Ukraine seeks to evacuate thousands of civilians from Mariupol

Wednesday, 20 April 2022 (17:58 IST)
Ukraine says it has reached a preliminary agreement with Russia on establishing a humanitarian corridor allowing civilians to escape the besieged city.

Baerbock says Germany has not made all arms deliveries public

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says Berlin has chosen not to make public all the weapons that it has sent to Ukraine to help defend the country from Russia's invasion.

During a press conference in Riga, the minister said Germany had already "delivered anti-tank Stinger [missiles] and other things that we didn't talk about in public so that the deliveries could be carried out quickly and securely."

She also added that the German government was not against sending armored vehicles to Ukraine. Baerbock said Berlin had already signed off on the option, but that it currently does not have the capacity to send equipment.

However, Baerbock said Germany was taking a long-term perspective on assisting Ukraine with military defense.

"It is about the next three months, and the next three years. This is where Germany can contribute more," she said. Germany has previously been criticized for not sending heavy weapons to Ukraine.

Responding to criticism from Ukraine's Ambassador to Germany Andriy Melnyk that Berlin has not been doing enough, German lawmaker Ralf Steger told DW this was not the case.

Steger, a member of the Bundestag for Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrats (SPD), said Germany was giving Ukraine "whatever we can, what works, what is there."

However, he added that there were concerns about the delivery of heavy weapons and whether this could mean NATO getting embroiled in the conflict. "There's a difference in opinion whether we should send heavy weapons or not. And one of the obligations our chancellor has, and the other heads of state as well, is keeping NATO out of the conflict," said Steger.

UN body says more than 5 million have fled abroad

The United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR says the number of Ukrainians fleeing abroad since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 now stands at 5,010,971.

The exodus is said to have been somewhat slower in recent weeks than it was at the beginning of the war.

More than 7 million people have been internally displaced within Ukraine since the invasion began, the UN says.

Ukraine rights ombudsman says rapes must be punished

Liudmyla Denisova, Ombudsman for Human Rights in Ukraine, has said the country will do its utmost to ensure that those responsible for using rape as a weapon of war in Ukraine face justice.

Denisova told DW there was evidence that sexual violence — against women, children and men — was being used as a tool for genocide in Russia's war on Ukraine.

"We are doing everything to document these crimes and to ensure that those criminals, starting with Putin, are all punished…We are trying to organize a special tribunal like Nuremberg, Rwanda or Yugoslavia so that the court has unlimited rights as to how the criminals can be punished."

"It is already possible and only a final political will is needed," said Denisova.

Military expert: Russia 'not ready' for Donbas operation

A former UK military intelligence officer has told DW that Russia is not "ready for this operation," referring to its renewed eastern assault in Donbas.

"Something of this size would really take several months to set up — they've had a few weeks," said Frank Ledwidge, a lecturer in military capabilities and strategy at England's University of Portsmouth.

"It speaks actually of a lot of pressure on the Russians to get things done, and I think that's going to backfire on them," he said.

The former military intelligence officer said the conflict will become a "battle of attrition" where "the side which can sustain its logistics and supply, will prevail in that battle."

He said that this is why Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is asking for heavy weaponry from its western partners, such as "artillery, armor, armored personnel carriers, things like that, as well as maintaining their air defenses."

Ledwidge said he expected Russian forces to run into problems, in part due to the lack of time to prepare for the new operation.

"They are going to face an enemy which is very well prepared and has been preparing for a number of years for an attack like this, and of course, an enemy that's demonstrated itself to be operationally and tactically far more efficient if they're given the weapons to complete their task," he said.

EU's Michel makes surprise visit to Kyiv

European Council President Charles Michel is visiting Kyiv in a previously unannounced visit to show solidarity with Ukraine.

"In Kyiv today. In the heart of a free and democratic Europe," Michel said on Twitter.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine Olga Stefanishyna greeted Michel on his arrival in the Ukrainian capital.

A meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was said to be on the agenda for Michel, who represents the European Union's 27 member states.

Ukraine says deal reached on Mariupol civilian corridor

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Wednesday that Kyiv has reached a preliminary agreement with Russia on establishing a humanitarian corridor for civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol.

Vereshchuk said the route had been agreed for the evacuation of women, children and older people.

"Given the very difficult security situation, changes may occur during the corridor action," Vereshchuk said in a message posted on Facebook.

"We will put our best effort to make everything work as it should."

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said he hoped 6,000 people could be evacuated from the city on Wednesday, adding he hoped the preliminary agreement with Russia would hold. Ukraine has accused Russia of blocking previous attempts at evacuation.

More than 100,000 people remain in the city awaiting evacuation, the mayor said.

The southeastern Ukrainian port city was surrounded by Russian troops on March 1, shortly after the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine. Both the port and the city are largely considered to have been destroyed.

Russia is reported to have been hitting the Azovstal steel plant, which is the main remaining Ukrainian stronghold in Mariupol, with bunker-busting bombs.

Ukraine's Azov battalion says hundreds of women, children and elderly civilians are sheltering at the site, with supplies running out.

Serhiy Volyna, the commander of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade at the plant, earlier on Wednesday called for an "extraction procedure."

He urged that everyone — soldiers, the wounded, and hundreds of civilians — be taken to safety on the territory of a third country.

"This is our appeal to the world," said Volyna. "This could be the last appeal of our lives. We are probably facing our last days, if not hours."

UK military says Russia shifting tactics

British military intelligence reports that fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine is intensifying as Russian troops seek to break through Ukrainian defenses.

