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Ukraine war: Authorities urge people in Donbas to evacuate ahead of impending Russian offensive

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By Alasdair Sandford  & Lauren Chadwick  with AP, AFP
A view of the Mariupol theatre damaged during fighting in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, Monday, April 4, 2022
A view of the Mariupol theatre damaged during fighting in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, Monday, April 4, 2022   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

Russia's war in Ukraine is taking on a new dimension with growing evidence of human rights atrocities by Vladimir Putin's troops, accused of killing civilians in cold blood as they retreated from the Kyiv region.

Despite Moscow denying the accusations, they are fears similar massacres could be discovered in the coming days.

Follow our latest updates from the war in our blog below, or watch TV coverage in the video player, above.


Wednesday's key points:

  • The Red Cross led a convoy of more than 1,000 civilians to Zaporizhzhia despite being unable to reach Mariupol due to the security situation.

  • The US on Wednesday announced that it is sanctioning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters.

  • Mariupol City Council claims Russia is trying to hide evidence of civilian deaths by deploying mobile crematoria to burn bodies in the besieged city.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russia of using hunger as a weapon by targeting food supplies, in a speech to Irish MPs.
  • The UK banned all new investment in Russia as part of new sanctions. 
  • The EU has promised a fifth round of new sanctions “this week”, hitting the energy sector for the first time. The bloc's top diplomat Josep Borrell has told the European Parliament that the EU has spent 35 times more on buying Russian fuel since the start of the war than it has given Ukraine in weapons.
  • EU Council President Charles Michel has said EU countries should give asylum to Russian deserters.

Ukrainian authorities urge people living in the east to evacuate

Ukrainian authorities urged people living in the Donbas to evacuate now, ahead of an impending Russian offensive, while there is still time.

“Later, people will come under fire,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, “and we won’t be able to do anything to help them.”

A Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence estimates, said it will take Russia's battle-damaged forces as much as a month to regroup for a major push on eastern Ukraine.


Red Cross leads convoy of more than 1,000 people despite being unable to reach Mariupol

The Red Cross said they led a convoy of more than 1,000 civilians to Zaporizhzhia despite being unable to reach Mariupol due to the security situation.

"Our team tried days and nights for five days to reach Mariupol, under extremely difficult security conditions," said Pascal Hundt, Ukraine office director for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Hundt said they had to pass checkpoints day and night but unfortunately were unable to reach the city "because of the security conditions in and around Mariupol."

"We went back to Berdyansk and on the way we started collecting people that were coming out of Mariupol," he said.

Hundt said that busses and cars joined the convoy because they saw the Red Cross.

"The more we were moving back towards our initial position in Zaporizhzhia, the more cars were joining the convoy. And ultimately, when we crossed the border, there were more than a thousand people with us."

(with AP)


Russia blocking humanitarian access to hide 'thousands' of victims, Zelenskyy alleges

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday accused Russia of blocking humanitarian access to Mariupol to hide the "thousands" of victims in the port city that's still being shelled in southeastern Ukraine. 

"I think one of the main reasons why we can't get humanitarian aid into Mariupol is that until everything has been 'cleaned up' by the Russian soldiers, they are afraid the world will see what's going on there," Zelenskyy said in an interview with a Turkish television channel.

These are "not tens but thousands of people killed and thousands injured", he added.

"We know how many (Ukrainian) soldiers died there and how many were injured, but we don't know how many civilians."

"But, in any case, they (the Russians) will not be able to hide everything (...). Such a number, it is impossible to hide," he said.



Mariupol mayor puts the number of dead at over 5,000

The mayor of the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol says over 5,000 civilians have been killed during the monthlong Russian blockade.

Vadym Boichenko said Wednesday that 210 of the dead were children. He said the Russian forces bombed hospitals, including one where 50 people burned to death.

Boichenko said that more than 90% of the city’s infrastructure has been destroyed by the Russian shelling.

The Russian military has besieged the strategic Sea of Azov port, cutting food, water and energy supplies and pummelling it with artillery and air raids.

Capturing the city would allow Russia to secure a continuous land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.



UK charges guard at Berlin embassy with spying for Russia

A security guard at the British Embassy in Berlin has been extradited from Germany and charged with spying for Russia, UK police said Wednesday.

The Metropolitan Police force said David Ballantyne Smith, 57, was sent back to Britain on Wednesday. He faces nine charges under the Official Secrets Act related to “the collection and communication of information useful to the Russian state.”

Smith is due to appear in a London court on Thursday,

Police said the alleged offences took place between October 2020 and August 2021, when Smith was arrested by German police at his home in Potsdam, southwest of Berlin.



'There's nothing less happening than major war crimes,' Biden says

US President Joe Biden denounced the killing of civilians in the suburbs of Kyiv as "major war crimes" in a speech on Wednesday.

"Civilians executed in cold blood, bodies dumped into mass graves. A sense of brutality and inhumanity left for all the world to see unapologetically," Biden said.

"There's nothing less happening than major war crimes. Responsible nations have to come together to hold these perpetrators accountable."

(with AFP)


EU countries yet to reach agreement on fresh sanctions against Russia 

EU member states are still trying to overcome their differences as they look to approve a fifth round of sanctions against Russia.

The measures proposed by the European Commission yesterday include a ban on coal imports and the closure of European ports to Russian ships.

But according to diplomatic sources, some member states that are more dependent than others on coal, are asking for a three months phase out for existing contracts, rather than an immediate embargo.

For Anna-Michelle Asimakopoulou, a Greek MEP from the EPP Group, the impact of sanctions in Europe should also be taken into account when considering any punitive measures against Moscow.

"We are faced with an unconscionable war and we need to exert the maximum amount of pressure," Asimakopoulou told Euronews. "That means sanctions and more sanctions, and whatever it takes.

"At the same time, we have to remember that we are also responsible for our security, our energy sufficiency and security, and our food security. So we cannot jeopardise that."

Read the full story here.


UN to vote Thursday on suspending Russia from rights council

The UN General Assembly will vote on Thursday on whether to suspend Russia from the UN’s premiere human rights body.

The move was initiated by the United States in response to the discovery of hundreds of bodies after Russian troops withdrew from towns near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, sparking calls for its forces to be tried for war crimes.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield made the call for Russia to be stripped of its seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council in the wake of videos and photos of streets in the town of Bucha strewn with corpses of what appeared to be civilians. The videos and reporting from the town have sparked global revulsion and calls for tougher sanctions on Russia, which has vehemently denied responsibility.

“We believe that the members of the Russian forces committed war crimes in Ukraine, and we believe that Russia needs to be held accountable,” Thomas-Greenfield said on Monday. “Russia’s participation on the Human Rights Council is a farce.”



New US sanctions target Putin's adult daughters

The US on Wednesday announced that it is sanctioning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters as part of a new batch of penalties on the country’s political and economic system in retaliation for its “war crimes” in Ukraine.

The US is also imposing toughened “full blocking sanctions” on Russia’s Sberbank and Alfa Bank, two of its largest financial institutions, as well as some Russian state-owned enterprises. President Joe Biden is also signing an executive order to ban new US investment in Russia.

In addition to Putin’s adult daughters, the new sanctions also target the family of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

The US actions are set to be imposed in concert with toughened sanctions by its European allies.


For a summary of Tuesday's developments, please click here.

Additional sources • Reuters