Live updates: No water or heat for civilians in Mariupol

The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:

MARIUPOL, UKRAINE — The besieged Azov Sea port city of Mariupol has seen some of the most desperate scenes of the war, with civilians struggling without water, heat, basic sanitation or phones for several days.

With water supplies cut, people have been collecting water from streams or melting snow.

The representatives of Ukraine’s Red Cross are trying to deliver first aid to those who need it the most, but resources are scarce.

“There is no heating, electricity, water, natural gas … In other words there is nothing. no household commodities. The water is collected from the roofs after the rain,” says Aleksey Berntsev, head of Red Cross of Mariupol.

People sheltered in underground basements, anxiously waiting for news of evacuation efforts as they struggled to survive in a city where bodies have been left uncollected on the streets.

Berentsev said that apart from delivering aid, giving local residents information is one of the most important task they are undertaking.

“Sometimes information is more important for the people than food,” he says.

Power cuts mean that many residents have lost internet access and now rely on their car radios for information, picking up news from stations broadcast from areas controlled by Russian or Russian-backed separatist forces.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand lawmakers have unanimously passed a bill to impose economic sanctions on Russia.

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Unlike many countries that had already imposed sanctions, New Zealand’s laws didn’t previously allow it to apply meaningful measures unless they were part of a broader United Nations effort. Because Russia has U.N. Security Council veto power, that had left New Zealand hamstrung.

The new law, which was rushed through in a single day, targets those in Russia associated with the invasion, including oligarchs. It will allow New Zealand to freeze assets and stop superyachts or planes from arriving. Lawmakers said it would stop New Zealand becoming a safe haven for Russian oligarchs looking to avoid sanctions elsewhere.

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LONDON — British defense officials say Russia’s assault on Kyiv has failed to make progress but several Ukrainian cities continue to suffer heavy shelling.

In an update posted on social media Wednesday, the Ministry of Defence said “fighting north-west of Kyiv remains ongoing with Russian forces failing to make any significant breakthroughs.”

It said the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remain encircled by Russian forces and are being heavily shelled.

The ministry said Ukraine’s air defenses were holding up against Russian aircraft, “probably preventing them achieving any degree of control of the air.

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BEIJING — China says it is sending humanitarian aid including food and daily necessities worth 5 million yuan ($791,000) to Ukraine while continuing to oppose sanctions against Russia over its invasion.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters an initial batch was sent to the Ukrainian Red Cross on Wednesday with more to follow “as soon as possible.”

China has largely backed Russia in the conflict and Zhao reiterated Beijing’s opposition to biting economic sanctions against Moscow.

Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing that “wielding the stick of sanctions at every turn will never bring peace and security but cause serious difficulties to the economies and livelihoods of the countries concerned.”

He said China and Russia will “continue to carry out normal trade cooperation, including oil and gas trade, in the spirit of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.”

China has sought to blame the U.S. for instigating the conflict, citing what it calls Washington’s failure to adequately consider Russia’s “legitimate” security concerns in the face of NATO expansion.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities have announced a 9 a.m.-9 p.m. cease-fire along several evacuation routes for civilians in besieged or occupied cities, though it is unclear whether Russian forces will respect it.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russian authorities on Wednesday confirmed the cease-fire along the evacuation corridors to Ukrainian counterparts and the Red Cross.

She said the routes lead out of Sumy in the northeast, Mariupol on the Azov Sea coast, Enerhodar in the south, Volnovakha in the southeast, Izyum in the east, and several towns in the Kyiv region.

All the corridors lead to sites elsewhere in Ukraine that are currently held by the Ukrainian government.

The route out of Sumy, on the Russian border, is the only one that has been used successfully so far, allowing for the evacuation of 5,000 people on Tuesday southwest to the city of Poltava.

Ukrainian officials released videos Wednesday showing trucks and buses with red cross symbols heading to besieged cities.

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BERLIN — The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross says he hopes that corridors to evacuate civilians from under-fire cities in Ukraine will begin to work better after a sputtering start.

ICRC President Peter Maurer told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio on Wednesday that his organization has been working for days to bring the warring parties together and encourage them to hold detailed military-to-military talks on enabling civilians to flee.

