Ukraine’s government has said some civilians were evacuated from the city of Sumy after a local ceasefire was largely observed, but officials accused Russian forces of shelling a humanitarian corridor that Moscow had promised to open to let residents flee the besieged port of Mariupol.
Moscow’s forces have laid siege to several Ukrainian cities and cut off food, water, heat and medicine amid growing fears of a humanitarian disaster. But for days, attempts to create corridors to safely evacuate civilians have stumbled amid continuing fighting and objections to the proposed routes.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Mariupol 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.
Zelenskyy said a child had died of dehydration in Mariupol because water was cut off. This could not be independently verified.
Ukraine has said humanitarian corridors offered by Russia that lead to Russian or Belarusian territory were unacceptable.
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from near the city of Zaporizhzhia, in southeastern Ukraine, said there were “dozens of buses” heading towards Mariupol as part of efforts “to try and pull, what … could be hundreds of thousands of civilians out” from there.
“They are being led by a police escort, and there is at least one truck in that convoy, which we understand is carrying humanitarian aid,” Stratford said.
Some civilians escape Sumy
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 raid that regional officials said had hit a residential area and killed 21 people.
Russia said 723 people had been evacuated via the Sumy-Poltava corridor, including 576 Indian nationals, in a first convoy.
Later on Tuesday, regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky said nearly 3,500 civilians had been evacuated from the city.
Residents were also leaving Irpin, a front-line Kyiv suburb.
Nearly two weeks into the fighting, Russian forces have captured a swath of southern and coastal Ukraine in an apparent bid to cut off the country’s access to the sea.
But they have seen their advances stopped in many areas – including around Kyiv, the capital – by nimble Ukrainian fighters targeting Moscow’s armoured columns.
Late on Tuesday, Russia sait it would open humanitarian corridors on Wednesday morning from several Ukrainian cities.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, including both civilians and soldiers, but military and civilian death tolls cannot be independently verified.
The United Nations human rights office said it had verified 1,335 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 474 killed and 861 wounded, since the invasion was launched. But the true toll was likely to be higher, it said.
There were allegations of hundreds of civilian casualties in Volnovakha, Mariupol and other urban areas from bombing and shelling of residential areas, it said.
In the embattled city of Kharkiv, the mayor has accused attacking Russian troops of deliberately shelling civilian infrastructure.
“Strikes are happening on kindergartens, schools, maternity hospitals, clinics,” Mayor Ihor Terekhov told US television network CNN on Tuesday, according to a translation.
“When it’s hundreds and hundreds of civilian buildings, that is no accident. That is a targeted attack.”
Moscow has denied 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.
More than two million refugees have fled Ukraine since the invasion, more than half going to Poland, according to the UN refugee agency.
US bans Russian oil imports
In a further effort to punish Russia for its invasion, US President Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports, calling it a “powerful blow” against Russia’s ability to fund the offensive.
He warned that Americans will see rising prices, saying, “Defending freedom is going to cost.”
Meanwhile, Shell announced it will stop buying oil and gas from Russia.
The fighting has caused global economic turmoil, with energy prices surging worldwide and stocks plummeting.