It said Moscow was continuing to build its military presence on the eastern border of Ukraine.

The UK said Russian air activity in northern Ukraine was likely to remain low after Russia’s withdrawal, but that there was still the possibility of precision strikes against priority targets across the country. It said this was as Moscow sought to disrupt the movement of Ukrainian reinforcement eastwards.

Ukraine says its fended off attacks in Luhansk

The Ukrainian General staff says Russian troops have tried unsuccessfully to storm two towns in the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk.

"After the storming attempts of the Russian occupiers in Rubishne and Severodonetsk, 130 wounded soldiers of the enemy were taken to the local hospital in Novoaydar," the General Staff said in its situation report early on Wednesday.

The Ukrainian military leadership also said there had been attempted assaults on the small town of Isyum in the Kharkiv region and heavy fighting around Marjinka, Popasna, Torske, Selena Dolyna, and Kreminna.

The pro-Russian separatists have previously announced that they have gained control of Kreminna.

Moscow calls for Mariupol surrender

Russian forces again called for those still in the besieged Azovstal power plant to surrender by 2 p.m. Moscow time (1100 GMT). They also called on Ukrainian forces to lay down their weapons.

Serhiy Volyna, the commander of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade said his marines "may be facing our last days, if not hours." He added, "The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to one."

Thousands of troops and civilians remain at the plant. The mayor of Mariupol described a "horrible situation" where up to 2,000 people, mostly women and children, are trapped without "normal" supplies like water and food.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mentioned it in his late-night video address, calling the situation in the embattled port city "as difficult as it can be." He accused the Russian side of blocking all attempts to organize humanitarian corridors and rescuing civilians. Meanwhile, Russia said its Tuesday evening offer of such a corridor went unused and that another would be opened later on Wednesday.

In recent weeks, both sides have repeatedly accused each other of sabotaging efforts to allow civilians to be brought to safety.

US Treasury Secretary blames war for exacerbating food insecurity

Janet Yellen, the US Treasury Secretary, said Russia's war on Ukraine was responsible for stretching "already dire" global food insecurity. She said price and supply shocks had added to global inflationary pressures.

Prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, 10% of the global population faced chronic food insecurity, Yellen said. Economic models suggest at least 10 million more people could be pushed into poverty because of the conflict.

Yellen said that countries should avoid export bans that could drive prices higher while stepping up support for vulnerable populations and small-scale farmers.

Germany's Finance Minister Christian Lindner concurred, calling on countries to "keep agricultural markets open, not stockpile and not withhold stocks, and not impose unjustified export restrictions on agricultural products or nutrients."

Russia and Ukraine are both major agricultural exporters of foodstuffs, fertilizer and other products.

US: Ukraine received planes, parts to bolster air force

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Ukraine has received fighter planes and aircraft parts to bolster its air force.

"Right now have available to them more fixed-wing fighter aircraft than they did two weeks ago," Kirby said, adding, "Other nations who have experience with those kinds of aircraft have been able to help them get more aircraft up and running."

Kirby declined to specify how many aircraft or their origin.

The Pentagon announcement comes one week after US President Joe Biden unveiled $800 million in military aid for Ukraine.

IAEA: 'Direct communications' to Chernobyl restored

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi said "direct communications" between Chernobyl and Ukraine's national regulator have been restored.

The IAEA said contact between the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant, site of the world's worst nuclear catastrophe at the time the reactor exploded due to human error in 1986, and Ukraine's national regulator had been lost for "more than a month" when Russian forces occupied the facility.

Grossi said, "This was clearly not a sustainable situation, and it is very good news that the regulator can now contact the plant directly when it needs to."

According to the IAEA, Russia told it its troops left the area on March 31 having held the site for five weeks.

Summary of Tuesday's events in Russia's war on Ukraine

The UN said the number of people to have fled Ukraine hit 5 million, with a further 7 million people internally displaced by the fighting.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk reported that 76 prisoners of war were being returned to the country as part of the fourth exchange of captives with Russia.

Russia says it has opened a corridor so that Ukrainian troops trapped in a steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol can leave if they agree to surrender their weapons.

Russia's Defense Ministry demanded that measures be taken to release civilians from the Azovstal metallurgical plant in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Azovstal is the last remaining pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the key southeastern port.

According to the governor of the Luhansk region, Russian forces have seized the city of Kreminna, a city of around 18,000 people, in eastern Ukraine.

Four people including three emergency service officials defusing unexploded ordinance were among the dead in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, the city's mayor said. Kharkiv is near the front lines and has faced repeated shelling from Russian forces.

US President Joe Biden discussed further action concerning the Ukraine war in a call with G7, NATO and EU leaders. Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to send more artillery weaponry to Ukraine.

Ukraine's allies have agreed to provide artillery to fight a Russian advance, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, albeit again ruling out direct NATO involvement in the conflict.

Czech authorities have launched a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.

The British Defense Ministry said Russian shelling and strikes on the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine continued, but Ukrainian forces managed to repel numerous attempted advances. Britain has announced plans to revoke the Moscow Stock Exchange's status as a recognized stock exchange in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The European Commission has given the green light to a €20 billion ($21.6 billion) German scheme to help companies affected by the fallout of the war in Ukraine. The EU executive also approved €836 million in Polish state aid to support farmers hit by rising fertilizer costs.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres denounced Russia's new offensive in eastern Ukraine and called for a four-day truce to mark Orthodox Holy Week.

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