Maurer said it’s important that agreements succeed “because the military units stand close to each other and the smallest uncertainty, as we have seen in recent days, leads instantly to exchanges of fire, and that makes the escape routes impossible.”

He added: “We hope that it will work better today; in any case, we are talking to the parties and, above all, the parties are talking to each other — that is the most important thing at the moment.”

But, pressed on how confident he is, he added: “I really can’t speculate. But we hope that today a large number can at least get to safety at least from some cities. I wouldn’t venture to speculate how the day will develop in eastern Ukraine in particular.”

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Russia’s Defense Ministry says its operation thwarted a large-scale plot to attack separatist-held regions of eastern Ukraine.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov on Wednesday cited from what he claimed was an intercepted Ukrainian National Guard document laying out plans for a weekslong operation targeting the Donbas region.

Konashenkov said in a televised statement: “The special military operation of the Russian armed forces, carried out since Feb. 24, preempted and thwarted a large-scale offensive by strike groups of Ukrainian troops on the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, which are not controlled by Kyiv, in March of this year.”

He did not address Russia’s shelling, airstrikes and attacks on Ukrainian civilians or cities, Russian military casualties or any other aspect of its bogged-down campaign.

Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation,” and official statements about the war have focused almost exclusively on fighting and evacuations in the separatist-held regions, where Russian-backed forces have been fighting Ukraine’s military since 2014.

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LVIV, Ukraine — The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces says the country is building up its defense of key cities in the north, south and east as Russia’s advance has stalled.

In a statement early Wednesday, it said that forces around Kyiv are resisting the Russian offensive with unspecified strikes and “holding the line.”

The Ukrainian general staff said that in the northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces are placing military equipment among residential buildings and on farms.

And in the south, it said Russians dressed in civilian clothes are advancing on the city of Mykolaiv.

Meanwhile, the administration of the northeastern border city of Sumy says further civilian evacuations are planned Wednesday.

In a Telegram post, regional administration chief Dmytro Zhyvytskyy says a safe corridor will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 22 buses that traveled the day before from Sumy southwest to the city of Poltava would return Wednesday afternoon to pick up more people seeking to flee. Priority will go to pregnant women, women with children, the elderly and the disabled.

Sumy is on the Russian border and has seen deadly shelling in recent days. The Sumy-Poltava route is the only one successfully used so far for humanitarian evacuations, and some 5,000 people, including 1,700 foreign students, were brought out Tuesday. Other evacuation efforts stalled or were thwarted by Russian shelling.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s energy minister said Russian forces that now control a Ukrainian nuclear plant are forcing the exhausted staff to record an address that they plan to use for propaganda purposes.

Russian troops have been in control of the Zaporizhzhia plant, the largest in Europe, since seizing it an attack on Friday that set a building on fire and raised fears of a nuclear disaster. It was later determined that no radiation was released.

Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said on Facebook that about 500 Russian soldiers and 50 pieces of heavy equipment are inside the station. He said the Ukrainian staff are “physical and emotionally exhausted.”

Russia describes the war as a “special military operation” and says it is conducting targeted attacks. Halushchenko’s reference to propaganda appears to refer to Russian efforts to show it is not endangering Ukrainian civilians or infrastructure.

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LOS ANGELES — Lawmakers in the second most populous city in the U.S. on Tuesday approved a resolution condemning the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin in waging war against Ukraine.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 14-0 to pass the resolution, which also urges international divestment of holdings in Russia.

The Board of Supervisors in neighboring Orange County unanimously passed a similar resolution Tuesday. It encourages the county to sever ties with any Russian-backed bank or financial institution. The county currently doesn’t have any direct investments in Russia.

In Los Angeles, members of the City Council expressed support for Ukraine, denounced “horrific acts against humanity” and expressed concern that history is repeating itself.

“What’s happening in Ukraine right now is close to home for me,” Councilmember Paul Koretz said.

“My mother’s family fled Kyiv a hundred years ago to avoid the Russian pogroms, and I’ve been sick to my stomach seeing the photos of innocent men, women and especially children who have been murdered in this invasion,” he said.

Koretz also said it was important to support LA’s Russian communities and businesses.

“They are not responsible for the actions of an out-of-control madman,” he said.

