Russia announced plans for new cease-fires Wednesday to allow civilians to leave several parts of Ukraine besieged by Russian forces, a day after thousands of people were able to leave a city in northeastern Ukraine while Ukrainian officials accused Russia of shelling another evacuation route in the southern part of the country.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russia confirmed evacuation routes would lead out of Sumy, Mariupol, Enerhodar, Volnovakha, Izyum and several towns near the capital, Kyiv.
Vereshchuk said 5,000 people were able to evacuate Sumy on Tuesday.
But in Mariupol, where a Russian siege has left the southeastern porty city with dwindling supplies of electricity, heat, food and water, efforts to get people out Tuesday failed, with Vereshchuk saying Russian forces fired on a humanitarian cargo convoy.
“The situation in Mariupol is apocalyptic,” Red Cross spokesperson Ewan Watson said.
Asked by VOA about Russian shelling of humanitarian corridors, a senior defense official told reporters Tuesday it was “disingenuous” of Russia to declare a humanitarian corridor that goes north into Belarus or Russia.
“Short of stopping the shelling, we and the rest of the international community call on Russia to allow for the safe passage out of city centers for Ukrainian citizens to other places in Ukraine, in their own country,” the official said, reiterating that “the United States is not going to become militarily involved in this fight in Ukraine.”
In other developments Wednesday, the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe nearly 36 years ago, lost power after its power grid source was damaged, according to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
Kuleba tweeted the plant was relying on reserve diesel generators with the capacity to power it for 48-hours, after which the cooling of spent nuclear fuel will halt, raising the possibility of “imminent” radiation leaks.
“Putin’s barbaric war puts entire Europe in danger. He must stop it immediately,” tweeted Kuleba, who also called on the global community to demand that Russia impose a cease-fire to allow for repairs.
The international community continued to target Russia’s economy. The European Union agreed Wednesday to bolster its sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion, including measures targeting senior Russian officials and oligarchs, as well as restrictions on the maritime sector and several Belarussian banks.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday the United States is waging “economic war on Russia.”
U.S. President Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil and other energy imports on Tuesday in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine.
“We will not be part of subsidizing (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war,” Biden said, noting that the move would not come without cost to U.S. residents.
In a tweet Tuesday, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Biden for “striking in the heart of Putin’s war machine” with his Russian energy ban.
Biden has been working with allies in Europe, who are far more dependent on Russian oil, to isolate the Russian president and Russia’s economy, which heavily relies on oil and gas exports.
Britain announced Tuesday it would phase out the import of Russian oil and oil products by the end of 2022.
Russia also criticized an offer by Poland to send MiG-29 jets to an air base in Germany so they can be passed on to Ukraine, with Peskov calling it a “potentially dangerous scenario.”
Poland said Tuesday its air force was “ready to deploy — immediately and free of charge — all” of its MiG-29 jets to Ramstein Air Base, placing “them at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America.”
In exchange, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked that the U.S. send Poland aircraft with similar operational capabilities.
Ukrainian military pilots fly the MiG-29, and top Ukrainian officials have asked other countries that operate the jet to transfer these jets to Ukraine for additional air power that would require minimal training.
Poland’s announcement appeared to catch the Biden administration off guard, with Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland telling lawmakers this “was a surprise move by the Poles.”
Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby added late Tuesday that the Pentagon did not “believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one.”
“The prospect of fighter jets ‘at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America’ departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance. It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it,” according to the statement from Kirby, adding that the United States would “continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents."
The United Nations refugee agency said Wednesday more than 2.2 million people have fled Ukraine. More than half have gone to Poland.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were due to meet Thursday in Turkey to discuss the situation. Kuleba said he will propose a direct meeting between Zelenskyy and Putin.
Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson, national security correspondent Jeff Seldin, Istanbul foreign correspondent Heather Murdock and senior diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine contributed to this report. Some information also came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and Reuters.