukrainian TV on Thursday, confirming, "Every second Kyiv resident has left." There are currently less than two million people in the city, officially home to nearly three million people.

The UN has said it stands by its account of an attack on a hospital building in Mariupol, despite Russian allegations that the organization was spreading "fake news." Russia's deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky said: "In our statement of 7 March, we had already warned that the hospital had been turned into a military facility by radicals," with another Russian official alleging Ukrainians military had "forced out the staff of a maternity clinic and then put a firing site in that clinic." The information could not be verified, and President Zelnsky said they are "lying with confidence."

Ukraine signed a new law into effect to seize property belonging to Russia and Russians paying taxes in Ukraine. The law also explicitly states that property or assets can be seized from anyone paying tax in Ukraine, given many Russian companies have representative offices in Ukraine and hold shares in local companies.

UPDATE, March 10, 6:30 AM EST: Russian and Ukrainian top diplomats meet with little to show for it

The first talks since the start of the war between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, have ended. The two ministers parted ways after about one and a half hours that established little common ground.

No joint appearance was scheduled after the meeting, which is always a bad sign. Kuleba later said that there had been no progress made on further ceasefires or humanitarian corridors around Ukraine's worst-affected cities. He added that it had been "hard" to listen to what Lavrov was saying.

The Russian foreign minister, meanwhile, spent his press briefing bashing the West and denying that civilians were being targeted in Ukraine, which flies in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Lavrov also claimed – again with zero proof – that no women or children had been present in the Mariupol maternity hospital at the time Russia blew it to pieces on Wednesday, killing at least three, according to local officials.

UPDATE, March 9, 6:25 PM EST: Russia forces gain ground as the White House responds to the chaos

17 pregnant women and employees were injured in the bombing on a Mariupol maternity hospital, according to the head of the Donetsk Oblast military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said it is "proof of a genocide of Ukrainians taking place."

Zelensky has emphasized his willingness to compromise ahead of peace talks with Russian representatives on Thursday. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Turkey.

"In any negotiation, my goal is to end the war with Russia. And I am also ready to take certain steps," Zelensky told Bild newspaper. He also said he had spoken with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday, among other world leaders, about "further steps in support of Ukraine."

Attempts to ensure safe passage out of the of six agreed upon escape areas in Ukraine has proved slow and faltering as Moscow and Kyiv have traded blame for ceasefire breaches. Meanwhile, Ukraine is still refusing to evacuate citizens to Russia, according to Russia's Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, who said Moscow had proposed 10 evacuation routes, while Kyiv suggested another three.

By Wednesday evening, Russian forces said they had made further gains in Donbass and have advanced even closer to Mariupol. The Pentagon said the Russian army has made progress around Kharkiv, with Russian soldiers recently having moved closer to the city. It also said Russian troops have additionally made progress around Mykolayiv.

The US government has accused Russia of using free-fall "dumb bombs" in Ukraine that lack a system to target them precisely, "increasing damage to civilian infrastructure." The White House also warned Wednesday that Russia could use chemical weapons in Ukraine based on the country's "long and well-documented track record of using chemical weapons."

Lastly, Washington issued a clear rejection to a proposal by Poland to transfer MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine via a stopover at a US base in Germany. The plan "could result in significant Russian reaction that might increase the prospects of a military escalation with NATO," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said. However, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin thanked Poland for its willingness to look for ways to support Ukraine, he said.

The UN asserted it has seen no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday. It follows Russian allegations that Ukraine had been developing nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) assured it "sees no critical impact on safety" at Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant, despite a power failure, damage from shelling, and its isolation from the outside world since its capture by Russian units.

UPDATE, March 9, 11:45 AM EST: Russian airstrike destroys Mariupol hospital as Russia admits to drafting troops

A Russian airstrike has destroyed a maternity hospital in Mariupol. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said "children are under the wreckage." Mariupol's city council said "the destruction is colossal."

An estimated 400,000 civilians are hoping to be rescued from desperate conditions in the port city, where many people are without food, water, and electricity due to the aftermath of heavy shelling. But the agreed corridor to evacuate civilians has still not become operational, according to separatists in the Donetsk region. The city is surrounded by Russian troops.

According to local authorities, Russian forces have blocked an evacuation effort from Bucha, preventing the passage of 50 buses near Kyiv. Evacuation were on ongoing from Irpin and Sumy.

Ukraine’s Armed Forces reported that Russian National Guard units have entered the city of Kherson and detained over 400 Ukrainian citizens.

Russia has admitted to deploying conscripts – troops that have been mandatory drafted – to fight against Ukraine, though it stressed that the move had not been approved by the Kremlin.

Yet, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that President Vladimir Putin had instructed the military prosecutor's office to investigate cases of conscript deployment and to punish those responsible. Putin has repeatedly denied that there were any troops drafted in Russia to fight in Ukraine.

"Almost all of these soldiers have already been withdrawn to Russia," the Defense Ministry in Moscow said. However, some conscripts were now in Ukrainian custody having been captured in fighting, it conceded.

In a statement, Ukraine's general staff put the current death toll for Russian forces at over 12,000 soldiers. While it hasn't released any recent figures, Russia said a few days ago that it had lost fewer than 500 soldiers in the conflict so far.

UPDATE, March 8, 5:25 PM EST: Another round of talks planned for Thursday as evacuation attempts continue

Moscow's bombardment of its neighbor intensified on Tuesday. Units of pro-Russian separatists are continuing to advance in the embattled Ukrainian port city of Mariupol since a ceasefire in the city ended, Russia said. According to the Red Cross, 200,000 people are still trapped in the city hoping to escape.