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LOS ANGELES — A former Miss Ukraine winner on Tuesday described her journey with her young son to escape Kyiv and her homeland as Russian troops invaded the country last month, and called on countries to do more to arm her countrymen and women.

Veronika Didusenko, who was crowned Miss Ukraine in 2018, said she and her 7-year-old son woke on the first day of the invasion to the sounds of air raid sirens and explosions, and they joined thousands of others on the road to evacuate.

“On my … journey to the border of Ukraine, there was no place where sirens would not sound, where rockets and bombs would not explode,” she said.

Didusenko told her story at a news conference in the Los Angeles office of women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred.

Didusenko and her son eventually made it to Moldova and traveled through other European countries before reaching Geneva, Switzerland. Didusenko said she made the “heartbreaking” decision to leave her son there to travel to the United States to hold the press conference with Allred.

“Right now, millions of Ukrainian children and their mothers are trembling at every sound in the subway stations and bomb shelters. Even more heartbreaking that women are giving birth in such conditions in these shelters,” Didusenko said.

She said Ukrainians are committed to defending their country, but need more help from other nations.

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WASHINGTON — Additional air defense capabilities are the number one priority for Ukraine’s military right now, the country’s U.S. defense attache, Maj. Gen. Borys Kremenetskyi, said Tuesday after returning from a meeting at the Pentagon.

“It can be ground based air defense systems. It can be fighter jets, whatever possible,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

He said there are countries around the world that have Soviet-produced air defense systems that the Ukrainians already know how to operate. “The U.S. government can also motivate those countries to provide us this equipment,” he said.

They also need additional anti-tank, anti-armor weapons and coastal defense capabilities to defend against Russian ships at the south.

He said Ukraine is grateful for the support it has gotten from the U.S. and its allies, which has allowed Ukraine to slow the Russian advance. “As combat is ongoing, we need more right now,” Kremenetskyi said. “So we try to work with our partners to have it as soon as possible.”

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UNITED NATIONS — Natalia Mudrenko, the highest-ranking woman at Ukraine’s U.N. Mission, is accusing Russia of effectively holding civilians “hostage,” and says “the critical situation” in Mariupol and other cities demands immediate action by world leaders and humanitarian and medical organizations.

She told a U.N. Security Council meeting Tuesday afternoon on women in conflict that civilians, mostly women and children, “are not allowed to leave and the humanitarian aid is not let in.”

“If they try to leave, Russians open fire and kill them,” Mudrenko said, her voice shaking with emotion. “They are running out of food and water, and they die.”

The Russian military has denied firing on convoys and charged that the Ukrainian side was blocking the evacuation effort.

Mudrenko said a 6-year-old girl died Monday in the besieged city of Mariupol on the Azov Sea, “alone in the last moments of her life as her mother was killed by Russian shelling.”

On Tuesday in the Mykolaiv region, she said “Russian occupiers fired at a van with a group of female teachers of the local orphanage (and) three of them were killed.” She said there are also “cases of child sexual violence committed by occupiers.”

Mudrenko said the war has highlighted the role of Ukrainian women in defending their country, saying there were 57,000 women in the army at the start of 2021, comprising 22.8% of the force.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the leaders of the U.S. and Britain for banning Russian oil imports.

“This is a powerful signal to the whole world,” he said in his daily address to the nation at the close of another day of war. “Either Russia will respect international law and not wage wars, or it will have no money.”

Zelenskyy said when he went to address the British Parliament, “the scariest figure was the 50 Ukrainian children killed in 13 days of war. But then in an hour it became 52 children. I will never forgive this. And I know that you will never forgive the occupiers.”

Zelenskyy called for negotiations with Russia on ending the war. “The war must be stopped. We need to sit down at the negotiating table, but for honest, substantive talks.”

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Tuesday that Poland’s offer to give its MiG-29 fighter jets to the U.S. so they can be passed to Ukraine raises serious concerns for the NATO alliance and the plan is not “a tenable one.”

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement that the prospect of jets departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace contested with Russia in the Ukraine war is concerning. He said it’s not clear to the U.S. that there is a substantive rationale for it.

The U.S., he said, will continue to talk to Poland about the matter.

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