Red Cross heads again to Mariupol as Russia shifts focus to Ukraine

  • Ukrainian forces regain more territory around Kyiv
  • Russian missiles hit the southern port of Odessa
  • The Pentagon is sending an additional $300 million in military aid to Ukraine
  • Russia threatens to cut off gas from Europe unless it pays the ruble

ZAPOREJIA, Ukraine (Reuters) – A Red Cross convoy bound for the Ukrainian city of Mariupol will try again to evacuate civilians from the besieged port on Saturday, as Russian forces look to regroup for fresh offensives in the southeast.

Encircled from the early days of the five-week-old Russian invasion, Mariupol was Moscow’s main target in the Donbass region of southeastern Ukraine. Tens of thousands are trapped there, with little access to food and water.

The International Committee of the Red Cross sent a team on Friday to drive a convoy of about 54 Ukrainian buses and other special vehicles out of the city, but they returned, saying conditions made it impossible to move forward. Read more

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“They will try again on Saturday to facilitate the safe passage of civilians,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement. A previous Red Cross evacuation attempt in early March failed because the road turned out to be unsafe.

Russia and Ukraine agreed on humanitarian corridors during the war that facilitated the evacuation of thousands of civilians.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says Operation Mariupol has been approved by both sides, but key details are still being worked out, such as the exact timing and destination of the convoy, which will be an unspecified location in Ukraine.

In an early morning video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Russian forces were moving toward the Donbass region and northeast toward Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, where previous Russian strikes had inflicted heavy damage on urban areas.

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“I hope that there are still solutions to the situation in Mariupol,” Zelensky said. “The whole world has to react to this humanitarian catastrophe.”

In Chuhiv, a city in the Kharkiv province, wounded with shrapnel and gunshot wounds flooded the hospital. Two women sat on adjacent beds, their limbs covered and secured with metal brackets.

“An entire bus was shot. We were in a bus carrying civilians. There were about 20 people on board, 14 people survived. Eight bodies,” a woman who gave her name as Yulia told Reuters TV.

Alina Chigurets was sitting next to her, remembering her screaming when the bus was attacked, and she pointed to her injured legs and hips.

“The windows started shaking. Then I saw something like holes. Then bullets started flying over them. Powder and smoke… I was screaming and my mouth was full of it,” Chigurets said.

Shift from Kyiv

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops on February 24 for what he called a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and “disfigure” its leadership.

The West calls it an unprovoked war of aggression that has killed thousands, displaced a quarter of Ukraine’s population and brought tensions between Russia and the United States to their worst point since the Cold War.

With the aim of lowering nuclear tensions with Russia, the Air Force told Reuters, the US military has canceled the test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that was initially intended only to delay it. Read more

But the United States and its European allies have sent military aid to Ukraine, including an additional $300 million in aid that the Pentagon announced late Friday. New aid includes laser-guided missiles and anti-drone systems.

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The New York Times, citing a US official, said Washington would also work with allies to move Soviet-made tanks to Ukraine to bolster its defenses in the Donbass. The Pentagon declined to comment to Reuters, while the White House did not immediately respond. Read more

Russia said at peace talks this week that Donbass, where it has supported separatists fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014, would now be the focus of its war effort. Russian forces left behind destroyed villages and deserted tanks as they moved away from the capital, Kyiv. Read more

After failing to capture one major city, Russia described the withdrawal of troops near Kyiv as a goodwill gesture in the peace negotiations. Ukraine and its allies say that the Russian forces were forced to regroup after incurring heavy losses due to the determined Ukrainian resistance.

Across the border from the Russian city of Kharkiv, Moscow said Ukrainian helicopters bombed a fuel depot on Friday, causing a massive fire. Ukraine denied responsibility for the incident, the first of its kind in the war.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would reinforce its western borders so as not to “contemplate an attack”. Read more

As sirens sounded across Ukraine before dawn on Saturday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported Russian airstrikes on the Luhansk cities of Severodonetsk and Rubezny. In that eastern region and in neighboring Donetsk, pro-Russian separatists declared separatist republics recognized by Moscow just before their invasion.

Odessa hits

As Ukrainian forces regained more territory around Kyiv on Friday, officials in the Black Sea port of Odessa said air defenses thwarted an attempted attack on critical infrastructure. Reuters was not immediately able to verify the account.

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Odessa Governor Maxim Marchenko said three missiles hit a residential area, causing casualties. He said the missiles were launched from the Iskander missile system in the Crimea peninsula in southern Ukraine, which Russia annexed in 2014.

Russia denies targeting civilians. Odessa and Mariupol straddle the Black Sea and have been prime targets for Russia due in part to their strategic locations.

Facing unprecedented sanctions, Russia has threatened to cut gas supplies to Europe unless buyers pay in rubles. Europe has vowed to stay united against Russian demand and Moscow has said it will not halt supplies until new payments are due later in April. Read more

Wang Lutong, Director-General of European Affairs of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Saturday that China is not deliberately circumventing sanctions against Russia, even though Beijing and Moscow have vowed to deepen their relations in recent weeks. Read more

Mediators from Turkey, where the latest round of face-to-face peace talks were held, and the United Nations are pressing for a halt to the fighting.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters that UN aid coordinator Martin Griffiths will travel to Moscow on Sunday and then to Kyiv as the UN seeks a humanitarian ceasefire.

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Additional reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Rami Ayoub and Simon Cameron Moore. Editing by Daniel Wallis and William Mallard

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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