Russia Keeps Up Attack, Again Halting Evacuation of Ukrainian Port City

KYIV, Ukraine —As Russia pursued its war against Ukraine in the face of determined resistance, a planned cease-fire and evacuation of civilians from Mariupol — a port city of a half-million people on Ukraine’s southeastern coast — was halted for a second consecutive day on Sunday amid “intense shelling” by Russian forces that have encircled the city, the mayor’s office said.

Civilians trying to leave Kyiv and the nearby town of Irpin also came under fire from Russian forces. Mortar shells fired at a battered bridge used by people fleeing the fighting killed a mother and her two children, as well as a family friend helping them leave.

Mariupol, across the country from Kyiv, is a key objective in the Russians’ effort to cut Ukraine off from the Sea of Azov and create a land bridge to Crimea. Residents are facing increasingly dire conditions in the city, which has been deprived of food, heat and electricity for days as Russian forces shell the town.

Russian mortar fire on Sunday killed a woman, her teenage son and her young daughter, as well as a family friend,  as they tried to escape the fighting near Irpin.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Although Russia had announced a temporary pause in fighting in some combat zones to allow civilians to flee, its continued shelling around evacuation paths made the notion of a cease-fire all but meaningless. And away from the front lines, the Russians were continuing to target civilian areas.

President Vladimir V. Putin put the blame on Ukraine in a telephone call with President Emmanuel Macron of France. Mr. Putin claimed that “Ukrainian nationalists” prevented civilians and foreign citizens from leaving Mariupol and neighboring Volnovakha despite a cease-fire announcement.

Mr. Putin denied that Russian forces were targeting civilians and vowed to reach all of his goals “through negotiation or war,” the French presidency said in a statement.

On the 11th day of the war, Russian forces continued to move slowly to try to encircle the capital, Kyiv, and to block a large part of Ukraine’s army east of the Dnieper River, preventing it from aiding in the defense of the city.

At least 364 civilians are confirmed to have been killed in Ukraine since Russian troops invaded on Feb. 24, and 759 others have been wounded, although the true numbers are probably “considerably higher,” a United Nations monitoring mission of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Sunday.

Cars at a checkpoint on Sunday in Mykolaiv, in Ukraine’s south, passed a crater from the first days of the war.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Outside Kyiv, desperate people tried to flee the town of Irpin, some so traumatized that emergency medical personnel were handing out cups of water laced with drops of barbiturates.

“Everybody is in a state of shock,” Dr. Natasha Demchevska said as she shook drops from a bottle of sedatives into plastic cups.

Lidya Polozuko, 59, a kindergarten teacher, said she had made her way through Irpin for 90 minutes, ducking between buildings to dodge fighting. “I saw Russian tanks in the town,” she said, adding, “All of this is because of Putin. I fear him and I am angry at him.”

More than 1.5 million Ukrainians have left the country in the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said after visiting the Moldovan border. He warned that the situation would only worsen.

In a video address, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, reiterated his impassioned request for Western allies to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. “The world is strong enough to close our skies,” he said. But NATO has ruled out any direct military confrontation with Russia because it could engender a much wider war.

Evacuees from Ukraine on Sunday at the border with Moldova in Palanca. U.N. officials said more than 1.5 million Ukrainians had left the country since Russia’s invasion.Credit…Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

Petro Poroshenko, the former president of Ukraine and erstwhile rival to Mr. Zelensky before the war, also called on the West to provide a no-fly zone over Ukraine and said the battle with Russia was the beginning of a third world war. In an interview from Kyiv, Mr. Poroshenko said that Mr. Putin “has declared war on the collective West.” He said that Ukraine was fighting for everyone who believes in democracy and the rule of law and that the country deserved more help.

Mr. Putin “wants to destroy the West, which is to destroy NATO” and the European Union “and to turn back history to 1991,” Mr. Poroshenko said.

Ukraine is fighting for its freedom and democracy, “but now we are fighting for the U.S., we are fighting for the U.K., fighting for the E.U.,” he said. “Nobody should have any illusion, because if Ukraine falls, Putin will go further. And everybody should understand that Putin will go as far as we allow him to go.”

Mr. Zelensky encouraged citizens to keep fighting. “The Ukraine that we know, love and protect will not give up to the enemy,” he said. “It takes a special heroism to protest when your city is occupied, even temporarily.” In Kherson and other, smaller towns like nearby Nova Kakhovka, Kalanchak, Berdyansk and Melitopol, just north of Crimea, there have been protests against the Russian occupiers.

Mr. Zelensky also had a warning for the residents of Odessa, a major port on the Black Sea in western Ukraine. “They are preparing to bomb Odessa,” he said. “Russians have always come to Odessa, always felt in Odessa only warmth, only sincerity. And now what? Bombs against Odessa, artillery against Odessa, missiles against Odessa. It will be a war crime.”

