On Day 11 of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Russian troops shelled encircled cities and a pro-Russian official said safe-passage corridors would open again for residents of the besieged port city of Mariupol.
The number of Ukrainians forced from their country increased to 1.5 million and the Kremlin’s rhetoric grew, with Russian President Vladimir Putin warning that Ukrainian statehood is in jeopardy. He likened the West’s sanctions on Russia to “declaring war.”
Here’s a look at key things to know about the conflict Sunday:
Promise of safe passage from two cities — again
A pro-Russian official said safe-passage corridors would open again for residents of Mariupol on Sunday, a day after a promised cease-fire in the besieged port city collapsed.
Ukrainian officials confirmed that evacuations from the city would take place starting from 12 p.m. local time.
Ukrainian officials said Russian artillery fire and airstrikes had prevented residents from leaving before the agreed-to evacuations got underway Saturday. Putin accused Ukraine of sabotaging the effort.
Russia has sought to cut off Ukraine’s access to the Sea of Avrov in the south. Capturing Mariupol could allow Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.
Eduard Basurin, spokesman for the military in separatist-held Donetsk territory, said safe passage corridors for residents would also be opened for residents of Volnovakha.
What else is happening on the ground?
Russian forces launched hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks across the country, including dropping powerful bombs on residential areas of Chernihiv, a city north of the capital of Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said. But a mileslong Russian armored column threatening the capital was still stalled outside Kyiv.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces were holding key cities in the central and southeastern part of the country, while the Russians were trying to block and keep encircled Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Chernihiv and Sumy.
Ukrainian forces were also defending Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest port city, from Russian ships, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said.
Russian troops took control of the southern port city of Kherson last week. Ukrainian forces have managed to keep control of key cities in central and southeastern Ukraine, Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy pushes for a no-fly zone
Zelenskyy pushed his call for foreign countries to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Establishing a no-fly zone would risk escalating the conflict by involving foreign militaries directly. Although the United States and many Western countries have backed Ukraine with weapons shipments, they have sent no troops.
Zelenskyy said in a video address on Sunday that “the world is strong enough to close our skies.”
NATO countries have ruled out policing a no-fly zone, which would bar all unauthorized aircraft from flying over Ukraine. Putin said Saturday that Moscow would consider any third-party declaration of a no-fly zone over Ukraine as “participation in the armed conflict.”
Directly witnessed by The Associated Press
Onlookers in Chernihiv cheered as they watched a Russian military plane fall from the sky and crash, according to video released by the Ukrainian government. In Kherson, hundreds of protesters waved blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and shouted, “Go home.”
In Mariupol, Associate Press journalists witnessed doctors make unsuccessful attempts to save the lives of wounded children, pharmacies ran bare and hundreds of thousands of people faced food and water shortages in freezing weather.
In Irpin, near Kyiv, a sea of people on foot and even in wheelbarrows trudged over the remains of a destroyed bridge to cross a river and leave the city. Assisted by Ukrainian soldiers, they lugged pets, infants, purses and flimsy bags stuffed with minimal possessions. Some of the weak and elderly were carried along the path in blankets and carts.
Kyiv’s central train station remained crowded with people desperate to leave, and frequent shelling could be heard from the center of the capital city.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Moldova pledging America’s support to the small Western-leaning former Soviet republic. The country is coping with an influx of refugees from Ukraine and keeping an eye on Russia’s intensifying war with its neighbor.
A third round of talks between Russia and Ukraine will take place Monday, according to Davyd Arakhamia, a member of the Ukrainian delegation. He gave no additional details.
Previous meetings were held in Belarus and led to the failed cease-fire agreement to create humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians from besieged cities.
Putin continued to blame the war on the Ukrainian leadership and slammed their resistance to the invasion. He said if they continued to resist, “They are calling into question the future of Ukrainian statehood.” His comments came as Zelenskyy made a “desperate plea” on Saturday to the U.S. Congress for more planes as Russian forces continued to batter strategic locations.
Meanwhile, Israel’s prime minister returned Sunday from a trip to Russia where he met Putin and discussed the war.
Naftali Bennett flew to Moscow on Saturday, where he met the Russian leader for three hours. Bennett spoke to Zelenskyy after his meeting with Putin.
Bennett’s trip was the latest attempt at diplomacy in the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Israel is one of the few countries that has good working relations with both Russia and Ukraine.
The humanitarian situation
The death toll of the conflict has been difficult to measure. The U.N. human rights office said at least 351 civilians have been confirmed killed since the Feb. 24 invasion, but the true number is probably much higher.
The U.N. World Food Program says millions of people inside Ukraine, a major global wheat supplier, will need food aid “immediately.”
Ukrainian refugees continued to pour into neighboring countries, including Poland, Romania and Moldova. The number of people who have left since fighting began has now reached 1.5 million, according to U.N. refugee agency..