A second attempt to evacuate the besieged city of Mariupol has been announced with 400,000 civilians allowed to flee amid fears Putin will shatter the agreement with shelling again.
The city, which is currently encircled by Russian troops, will restart attempts to evacuate civilians from the conflict after similar efforts yesterday were scuppered by Russian bombing just 45 minutes after a ceasefire was agreed.
Some 400,000 residents will begin to be evacuated from 12pm today, with the agreement in place until 9pm, according to the city council of Mariupol.
People will be able to use private transport to travel out the city and will be accompanied by the Red Cross, while deviating from the set route is prohibited.
The city council has said: ‘We ask all drivers leaving the city to facilitate the evacuation of civilians as much as possible – take people with you, fill the transport as much as possible.’
According to aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) the humanitarian situation in Mariupol, a key target for the Russian invasion forces, is currently ‘catastrophic’ with no power or water in civilian homes.
They have called for a ‘humanitarian corridor’ to be imposed ‘very quickly’.
Separately, on Sunday, the head of Kyiv-controlled Lugansk regional administration, said a train would be organised to evacuate women, children and the elderly from Lysychansk.
Lysychansk is near the frontline between Ukrainian forces and Moscow-backed separatists, who are fighting to link up with the Russian forces and control the entire southeast.
If Russian forces succeed in capturing Mariupol which held out against rebel forces in the previous 2014 conflict, they will control Ukraine’s entire Azov Sea coast.
This would give them a landbridge from Russia to Russian-annexed Crimea and an important supply route and port if they decide to push north in a bid to take all of eastern Ukraine.
A safe passage out the nearby city of Volnovakha has also been offered after failed efforts on Saturday.
Some 200,000 civilians were set to leave Mariupol and a further 15,000 from Volnovakha at 7am (UK time) as part of a temporary ceasefire deal overseen by the Red Cross on Saturday.
Under the agreement, the refugees had five hours to flee the cities and evacuate westwards along humanitarian corridors.
But just 400 refugees managed to flee Volnovakha before the ceasefire was shattered. It is unclear how many – if any – families escaped Mariupol.
The total number of people fleeing Russia’s invasion reached 1.5 million in just ten days on Sunday, making it Europe’s ‘fastest growing refugee crisis’ since World War Two, the United Nations said.
People cross on an improvised path under a bridge that was destroyed by a Russian airstrike, while fleeing the town of Irpin, Ukraine, on Saturday
People place a man in a wheelchair in the back of an SUV after crossing on an improvised path under a bridge that was destroyed by a Russian airstrike, as people flee the town of Irpin, Ukraine, on Saturday
Women hold hands while crossing the Irpin river on an improvised path under a bridge that was destroyed by a Russian airstrike
Ukrainians crowd under a destroyed bridge as they try to flee across the Irpin River in the outskirts of Kyiv
Raab rules out no-fly zone in Ukraine
Dominic Raab again ruled out imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying this would lead to a ‘massive escalation’ and would feed into the Russian president’s narrative.
He told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme: ‘We’re not going to get ourselves into a direct military conflict with Putin because that would be a massive escalation, but also that feeds Putin’s narrative.
‘Putin wants to say that he’s actually in a struggle with the west – he’s not’.
He called no-fly zones ‘very difficult, very challenging’ and said ‘we will do everything short of that to support Ukrainians’.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said his party supports the Government but he wants to see them going “further and faster”.
Sir Keir told ITV News: “Everybody understands why we can’t have a no-fly zone, why direct military assistance is not possible. That means sanctions have to be the strongest we have ever seen, the most effective we’ve ever seen. And in order for sanctions to work, you need to know what property the oligarchs have got here in the United Kingdom.
In comments carried on Ukrainian television, Mariupol mayor Vadym Boychenko said thousands of people had gathered for safe passage out of the city and buses were departing when shelling began.
‘We value the life of every inhabitant of Mariupol and we cannot risk it, so we stopped the evacuation,’ he said.
Before Russia announced the ceasefire, Ukraine had urged Moscow to create humanitarian corridors to allow children, women and the older adults to flee the fighting, calling them ‘question number one’.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence later said the ceasefire offer was likely to have been a ploy to distract attention away from it resetting its forces for a renewed attack.
