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Russia squeezes Ukraine’s cities as Zelenskyy condemns West’s ‘silence’ over planned attack

Ukraine’s president denounced a lack of response from other nations after Moscow announced its intent to launch a new offensive on Monday.
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As key cities in his country were encircled by Russian troops early Monday, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticized world leaders for what he called silence over Russia's announced plan to open the week with a new offensive.

While it celebrated holding control of the county on the 11th day of Russian attacks, Ukraine's military acknowledged the invaders' constricting force around the capital of Kyiv and other cities including Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mykolayiv.

“The invaders did not achieve the ultimate goal of eleven days of occupation,” it said.

After being accused of violating a temporary cease-fire over the weekend, Russia said early Monday that it would propose to hold its fire beginning at 10 a.m. to allow civilians to evacuate. The announcement did not specify an end time.

The announcement, made via state-run TASS, said the the cease-fire would cover Kyiv, Kharkiv, Sumy and Mariupol. It warns Ukraine against attempts to deceive Russia, presumably during the cease-fire.

Sunday's attempt to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol was halted for the second day in a row after Ukraine said Russian forces violated a temporary cease-fire with a barrage of shelling.

Russian-backed separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic” told Russia's RIA state news agency that the Ukrainian side had refused to guarantee the cease-fire. 

Russian troops on Sunday created a "land corridor" from Crimea to Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine, Ukraine's Chief of the General Staff said in a statement.

Zelenskyy smarted Sunday over what he said was silence from world leaders after Russia's Defense Ministry on Sunday announced plans to strike defense industry targets.

“Just think about it, the feeling of impunity," he said in a translation of a video he posted to multiple platforms. "They are announcing these atrocities ahead of time. Why? Because there is no reaction. Because there is silence."

“The Russians began to regroup their forces,” the Mariupol City Council said on its Telegram channel, adding that “heavy shelling of the city” had resumed.

“It is extremely dangerous to evacuate people in such conditions,” the council said.

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior ministry, also accused Russia of shelling the city in a post on his personal Telegram channel.

However, an official from the Russian-backed separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic” told Russia's RIA state news agency that the Ukrainian side refused to guarantee the cease-fire. The same official had earlier confirmed that a humanitarian corridor out of Mariupol had been set to take place Sunday.

Russia has consistently denied targeting civilians.

The International Committee of the Red Cross blamed both Ukrainian and Russian forces in a news release for failing to agree on the details of the safe passage. It estimated that 200,000 people had been preparing to leave the city.

Latest developments on Ukraine

  • For the second day in a row, a limited cease-fire is announced to let civilians leave the besieged city of Mariupol.
  • Officials in the key port city say no evacuations took place and accuse Russian forces of shelling the area.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warns that Russian forces could be planning an attack on the key port city of Odessa.
  • The U.S. begins talks with Poland about a deal to send fighter jets to Ukraine.
  • The World Health Organization sounds the alarm about attacks on Ukraine’s health care infrastructure.
  • American Express, TikTok and Netflix suspend business operations in Russia.

Officials in Mariupol, population 400,000, have sounded the alarm about a “humanitarian catastrophe,” saying Russian shelling has hit critical infrastructure and left the city without water, heat or electricity.

Attempts to move civilians out of Mariupol and the smaller nearby city of Volnovakha were aborted shortly after they began Saturday. Each side blamed the other.

However, more than 1.5 million people have now fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, Filippo Grandi, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, tweeted Sunday.

Grandi called it “the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.”

Pope Francis appealed for a cease-fire and peace negotiations in a speech Sunday, saying, "Rivers of blood and tears are flowing in Ukraine."

"The need for humanitarian assistance in that troubled country is growing dramatically by the hour," the pope said. "I make a heartfelt appeal for humanitarian corridors to be genuinely secured and for aid to be guaranteed and access facilitated to the besieged areas in order to offer vital relief to our brothers and sisters oppressed by bombs and fear."

Ukrainian and Russian officials agreed to create humanitarian corridors for civilians in a second round of talks last week, although no progress was made on a broader halt to Russia’s attack on Ukraine. A third round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators is expected Monday.

Since Russia launched its offensive Feb. 24, the progress of President Vladimir Putin’s military progress has been slowed by logistical issues and Ukrainian resistance on the ground. Russia is moving increasingly to bombard cities and towns from the air.

In a phone call Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Putin said his campaign in Ukraine was going to plan, according to the Kremlin’s readout of the call.

He said it would not end until Kyiv stops fighting and Russia's “well-known demands” are met.

Putin has previously called for “demilitarization” and “denazification” of Ukraine and insisted that the country should not be allowed to join NATO. He has also called for Crimea to be recognized as part of Russia and for separatist regions in eastern Ukraine to be recognized as independent states.

