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Ukrainians flee besieged Sumy in first evacuation corridor agreed with Russia

Ukrainians flee besieged Sumy in first evacuation corridor agreed with Russia

  • Ukraine says the Russian offensive is significantly slower
  • Russia’s second top commander killed, according to Ukraine
  • Frightened residents flee infants and pets
  • Oil prices rise as US considers ban on Russia imports
  • Russia warns it may shut down gas pipeline to Germany

Lviv/IRBIN, Ukraine, March 8 (Reuters) – Ukrainians boarded buses to flee the besieged eastern city of Sumy on Tuesday in the first evacuation from a Ukrainian city via a humanitarian corridor agreed with Russia after several failed attempts in recent days.

Sumy Governor Dmytro Jevitsky said in a video statement that the first buses have already left Sumy for the westernmost city of Poltava. He said priority will be given to the disabled, pregnant women and children in orphanages.

A short video clip released by presidential adviser Kirolo Tymoshenko showed a red bus with some civilians on board.

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“It was agreed that the first convoy would start at 10 am (0800 GMT) from the city of Sumy. The convoy will be followed by local residents in personal vehicles,” Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshuk said in a televised statement.

Residents were also leaving the town of Irbin, a frontline suburb of Kyiv where Reuters journalists filmed families fleeing for their lives under heavy bombardment on Sunday. Residents ran with their young children in prams or infants in their arms, while others carried pets and plastic bags with their belongings.

“The city is almost destroyed, and the area where I live looks like there are no homes that haven’t been bombed,” said a young mother holding a baby under a blanket, as her daughter stood next to her.

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“Yesterday was the hardest bombardment, the lights and the sound are frightening and the whole building is shaking.”

Russia opened corridors on Tuesday to allow people to leave five Ukrainian cities: Sherhiv, Kharkiv, Mariupol and the capital, Kyiv, as well as Sumy, the Interfax news agency said. There was no immediate comment from the Ukrainian side on the evacuations from cities except Sumy.

Russian and Ukrainian officials agreed to create similar corridors to evacuate residents from the besieged port of Mariupol in the south on Saturday and Sunday, but those attempts failed, and each side accused the other of continuing to fire.

Moscow describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special operation” to disarm its neighbor and arrest leaders it calls “neo-Nazis”. Ukraine and its Western allies describe this as a baseless excuse to invade a country of 44 million people.

The Russian invasion, the largest attack on a European country since World War II, sent 1.7 million refugees fleeing to other countries. Western sanctions have cut Russia off from international trade to a degree never before imposed on such a large economy. Read more

Russia is the world’s leading exporter of oil and gas, and both Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of grain and minerals, raising fears that the conflict could cause major supply disruptions and hamper the global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

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Disaster

Ukraine said Russia’s advance slowed on Tuesday. The Russian Defense Ministry said that Russian Major General Vitaly Gerasimov, the 41st deputy commander of the Russian army, was killed on Monday, the second Russian general to be killed since the invasion began. The Russian Defense Ministry could not be reached for comment, and Reuters could not verify the reports.

Negotiations so far have mainly focused on allowing the safe passage of civilians to escape the bombardment of the Russian-besieged cities. Sumy in the east and Mariupol in the south were among the hardest hit by the Russian offensive.

Russia said it would ask those fleeing Kyiv or Kharkiv to go to Russia itself or its ally Belarus, conditions that Ukraine rejected. Those leaving Sumy or Mariupol are allowed to go to other parts of Ukraine.

Western countries say Russia’s initial battle plan for a quick strike to overthrow the Kyiv government failed in the early days of the war, and Moscow adjusted its tactics to enforce longer sieges of the cities.

The main offensive force heading towards Kyiv was stuck on a road north of the capital, an armored column stretching for miles. In the south, Russia made further advances along the coasts of the Black and Azov seas.

Fears of an energy war between Russia and the West heightened this week after the United States pushed its allies to ban Russian oil imports. Sanctions have so far been an exception for Russian energy exports.

US President Joe Biden had a phone call with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain on Monday. The United States is not a major buyer of Russian energy, but Russia supplies 40% of the gas to Europe, and European allies have so far indicated that they are not in a position to cut off Russian energy supplies.

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Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Monday that Russia may halt gas deliveries to Germany in response to Berlin’s suspension of a new pipeline. He said oil prices could more than double to $300 a barrel if the United States and its allies ban imports of Russian oil.

A senior US defense official said Putin has now deployed nearly 100% of the more than 150,000 troops he had previously organized outside Ukraine before the invasion.

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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Costas Pettas, Stephen Coates, and Peter Graf; Editing by Michael Berry, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Thomas Janowski

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.