The head of a separatist group in Luhansk have claimed that the town of Popasna had been captured and that Ukrainian forces had been encircled.

For the first time, a safety corridor was successfully used to evacuate hundreds of civilians trapped inside the town of Sumy, after at least 21 people were killed hours beforehand. According to the deputy head of the Ukrainian President's Office Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a total of 61 buses left Sumy for Poltava on Tuesday. Among the passengers were some 1,100 foreign students, he said.

Fresh attempts at opening safety corridors are planned for Wednesday, with Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev of the Russian Defense Ministry announcing that a ceasefire would come into effect on Wednesday at 8:00 AM local time and would remain open until 1:00 AM for evacuations. Ukraine did not immediately respond to the announcement.

Moscow said the US decision to impose a blanket ban on the import of Russian crude oil has "crossed all the boundaries of political and economic sense" and has warned that it could have global repercussions.

The statement added that it was "obvious that the rejection of our resources will lead to significant fluctuations in the global energy markets. It will negatively affect the interests of companies and consumers, primarily in the United States itself."

President Putin has reportedly signed a decree prohibiting the import and export of Russian products and materials to certain countries. The list of countries is set to be published within 48 hours.

The party of Ukrainian President Zelensky has indicated it may be willing to put its stated goal of joining NATO on the back burner in return for concrete security guarantees from Russia and a promise of Russian recognition of Ukrainian statehood.

"The alliance is not ready to admit Ukraine over the course of at least the next 15 years and has made this clear," the Sluha Narodu (Servant of the People) party announced.

Another round of talks between Russia and Ukraine is expected on Thursday.

Refugees fleeing the Russian invasion in Ukraine evacuated through a train station in Lviv on Tuesday. The refugee exodus is the largest in Europe since WWII.
Refugees fleeing the Russian invasion in Ukraine evacuated through a train station in Lviv on Tuesday. The refugee exodus is the largest in Europe since WWII.  © IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

UPDATE, March 8, 11:50 AM EST: Biden administration announces ban on Russian oil imports

President Joe Biden is pulling the plug on Russian oil and gas imports, which is as big a move as it gets. Despite initially resisting Ukrainian President Zelensky's calls for the ban, the continued aggression has been chipping away at the Biden administration's resolve on this matter.

Speaking from the White House on Tuesday, Biden says the ban on all Russian oil, gas, and energy import will "deal another powerful blow to Putin’s war machine" and add to historic sanctions that are "crippling Russia's ability to do business with the world."

"This is a step we are taking to inflict further pain on Putin, but there will be costs as well here in the United States," Biden said, noting that "defending freedom" will not come freely to Americans. He called on oil and gas companies to not take advantage of consumers through price hikes at the gas pump, and said America will rely more heavily on its large reserves of oil produced domestically.

The president said he believes the move has strong bipartisan support in the US and was made in consultation with NATO allies in the EU. He urged Congress to pass his proposed $12 billion Ukrainian assistance package, and said the US has provided over $1 billion in security assistance to the country already.

Biden also confirmed Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Ukraine's bordering countries Romania and Poland later this week.

He used the opportunity to call for an acceleration in clean energy usage, and did not take questions from the press.

UPDATE, March 8, 9:30 AM EST: New ceasefire breaches reported

Shots were fired again on Tuesday during the attempt to rescue civilians from Mariupol.

"Ceasefire violated! Russian forces are now shelling the humanitarian corridor from Zaporizhzhia to Mariupol," Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko wrote on Twitter.

"Pressure on Russia MUST be increased so that it keeps its commitments," Nikolenko wrote further. There was initially no information on this from the Russian side.

Meanwhile, about 3,000 people have been brought to safety from Irpin so far, according to authorities. The town near Kyiv has been heavily bombed and recently saw civilians huddled under a destroyed bridge, being led across makeshift footbridges by Ukrainian soldiers.

On Sunday, at least eight people were killed there when Russian troops shelled the escape route.

UPDATE, March 8, 5:30 AM EST: At least 21 killed in Sumy airstrikes, according to local authorities

Not long before the evacuation effort in Sumy began, devastating airstrikes on the city ended up killing at least 21 people, including two children, according to local authorities and the regional prosecutor's office.

During the night, the head of the regional administration, Dmytro Shyvytsky, had spoken of 10 dead.

"Residential buildings were bombed in some localities. And almost in the center of Sumy, several houses were destroyed by a bomb hit," Shyvytsky wrote on Facebook.

Four Ukrainian soldiers were also killed "in unequal combat with the Russian military," he added.

Hundreds of international students, many of them African, have been stranded in Sumy since the start of the war.

UPDATE, March 7, 5:30 AM EST: Evacuation underway in five cities after new ceasefire

Smoke rises over Mariupol, where a fourth evacuation effort is underway.
Smoke rises over Mariupol, where a fourth evacuation effort is underway.  © IMAGO / SNA

Russian military said on Tuesday that it had enforced a new ceasefire in Ukraine and opened "humanitarian corridors" in five cities.

In the capital Kyiv as well as in the major cities of Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and the particularly embattled port city of Mariupol, people should be able to get to safety.

The ceasefire came into effect at 9:00 AM local time (2:00 AM EST), the Defense Ministry in Moscow said.

According to the Red Cross, 200,000 people are waiting to get out of Mariupol via various routes. This is now the fourth attempt to take people out and bring them to safety by bus and car.

According to the Ukrainian authorities, assembly points were set up in the city and a second corridor was opened by noon, local time.

Kyiv said representatives of Ukraine and Russia agreed on details during a third round of negotiations on Monday.

Cover photo: Screenshot/Twitter/ArmedForcesUkr

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