French President Emmanuel Macron pushed Putin in a call Sunday to ensure the safety of nuclear power sites and to help guarantee clear passage of humanitarian aid to Ukrainians, according to an Élysée Palace source with knowledge of the call.

Putin denied allegations that his army is targeting civilian sites and laid the responsibility of evacuating civilians on Ukrainian leaders, even though Macron reminded him that it is the Russians who are on the offensive, the source said.

Putin also told Macron it is “not his intention target nuclear centers,” according to the source. He reiterated his demands to Macron as a condition of ending the attacks on Ukraine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told CNN that there needs to be a "strong and clear investigation" into potential war crimes by Russians.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also told CNN that U.S. intelligence has seen "very credible reports of deliberate attacks on civilians."

"We’ve seen very credible reports about the use of certain weapons, and what we’re doing right now is documenting all of this, putting it all together, looking at it and making sure that as people and the appropriate organizations and institutions investigate whether war crimes have been or are being committed that we can support whatever they’re doing,” Blinken said.

Blinken said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the U.S. is in talks with European allies about potentially banning imports of Russian oil.

“I spoke to the president and the leading members of the Cabinet about this just yesterday from Europe, and we are now in very active discussions with our European partners about banning the import of Russian oil to our countries, while of course at the same time maintaining a steady global supply of oil,” he said.

Asked whether the U.S. would ban Russian oil “unilaterally,” Blinken said: “A hallmark of everything we’ve done to date has been this coordination with allies and partners. We are much more effective across the board.”

Also Sunday, American Express, Netflix and TikTok announced that they were suspending operations in Russia.

"In light of Russia’s ongoing, unjustified attack on the people of Ukraine, American Express is suspending all operations in Russia. As a result, globally issued American Express cards will no longer work at merchants or ATMs in Russia," the company said in a statement. "Additionally, cards issued locally in Russia by Russian banks will no longer work outside of the country on the American Express global network."

Visa and Mastercard announced Saturday that they were suspending operations in Russia.

A spokesperson for Netflix confirmed Sunday, “Given the circumstances on the ground, we have decided to suspend our service in Russia.”

Zelenskyy said in video posted to his social media channels earlier Sunday that rocket fire had destroyed a civilian airport in the central city of Vinnytsia on Sunday.

In another video, he said Russia could be preparing another attack, this one in Odessa, which has a population of more than 1 million people. Capturing Odessa, a key strategic port on the southern coast, could largely shut Ukraine off from international shipping.

Appealing to the Russian people directly, Zelenskyy said Ukrainians wanted peace.

“This is a fight for your country, as well,” he said.

Thousands of Russians have taken to the streets to protest the invasion. Almost 3,000 people were detained Sunday at anti-war demonstrations in 49 cities across Russia, according to the independent Russia-based protest monitor OVD-Info.

Seeking to clamp down on such protests, Russia’s Parliament passed a bill introducing sentences of up to 15 years in prison for intentionally spreading “fake” information about the Russian army on Friday.

Zelenskyy also praised President Joe Biden, whom he spoke with for 30 minutes Saturday evening, and thanked him for his decisiveness and for preparing more sanctions.

Zelenskyy spoke with Biden by telephone after he spoke Saturday with about 300 members of Congress, to whom he argued the case for establishing a no-fly zone over Ukrainian airspace.

The U.S. and its Western allies have said creating a no-fly zone would be likely to put them on course for a direct military confrontation with Russia and risk a wider war.

A White House spokesperson said Saturday that the Biden administration was in talks with Poland about a deal that would involve the country’s donating its old Russian-made MiG fighters to Ukraine and replacing them with the purchase of U.S.-made F-16 jets.

Putin warned Saturday that any move to create a no-fly zone above Ukraine would be viewed as “participation” in the conflict.

He also likened crippling Western sanctions that have sent Russia’s economy spiraling to a declaration of war. That did not stop Visa and Mastercard from joining a host of other companies in announcing that they would suspend operations in Russia.

Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Putin in Moscow on Saturday. Bennett, who told his Cabinet on Sunday that he tried to “assist the dialogue between all the sides,” revealed no details.

Israel is one of the few countries that have good working relations with both Russia and Ukraine; Bennett's office said he also spoke on the phone Sunday with Zelenskyy.

Meanwhile, the civilian casualties continue to mount. Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian disaster across the country as food, water and medical supplies run short.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Sunday that 351 civilians have been killed and acknowledged that the figure would most likely be much higher.

The World Health Organization also said Sunday that it had verified six attacks on Ukraine’s health care facilities, transportation and personnel.

“Even in times of conflict, we must protect the sanctity and safety of health care, a fundamental human right,” the WHO said in a tweet.