Busloads of people exhausted by the war departed Sumy in northeastern Ukraine Tuesday, but their hard-won evacuation did little to lift spirits in a country where many are still under siege by Russian forces – and the reported death of a six-year-old prompted another shudder of horror.
At least two convoys were able to leave Sumy. Though their slow exodus took much of the day, “it has been safe,” said Ashwin Sandhu, an Indian student who was among the evacuees.
Civilians also continued to leave Irpin, the city on the western outskirts of Kyiv where a family was killed as they tried to flee to safety.
But Ukrainian authorities said ceasefire violations once again scuttled attempts to evacuate Mariupol, the city on the Sea of Azov that has been surrounded by Russian troops. It has now gone without electricity and water for a week. Roughly 300,000 people remain in the city, some so desperate that they have been reduced to drinking melted snow. Authorities said they have been unable to count the casualties there.
One death, however, managed to shock a country that had begun to grow numb from the atrocities of almost two weeks of war. On Monday, dehydration killed a six-year-old girl in Mariupol. She was found next to her mother, who was killed by a Russian shell, local authorities said. The death could not be verified.
“Listen to me carefully. A child died from dehydration, in 2022!” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday. And Mariupol, he said, “is being deliberately exhausted. Deliberately tortured.”
With the city under constant bombardment, people have spent much of the past week in basements and bathrooms, said Ludmila Tsybalova, who lives in Mangul, just east of Mariupol. Store shelves are empty. Roads have been destroyed.
“You can’t imagine what this war is like. It is the most terrible thing,” she said. “We hear these terrible sounds of bombing. We can’t sleep because we are afraid of being killed.”
More than 50 children have now died in the war, Mr. Zelensky told the British House of Commons in the first virtual appearance of a foreign leader before the chamber. “These people have taken them away from us,” he said, imploring the MPs to recognize Russia “as a terrorist state.”
More than two million refugees have now left Ukraine, according to the United Nations, making it Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since the Second World War.
Among those who remain, the ferocity of Russian attacks has people cowering in communities large and small, many with little prospect of evacuation.
Russian forces have surrounded Ichnya, an agricultural community of 10,000 about 200 kilometres west of Sumy, since the second day of the war. “We are hostages,” said Lyuty, the nom de guerre of an athletics teacher who has joined a local civil defence force – a few dozen people armed with hunting rifles. The Globe and Mail is not identifying him to protect him from retribution.
“There was one case where they cut the fingers off a person who had just raised the Ukrainian flag,” said Lyuty, which means “Fierce.”
“Then they shot him in his yard. They also burned down houses because people refused to give them food.” The allegations could not be independently verified, but he shared video with The Globe showing the smouldering remains of homes.
The Russian military has not occupied Ichnya, a city with little strategic importance and no military presence, and it continues to have power and water. But convoys have passed through nearby villages on their way toward Kyiv, and under the Russian blockade essential supplies such as insulin have grown short.
On Tuesday Germany became the latest country to say it would investigate Russia for war crimes in Ukraine. Canada has pledged to make a referral to the International Criminal Court for such an investigation.
“War crimes are part of Russia’s deliberate strategy,” Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Tuesday.
Ukraine has reported thousands of civilian deaths as the country’s catalogue of suffering expands. In the eastern city Kharkiv, Russian forces “carried out shelling and air bombardment with new vigour” Monday night, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service reported. Firefighters pulled four bodies from fires and debris. In Mykolaiv, in the south, shelling caused 11 fires, killing four. In Makariv, a Kyiv suburb, at least 13 people died in an attack on an industrial bakery. And in Sumy, at least 18 people were killed in “an airstrike that the enemy ruthlessly inflicted on the residential sector,” the emergency service said. Two were children.
“They’re bombing the life out of everything that is moving,” Mr. Zelensky said.
The Kremlin has said it does not target civilians. It accused Ukraine of employing human shields and faulted Kyiv for the failure of humanitarian corridors.
Dominik Stillhart, the director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said “the parties haven’t agreed military to military what exactly the [civilian evacuation] agreement is about.” Such an agreement, he told CNN, is needed to “finally and hopefully bring relief to the people who are waiting just for one thing: to get out of the hell that these towns have been turned into in the past 10 days.”
Russia has been punished by Western sanctions that have cut it off from large parts of global financial and transportation networks while leaving intact its energy exports to Europe, a major source of Russian revenue. But with the U.S. banning imports of Russian oil Tuesday, Moscow warned that it has “every right” to “impose an embargo on pumping gas” to Europe through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
“So far, we are not making this decision. No one will benefit from this,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said. “Although European politicians are pushing us to this with their statements and accusations against Russia.” After the invasion of Ukraine, Germany halted the certification process for Nord Stream 2, a natural gas pipeline that has already been built and would deepen the continent’s reliance on Russian energy.
In Ukraine, meanwhile, each day brings new terrifying reports. On the weekend, a chicken farm near Kherson, a southern port city that has fallen under Russian control, spread word that it was struggling to feed its flock and urged people to come and take chickens for food.
By Tuesday, the farm had confronted the realities of a war that has made countless civilians targets.
“Nobody could take the chickens,” said Zoia Molchanova, a Kherson resident. “People who tried to go there came under fire.”
With a report from Vanmala Subramaniam
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