Ukraine has called Moscow’s plan to let residents of several Ukrainian cities flee in corridors to Russia and Belarus an “immoral” stunt as the two sides reported little progress from a third round of talks.
Russia’s announcement early on Monday of a plan to create “humanitarian corridors” for civilians to evacuate Kharkiv, Mariupol and the capital, Kyiv, came after two days of failed ceasefires to allow civilians to escape the besieged city of Mariupol, where hundreds of thousands are trapped without food and water.
According to maps published by the Russian state news agency RIA, the corridor from Kyiv would lead to Russia’s ally Belarus, while civilians from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city, would be directed to Russia.
A spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the move “completely immoral”, saying Russia was trying to “use people’s suffering to create a television picture”.
“They are citizens of Ukraine, they should have the right to evacuate to the territory of Ukraine,” the spokesperson told the Reuters news agency.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has been condemned around the world, has sent more than 1.7 million Ukrainians fleeing abroad, according to the United Nations. It has triggered sweeping sanctions that have abruptly isolated Russia to a degree never before experienced by such a large economy.
Moscow has said it is conducting a “special military operation” targeting Ukraine’s military infrastructure.
Ukrainian refugees continue to pour into neighbouring countries, including Poland, Romania and Moldova.
Shelling of civilian areas
Ukraine’s foreign ministry warned on Monday that Russian shelling was preventing the evacuation of civilians from Kyiv, Mariupol, Sumy, Kharkiv, Volnovakha and Mykolaiv.
“This prevents the safe passage of humanitarian columns with Ukrainian and foreign citizens, as well as the delivery of medicines and food,” the ministry said in a statement.
Ukraine’s President Zelensky accused Russian troops of “deliberate murder” of civilians after a family with two children was killed by shelling in the street while trying to flee the town of Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv.
In the southern port city of Mariupol, tens of thousands were still trapped without water or power after two failed evacuation attempts.
Police moved through the city, advising people to remain in shelters until they heard official messages broadcast over loudspeakers to evacuate.
Hospitals in Mariupol are facing severe shortages of antibiotics and painkillers, and doctors performed some emergency procedures without them.
Meanwhile, in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, police said a further 10 people had been killed over the past day, taking the total death toll there from the Russian bombardment to 143 since the start of the invasion. It was not possible to verify the toll, Reuters reported.
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford reporting from Kharkiv said he witnessed “scenes of utter devastation” in the centre of the city following shelling by Russian forces.
“I am absolutely shocked by what we have seen … this is what the power of Russian bombing can do to civilian areas,” Stratford said from the scene, where an enormous Russian shell exploded several days ago.
He described the immediate area as “completely devastated”, noting there were buildings still on fire and that a nearby church had been badly damaged, with all of its windows blown out.
Third round of talks
Meanwhile, in Belarus, both Russia and Ukraine said they’ve made a little progress during a third round of talks and Russia’s top negotiator says the corridors are expected to start functioning Tuesday.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelenskyy, said without elaboration Monday that “there were some small positive shifts regarding logistics of humanitarian corridors” to allow civilians to flee some besieged Ukrainian cities.
He said that consultations will continue on ways to negotiate an end to hostilities.
Russia’s top negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said he expects humanitarian corridors in Ukraine will finally start functioning Tuesday. He said no progress has been made on a political settlement, but voiced hope that the next round could be more productive.
“Our expectations from the talks have failed, but we hope that we would be able to make a more significant step forward next time,” Medinsky said. “The talks will continue.”
The countries’ foreign ministers are also scheduled to meet in Turkey on Thursday, according to that country’s top diplomat.