Ukrainian authorities accused the Russians of the shelling, but Moscow’s defence ministry accuses the city’s defenders of exploiting a ‘human shield’.
It comes as supply issues and logistical problems have been plaguing Russian advances for a number of days as Ukrainian forces continue to put up stiff resistance and hold key cities.
As the slow progress infuriates Putin, Moscow has been forced to deny it is targeting civilian areas.
Dominic Raab said today that Putin’s army leaders in Ukraine could join him in jail for war crimes if they follow ‘illegal orders’ – as he warned the conflict could drag on for years.
The Deputy Prime Minister said economic sanctions had ‘put the squeeze’ on the Russia leader, which was forcing him to use ‘evermore brutal tactics’ to achieve a quick result.
Britain has already called for Mr Putin to face warn crimes prosecution, with reports of illegal weapons like cluster bombs and possibly thermobaric weapons being used.
Appearing on television this morning Mr Raab said Ukrainian forces have ‘proved a far tougher prospect than Putin expected’ and that military commanders could also be prosecuted if they did not refuse orders.
‘I think we ought to be under no doubt that our mission with our allies is to ensure Putin fails in Ukraine, and it’s going to take some time,’ Mr Raab said.
‘We’re talking about months, if not years, and therefore we will have to show some strategic stamina because this is not going to be over in days.’
He added: ‘For all of those commanders on the ground right through to the people around Putin in the Kremlin, what they do now, whether they give or whether they follow illegal orders to commit war crimes, they will be held to account for it, and they need to know that.’
Mr Raab also again ruled out imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying this would lead to a ‘massive escalation’ and would feed into the Russian president’s narrative.
Refugees, mostly women with children, arrive at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland, on Sunday
Refugees wrapped in blankets try to keep warm as they try to escape the ongoing conflict in Ukraine
A child wrapped in a blanket and woolly hat attempts to keep warm as his family waits to cross the border into Poland
A man with a child in his arms at the Porubne border crossing on Saturday
People lie on the floor of a hospital during shelling by Russian forces in Mariupol on Saturday, when efforts to evacuate residents were scuppered by bombing
His appearance followed Putin’s warning yesterday that ongoing resistance is putting Ukrainian statehood in jeopardy and sanctions imposed by the West sanctions are akin to ‘declaring war’.
He continued to pin the blame for the war squarely on the Ukrainian leadership and slammed their resistance to the invasion.
The Russian leader said: ‘If they continue to do what they are doing, they are calling into question the future of Ukrainian statehood. And if this happens, it will be entirely on their conscience.’
He also hit out at Western sanctions that have crippled Russia’s economy and sent the value of its currency tumbling.
Putin added: ‘These sanctions that are being imposed, they are akin to declaring war. But thank God, we haven’t got there yet.’
But Russia’s financial system suffered yet another blow late on Saturday as Mastercard and Visa announced they were suspending operations in the country.
It comes as some of Putin’s own soldiers remarkable called on Russia to stop the war yesterday.
At a press conference in Kyiv, captured Russian troops condemned the mission and called on their fellow citizens to rally against the conflict.
Andrey Chuvatarevsky, a soldier who served on a contract basis in the Moscow region, said: ‘Russians, do everything possible to stop this war. Neither Ukraine nor Russia needs this war. Only Putin needs this war.
The stricken Mi-24 plummets to the earth, hitting the ground nose-first, with all her pilots and navigators feared killed
This handout picture released by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine on March 5, 2022, shows what is said the wreckage of a Russian military aircraft on the outskirts of the city of Chernihiv
‘Try to inform the President, drive the military away from the equipment so that they don’t drive and bomb the civilian population. If you take to the streets, the President will decide to withdraw the troops. Then there will be no war.’
Fellow captured soldier Mikhail Kulikov warned that Ukrainian children were suffering: ‘People of Russia, stand up. Your children are here. Children of the Ukrainian people are also suffering here. There is no need to be afraid.
‘The Ukrainian people are not afraid of anyone. They will stand up for their land to the last. I also have two small children at home, to whom I do not know if I will get. Parents, block the roads, do not let your children go, do everything to make the Russian troops turn back.’
The two men were among ten soldiers who spoke at a press conference at Interfax-Ukraine yesterday. They had voluntarily surrendered and each noted that they had received good treatment and the chance to contact their relatives.