Moscow offers evacuation routes – to Russia – while killing civilians



Officials in Moscow have offered Ukrainians escape routes to Russia and its close ally Belarus, drawing cries of outrage from Ukraine, where officials say a bread factory had been hit by an air strike in the latest Russian bombardment.

The bodies of at least 13 civilians were recovered from rubble after a factory in the town of Makariv in the Kyiv region was hit, local emergency services said.

Five people were rescued of the 30 believed to have been there at the time.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the reported attack.

The Russian offer preceded a planned third round of peace talks on Monday between Ukrainian and Russian negotiators.

Earlier rounds produced little but pledges to allow humanitarian access that have not been successfully implemented.

Two days of failed ceasefires for the besieged southern port city of Mariupol have left hundreds of thousands trapped without food and water under relentless bombardment.

As Russian and Ukrainian delegations assembled for the talks, a Ukrainian negotiator urged Russia to stop its assault on Ukraine, which the United Nations said had sent 1.7 million people fleeing to central Europe.

“In a few minutes, we will start talking to representatives of a country that seriously believes large-scale violence against civilians is an argument,” Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter.

“Prove that this is not the case.”

Under the Russian offer, a corridor from Kyiv would lead to Russia’s ally Belarus, while civilians from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city, would be directed to Russia, according to maps published by the RIA news agency.

“Attempts by the Ukrainian side to deceive Russia and the whole civilised world… are useless this time,” the Russian defence ministry said after announcing the “humanitarian corridors”.

A spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the proposal “completely immoral” and said 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 said.

Russia is the world’s biggest exporter of oil and gas and oil prices spiked to their highest levels since 2008 as the United States and European allies considered banning Russian oil imports.

Russia and Ukraine are also both among the world’s main exporters of food and industrial metals.

Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians.

It calls the campaign it launched on February 24 a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and remove leaders it describes as neo-Nazis.

Ukraine and its allies call this a transparent pretext for an invasion to conquer a country of 44 million people.

The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Russian forces were “beginning to accumulate resources for the storming of Kyiv,” a city of more than three million, after days of slow progress in their main advance south from Belarus.

Ukraine said 2000 civilians were able to leave Irpin, a Kyiv suburb that has been under heavy attack, with Ukrainian police releasing footage of civilians making their way out.

But in Mariupol, Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov said there were continuous air bombing raids on the city overnight.

Orlov told CNN authorities were ready to move 6000 people out on Saturday but Russian forces had bombed 29 big municipal buses that were to transport them.

Russia has accused Ukraine’s military of blocking the planned evacuations.

Ukraine said on Monday its forces had retaken control of the town of Chuhuiv in the northeast, site of heavy fighting for days, and of the strategic Mykolayiv airport in the south, which the regional governor said was under tank fire.

Neither claim could be verified.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters Russia would halt operations if Ukraine ceased fighting, amended its constitution to declare neutrality and recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the independence of regions held by Russian-backed separatists.


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