Ukrainians evacuate Kyiv suburbs amid worsening crisis

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Residents of the bombed outskirts of Ukraine’s capital scrambled their way across the slippery wooden planks of a makeshift bridge that offered the only way to escape Russian shelling, amid renewed efforts Wednesday to save civilians in besieged towns.

With sporadic gunfire echoing behind them, firefighters dragged an elderly man to safety in a wheelbarrow, a child grabbed the hand of a helping soldier and a woman cradled a fluffy cat in his winter coat. On the other side of the bridge, they all passed a wrecked van with the words “Our Ukraine” written in the dust covering its windows.

“We have little time at the moment,” said Yevhen Nyshchuk, a member of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces. “Even though there is a ceasefire right now, there is a high risk of shells falling at any time.”

Thousands of people have been killed, civilians and soldiers, in two weeks of fighting since President Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine. The UN estimates that more than 2 million people have fled the countrythe largest exodus of refugees in Europe since the end of the Second World War.

The crisis is likely to escalate as Russian forces step up their bombardment of cities across the country in response to stronger-than-expected resistance from Ukrainian forces. Russian casualties were “far greater” than Putin and his generals expected, CIA Director William Burns said on Tuesday.

In addition to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in many Ukrainian cities, concerns over the safety of its nuclear power plants amid the fighting have raised alarm bells around the world.

On Wednesday, the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear site was cut off from the power grid and forced to switch to generators. This raised concerns about the plant’s ability to keep nuclear fuel safely cool, although the UN nuclear watchdog said it had seen “no critical impact on the security” of the power cut.

Diesel generators in Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, have fuel for 48 hours, electricity grid operator Ukrenerho said. The plant was closed in 2000, but the deserted site still stores spent nuclear fuel from Chernobyl and other nuclear power plants around Ukraine.

Authorities announced a new ceasefire on Wednesday to allow civilians to escape from towns around the capital, Kyiv, as well as the southern towns of Mariupol, Enerhodar and Volnovakha, Izyum in the east and Sumy in the northeast. Previous attempts to establish safe evacuation corridors have largely failed due to attacks by Russian forces.

It wasn’t immediately clear how successful Wednesday’s new effort had been. There has been no news from the crucial port of Mariupol, where days of shelling have largely cut off residents from the outside world and forced them to seek food and water.

But some people began to emerge from the Kyiv suburbs along an evacuation route the Ukrainians said the two sides had agreed upon, even as explosions could be heard in the capital and raid sirens air sounded repeatedly. Many head for the city center, from where they board trains bound for unattacked areas of western Ukraine.

An intensified push by Russian forces could mean ‘ugly weeks ahead’, Burns, the US official, told a congressional committee, warning that Putin was likely to ‘reduce Ukraine’s military regardless of civilian casualties’ .

Still, Ukraine’s Armed Forces General Staff said the army was building defenses in northern, southern and eastern cities, and forces around Kiev were “holding the line” against the offensive. Russian.

It was even then that the general staff said that Russian forces are placing military equipment in farms and in the middle of residential buildings in the northern city of Chernihiv. In the south, Russians dressed in civilian clothes are advancing towards the city of Mykolaiv, a Black Sea shipbuilding center of half a million people, he added.

Ukrainian resistance is stiffer than expected – and Western nations are now rushing to bolster their strength. Ukraine’s president has repeatedly advocated for warplanes to counter Russia’s massive air power, but Western nations disagree on the best way to do so, fearing it will increase the risk that the war does not spread beyond Ukraine.

Poland offered on Tuesday evening to give the United States 28 MiG-29 fighter jets for use in Ukraine. US officials said the proposal was “untenable”, but they would continue to consult with Poland and other NATO allies.

In addition to material support for Ukraine, Western countries have sought to pressure Russia through a series of punitive sanctions. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden upped the ante againstating that the United States would ban all imports of Russian oil, even if it meant increased costs for Americans.

Energy exports have maintained a steady flow of cash to Russia despite otherwise severe restrictions that have largely cut off its economy from the world. McDonald’s, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and General Electric have all announced they are temporarily suspending operations in the country, furthering this isolation.

The movements have done little to mitigate the conflict so far.

A series of air alerts on Wednesday morning urged residents of the capital to go to bomb shelters, fearing the arrival of missiles. Associated Press reporters then heard explosions.

Such alerts are common, though erratic, which keeps people on their toes. Kyiv has been relatively calm in recent days, although Russian artillery has pounded the outskirts of the city.

Kyiv regional administration head Oleksiy Kuleba said the crisis for civilians was deepening in the capital, with the situation particularly critical in the city’s suburbs.

“Russia is artificially creating a humanitarian crisis in the Kyiv region, preventing the evacuation of people and continuing to shell and shell small communities,” he said.

Amid the shelling, authorities repeatedly attempted to evacuate civilians, but many attempts were thwarted by Russian shelling.

An evacuation appeared successful on Tuesday, with Ukrainian authorities saying 5,000 civilians, including 1,700 foreign students, had managed to escape from Sumy, a besieged northeast city of a quarter of a million people.

But in the south, Russian troops advanced deep along Ukraine’s coast in a bid to establish a land bridge to Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014. This left Mariupol surrounded by Russian forces. .

On Tuesday, an attempt to evacuate civilians and deliver much-needed food, water and medicine failed, with Ukrainian officials saying Russian forces fired on the convoy before it reached the town, which almost half of the 430,000 inhabitants hope to flee.

Corpses lie in the streets and people enter shops in search of food and melt snow for water. Thousands of people are huddled in the basements, sheltered from the Russian shells pounding this strategic port on the Sea of ​​Azov.

“Why shouldn’t I cry? resident Goma Janna asked, crying in the light of an underground oil lamp, surrounded by women and children. “I want my house, I want my job. I am so sad for the people and for the city, the children.

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Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press reporters Felipe Dana and Andrew Drake in Kyiv, as well as journalists around the world, contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Christi C. Elwood