Ukrainian forces appear to have beaten back a Russian advance on Mykolaiv, a key city between Odessa and Kherson, a smaller port that Russian forces took several days ago. Russia’s advances in the south, spreading out from Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, aim to cut Ukraine’s access to both the Azov and Black Seas.

Anton Tabunshchyk, a regional lawmaker in Mykolaiv, inspecting a destroyed Russian military vehicle on Sunday.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

As the war ground on, it was analyzed by Gen. Thierry Burkhard, the chief of France’s defense staff. He admitted that American intelligence had been correct that Russia would invade Ukraine, while “our services rather thought that the conquest of Ukraine would have a monstrous cost and that the Russians had other options” to bring down Mr. Zelensky’s government, he told Le Monde.

Even if the war takes longer and becomes more brutal, General Burkhard said, “the risk is that the Russian steamroller” will eventually crush the Ukrainian military in a matter of weeks or months, depending on how well organized the Ukrainian resistance is. “The Russians are aiming to chop up the Ukrainian Army,” he said.

Russia-Ukraine War: Key Things to Know

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Evacuation efforts under attack. A Russian force advancing on Kyiv fired mortar shells at a battered bridge used by evacuees fleeing the fighting, leaving four people dead. In Mariupol, a planned evacuation was halted for a second consecutive day by “intense shelling.”

Protests in Russia. Amid antiwar rallies across Russia, the police said more than 3,000 people were arrested Sunday, the highest nationwide total in any single day of protest in recent memory. An activist group that tracks arrests reported detentions in 49 different Russian cities.

Military aid. The Biden administration is studying how to supply Russian-made Polish fighter jets to Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelensky repeated his calls for NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over his country, but U.S. lawmakers in both parties said they were largely opposed to that move.

The Russians are trying to block the eastern army from crossing the Dneiper River and aiding Kyiv. But to do that, General Burkhard said, “the Russians will have to engage the second echelon of their forces,” which they probably did not plan to do. The Russian forces also show some shakiness in their willingness to fight, he said.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visited Ukrainian evacuees at the Polish border on Saturday and in Moldova on Sunday. He promised President Maia Sandu of Moldova that the United States would rally international opposition to Russian aggression “whenever and wherever” it occurs.

“In this region, of course, there is no possibility for us now to feel really safe or secure,” Ms. Sandu said.

Moldova is a neutral country but is coping with its own breakaway, the pro-Russian region of Transnistria. Like Ukraine, Moldova is not a member of NATO and has aspirations to join the European Union. It says that more than 230,000 refugees have already come from Ukraine and that some 120,000 of those remain in the country of about 2.5 million people.

An abandoned harbor last week in the Bender district in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria. “In this region, of course, there is no possibility for us now to feel really safe or secure,” Moldova’s president said.Credit…Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

Mr. Blinken also confirmed reports that the United States was discussing with Poland how to supply Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine, with American F-16s going to Poland to replace them, after pleas from Mr. Zelensky for jets that Ukrainian pilots know how to fly.

“We are looking actively now at the question of airplanes that Poland may provide to Ukraine and looking at how we might be able to backfill, should Poland decide to supply those planes,” Mr. Blinken said. “I can’t speak to a timeline, but I can just say we’re looking at it very, very actively.”

But Polish officials seemed less than enthusiastic. After President Andrzej Duda said last week that Poland would not supply planes, the office of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Twitter on Sunday: “Poland won’t send its fighter jets to #Ukraine as well as allow to use its airports. We significantly help in many areas.”

And Moscow warned against the idea, threatening countries that allow the Ukrainian military to use their airfields.

Over the past week, the United States, Europe and others have frozen hundreds of billions of dollars of Russian assets, removed Russian banks from a system that enables international payments and erected steep barriers to investment in Russia. Businesses are pulling out at an ever-accelerating pace, the Moscow stock market has yet to reopen, the ruble has plunged and residents face the prospect of severe shortages. On Sunday, the credit card company American Express suspended its operations in Russia, a day after Visa and Mastercard did the same.

In Russia, the crackdown on independent media continued as BBC World News was taken off the air and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the U.S.-funded media outlet founded during the Cold War, announced that it would cease operations there.

But thousands of Russians braved the police and rallied across the country on Sunday against the war in Ukraine, despite the threat of long prison terms. The rights group OVD Info reported that at least 1,950 people were arrested on Sunday in 44 cities, bringing the total number of Russians arrested at antiwar protests since Feb. 24 to more than 10,000.

At least 1,950 people were arrested on Sunday in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities, the rights group OVD Info said. Credit…Anatoly Maltsev/EPA, via Shutterstock

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Kyiv, Steven Erlanger from Brussels and Anton Troianovski from Istanbul. Reporting was contributed by Valerie Hopkins and Marc Santora from Lviv, Ukraine; Michael Schwirtz from Mykolaiv; Lynsey Addario from Irpin; and Lara Jakes from Chisinau, Moldova.

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