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Ukraine calls Russia’s evacuation proposal ‘absurd’

Kiev says it was “cynical” to offer refugees escape to Russia

Ukraine has rejected Russia’s proposal to evacuate civilians from major cities during its attack against the neighboring country. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk accused Moscow of blocking evacuations in the past by “shelling [safe passage] routes.”

“Now the Russians are saying that they can open [humanitarian] corridors, but they want civilians to leave for the Russian territory, which is absurd, cynical and unacceptable,” Vereshchuk wrote on social media on Monday.

The deputy PM later told reporters that “our people will not go from Kiev to Belarus to be later airlifted to the Russian Federation.” Vereshchuk said Russia must “accept” alternative routes for refugees put forward by the Ukrainian side.

The Russian Defense Ministry urged Ukraine not to prevent civilians from leaving Kiev, Kharkov, Sumy and Mariupol on Monday for Russia via established routes. According to Moscow’s plan, people leaving Kiev were to arrive in Belarus, from where they would be flown to Russia, while some of those leaving other cities would cross into Russia directly. The defense ministry promised a temporary ceasefire starting from 10am local time on Monday.

A particularly worrying situation is in Mariupol, a city on the Azov Sea coast surrounded by the forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) backed by Russian troops. The DPR, which broke off from Ukraine shortly after the 2014 coup in Kiev, considers the city its territory. 

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Russia announces new safe passage routes from Ukrainian cities

Attempts to arrange a safe passage from Mariupol on Saturday and Sunday had failed, with both sides blaming each other. Ukraine accused Russia of shelling the city, while Moscow claimed that Ukrainian “nationalists” were using civilians as “a human shield,” preventing them from leaving.

Ukraine reported heavy shelling of residential areas in Kiev, Kharkov, and other places. The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, insists that it only hits military sites, such as airfields, air defense units, and radar stations, and blamed numerous attacks on Ukrainian forces.

More than 1.7 million refugees have fled from Ukraine to the West after Russia attacked the country on February 24, according to the UN. An additional 96,000 people left for Russia in a week before the offensive, during the flare-up between Ukraine and the DPR, as well as the neighboring Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR), another entity that seceded from Ukraine in 2014.

Russia attacked its neighbor last month, saying that it was defending the DPR and LPR. Moscow also said it was seeking “demilitarization and denazification” of the country, insisting that Ukraine should never become a NATO member. Ukraine said the attack was completely unprovoked and denied the claim that it was planning to retake the breakaway republics by force.

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