Russian forces bombarded cities in northern and southern Ukraine Monday, as Ukrainian officials warned Russia may be moving closer to storming Kyiv and Russia’s military announced the latest in yet-unfulfilled plans to establish humanitarian corridors for civilians caught amid its invasion.
Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces said Russian forces were focused on encircling Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mykolayiv. A statement Monday accused Russia of violating international humanitarian law by shelling civilians and of creating a humanitarian crisis in occupied areas.
A Russian defense ministry statement said that for “humanitarian purposes,” Russian forces would declare a “regime of silence” beginning Monday to open corridors for people to leave Kyiv, Kharkiv, Sumy and Mariupol. Those who leave Kyiv will be airlifted to Russia the statement said. The statement added the move was in response to a direct request from French President Emmanuel Macron to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ukrainian officials rejected Russia’s plan, in particular evacuation paths that would send people to Russia and Belarus.
“This is not an acceptable option,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereschchuk said.
“‘Humanitarian corridors’ will only work if they give safe and agreed passage to places where the evacuees feel safe and of their choosing,” said Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland. “This is a basic lesson from Syria where ‘corridors’ often were not used because they led to areas no one felt safe.”
More than 1.7 million refugees have fled Ukraine, according to data from the U.N. refugee agency, with more than 1 million of those going west to Poland. Data for Russia and Belarus was last updated late last week but showed just more than 50,000 people going to those countries.
A third round of negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow is scheduled to take place Monday. Ukrainian and Russian delegations have met twice in Belarus since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiyy accused Russian forces of “deliberate murder” in a video address and said anyone who “committed atrocities” will be punished.
“There will be no quiet place on this Earth except the grave,” he said.
While Zelenskyy appealed for more international support for Ukraine, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said Monday that Russia’s “reckless aggression against Ukraine” shows it is a threat to European and NATO security.
“Putin will not stop in Ukraine if he will not be stopped,” Nauseda said during a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “It is our collective duty as a nation to help all Ukrainians with all means available. By saying all, I mean, indeed all means, if we want to avoid the Third World War.”
Blinken’s trip also includes stops in Latvia and Estonia as he seeks to reassure the group of NATO members and former Soviet republics of the alliance’s commitment to their defense.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg goes to Latvia on Tuesday to do the same.
“The line is very clear, and I’ll repeat it: If there is any aggression anywhere on NATO territory, on NATO countries, we the United States, all of our allies and partners, will take action to defend every inch of NATO territory,” Blinken told reporters.
Russian President Putin Sunday contended his military campaign in Ukraine was proceeding as planned and will not end until the Ukrainians stop fighting.
In a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who appealed for a cease-fire, Putin expressed readiness for dialogue with Ukraine and foreign partners but said any attempt to draw out negotiations would fail, according to a Kremlin statement.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Monday that China “is willing to work with the international community to carry out necessary mediation when needed.”
He called Russia China’s “most important strategic partner” and said, “friendship between the two peoples is iron clad.”
China has voiced opposition to sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union and others in response to Russia’s invasion.
U.S. lawmakers are pledging to provide additional military aid to Ukraine, with the administration of President Joe Biden requesting $10 billion in humanitarian, military and economic support.
“The Congress intends to enact this emergency funding this week as part of our omnibus government funding legislation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a Sunday evening letter to fellow Democrats.
Despite generally bipartisan and robust support for Kyiv, members of Congress are drawing the line at another Ukrainian request: a no-fly zone for the country’s airspace to deter Russian aerial attacks.
That would mean “World War III,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida told ABC’s “This Week” program Sunday. “I think there are a lot of things we can do to help Ukraine protect itself... but I think people need to understand what a no-fly zone means.”
Another senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat, expressed a less strict stance.
“I would take nothing off the table,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, commented on Fox News: “If I were President Zelenskyy, I would be asking for a no-fly zone. The problem is, there is no such thing as a no-fly zone over Ukraine.”
U.S. President Joe Biden is in regular contact with Zelenskyy about Ukraine’s request for more fighter jets, according to Blinken.
“Yes, we’re talking very actively about this, looking at what we could do to backfill Poland, if it chooses to send the MiGs and the SU planes that it has to Ukraine, how we can help by backfilling what they’re giving to the Ukrainians,” Blinken, in Moldova, told “Meet the Press.”
Along with its European partners, the United States is considering a ban on Russian oil, Blinken confirmed Sunday.
“We are now in very active discussions with our European partners about banning the import of Russian oil to our countries, while of course, at the same time, maintaining a steady global supply of oil,” Blinken said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Some lawmakers want the White House to do more to increase domestic production as oil prices surge and Americans pay more to fuel their vehicles.
U.S. gasoline prices jumped 11% over the past week to the highest since 2008, according to the AAA.
“President Biden would rather import oil from our adversaries in Russia, Iran and Venezuela than increase U.S. energy production at home,” tweeted Rep. Greg Murphy of North Carolina, a Republican, saying the energy security for the country equates to national security.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted Sunday that Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have requested Interpol suspend Russia’s access to its systems.
“Russia’s actions are a direct threat to the safety of individuals and to international law enforcement cooperation,” Patel said.
Meanwhile, another social media platform announced restrictions on Russia-related content.
TikTok, known for short user-generated videos, said Sunday that it is blocking users in Russia from posting new content.
“In light of Russia’s new ‘fake news’ law, we have no choice but to suspend livestreaming and new content to our video service while we review the safety implications of this law,” read a tweet Sunday from TikTok’s communications team.
Streaming giant Netflix also announced Sunday it was suspending its services in Russia.
An increasing number of corporate entities, including financial services, energy and technology companies, have cut ties to Russia in response to economic sanctions and outrage since the invasion of Ukraine.
VOA State Department Bureau chief Nike Ching, National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin, Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb, Istanbul foreign correspondent Heather Murdock, White House correspondent Anita Powell, and senior diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine contributed to this report.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.