Putin says western sanctions are akin to act of war as Ukraine evacuation plan collapses amid shelling

Residents in Mariupol told to return to shelters as ceasefire is breached, while talks planned for Monday are set to go ahead

Kieran Guilbert
Saturday 05 March 2022 20:41
Comments
Putin makes warning over any Ukraine no-fly zone

Vladimir Putin claimed on Saturday that western sanctions were akin to a declaration of war, as Russia was blamed for the collapse of a ceasefire designed to allow tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to escape the besieged cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha.

Moscow and Kyiv traded blame over the failure to provide safe passage to civilians fleeing the two bombarded cities, on the tenth day of the conflict that has fuelled one of Europe’s gravest humanitarian disasters and forced at least 1.3 million people to flee Ukraine.

As the agreement appeared to be in tatters, Mr Putin accused Ukraine of sabotaging the evacuation effort, claimed that the country’s statehood was in jeopardy, and lashed out at the west for the sanctions it has imposed on Russia.

Russian president Vladimir Putin speaks during his meeting with Aeroflot employees outside Moscow, 5 March 2022

“These sanctions that are being imposed are akin to a declaration of war, but thank God it has not come to that,” the Russian president said in a rambling speech to a group of flight attendants at an Aeroflot training centre near Moscow.

Ukraine and western nations have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for the invasion he launched on 24 February.

In the wake of the sanctions, Aeroflot, Russia’s state-owned airline, said it would halt all international flights except to Belarus.

Mr Putin also warned that any attempt to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine would be tantamount to entering the conflict.

A Ukrainian service member assists an elderly woman in the town of Irpin in the Kyiv region, 5 March 2022

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has demanded that Nato impose a no-fly zone over his country – a request that the military alliance rejected on the grounds it could provoke a more widespread war in Europe.

Meanwhile, the struggle to enforce the temporary ceasefire in the southeastern port of Mariupol and the eastern city of Volnovakha highlighted the fragility of efforts to stop the fighting across Ukraine – with reports of explosions in Kyiv and a Russian plane being shot down in Chernihiv. Despite the ceasefire announcement, Russia’s defence ministry had said that a broad offensive would continue.

Just hours after the temporary truce was declared, Ukrainian officials said Russian artillery fire and airstrikes had prevented 200,000 people from leaving Mariupol and 15,000 from leaving Volnovakha before the agreed evacuations got under way.

People lie on the floor of a hospital during shelling by Russian forces in Mariupol, 4 March 2022

Earlier, the Russian defence ministry said its units had opened humanitarian corridors near the two cities in agreement with Ukraine.

But Mariupol’s city council said Russia was not observing the ceasefire, and it asked residents to return to shelters and await further information on evacuation.

“We value the life of every inhabitant of Mariupol and we cannot risk it, so we stopped the evacuation,” the city’s mayor, Vadym Boychenko, said in comments broadcast on Ukrainian television.

A map showing the extent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

The southeastern port has endured heavy bombardment, a sign of its strategic value to Moscow thanks to its position between Russian-backed, separatist-held eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Russia’s defence ministry accused Ukrainian “nationalists” of preventing civilians from leaving. Later on Saturday, the UK’s defence ministry said that Russia’s proposed ceasefire in Mariupol was probably a bid to deflect global condemnation while it reset its forces.

Despite the failed evacuation, Ukrainian negotiators said a third round of talks with Russia on a ceasefire would happen on Monday.

The Independent has set up a petition calling on the UK government to be at the forefront of the international community offering aid and support to those in Ukraine. To sign the petition click here.

The Independent is also raising money for the people of Ukraine – if you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

Ukrainian civilians receive weapons training inside a cinema in Lviv, 5 March 2022

On the diplomatic front, Mr Putin met Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett in the Kremlin on Saturday to discuss the crisis, after Israel offered to mediate. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will speak to the Russian leader on Sunday and is expected to tell him to stop the invasion.

Meanwhile, the US secretary of state Antony Blinken visited Poland, where he met refugees and held talks with the prime minister and foreign minister a day after attending a Nato meeting in Brussels, in which the alliance pledged to boost support for eastern flank members.

On Saturday evening, during a call with US senators, Mr Zelensky made a “desperate plea” for eastern Europe to provide Russian-made aircraft to his country, according to the chamber’s majority leader, Chuck Schumer.

Families fleeing conflict make their way through the main train terminal in Lviv, 5 March 2022

Shortly after, Russia’s foreign ministry called on European Union and Nato countries to “stop pumping weapons” to Ukraine, according to the Russian news agency RIA.

Meanwhile, in several Ukrainian cities, there were signs of resistance – peaceful or otherwise.

As homes in the northern city of Chernihiv burned from shelling, Ukrainian officials released images showing a Russian plane they said had been shot down.

A photo from Ukraine’s State Emergency Service shows the remains of a shot-down Russian aircraft in Chernihiv, 5 March 2022

In Kherson, southwest Ukraine, the only regional capital to have changed hands during the invasion so far, several thousand people demonstrated on the main square on Saturday.

“Kherson is Ukraine,” they chanted, demanding that Russian forces withdraw.

Ukraine’s military said its armed forces were “fighting fiercely to liberate Ukrainian cities from Russian occupiers”, while Russia’s defence ministry claimed its soldiers had taken several towns and villages and shot down four Ukrainian fighter jets near Zhytomyr – about 60 miles west of Kyiv – although those reports could not be verified.

The UN human rights office said on Saturday that at least 351 civilians had been confirmed killed and 707 injured in Ukraine so far, while warning that the real figures were likely to be “considerably higher”.

The UN security council has scheduled an open meeting for Monday on the worsening humanitarian situation, amid warnings that 12 million people in the country will need aid in the coming months while up to 4 million others are expected to flee abroad.

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in