More than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine have fled into neighboring countries, the United Nations said Sunday, as Russia’s military invasion pushed violently through its 11th day and attempts to establish humanitarian cease-fires failed around several besieged Ukrainian cities.
Ukrainian officials said attempts to evacuate civilians from the southern port city of Mariupol were failing because of continued Russian shelling. Russia’s advance continued in other parts of Ukraine, including around the capital city of Kyiv.
Talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations last week resulted in an agreement to create tentative cessations of fighting along “green” humanitarian corridors to facilitate civilian evacuations.
Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said Sunday that the Russian side was not honoring the agreement.
“There can be no ‘green corridors’ because only the sick brain of the Russians decides when to start shooting and at whom,” Mr. Gerashchenko wrote on the Telegram social media platform, according to The Associated Press.
The news agency reported that tentative cease-fires in Mariupol and nearby Volnovakha had failed. Civilians in those and other cities in southern, central and eastern Ukraine remained trapped under steady shelling and aerial bombardments by Russian forces, though more than 1 million had made it to safety.
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“More than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine have crossed into neighbouring countries in 10 days — the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on his official Twitter account.
Others warned that Russian forces were deliberately targeting populated areas of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied the claim.
The British Defense Ministry circulated an intelligence update Sunday that said the scale and strength of Ukrainian resistance to the invasion “continues to surprise” Russia, which has “responded by targeting populated areas in multiple locations, including Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol.”
“This is likely to represent an effort to break Ukrainian morale. Russia has previously used similar tactics in Chechnya in 1999 and Syria in 2016, employing both air and ground-based munitions,” the British Defense Ministry statement said, although it added that Ukrainian forces were succeeding in attacks that slowed the Russian advance.
“Russian supply lines reportedly continue to be targeted, slowing the rate of advance of their ground forces,” it said. “There is a realistic possibility that Russia is now attempting to conceal fuel trucks as regular support trucks to minimize losses.”
Throughout the weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for Ukrainians to fight the Russian invasion. He also pleaded with the United States and other NATO member countries to put more pressure on Moscow to halt its invasion and to provide military assistance to Ukraine.
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As Russian forces surrounded several Ukrainian cities and maintained a convoy outside Kyiv, Mr. Zelenskyy appeared on television Saturday night wearing what has become a habitual military green T-shirt and rallied his people to remain defiant.
“Ukrainians in all of our cities that the enemy has entered — go on the offensive,” the Ukrainian president said. “You should take to the streets. You should fight. … It is necessary to go out and drive this evil out of our cities, from our land.”
Mr. Zelenskyy separately reiterated a request for foreign protectors to impose a no-fly zone over the country. Mr. Putin warned Saturday that Moscow would consider a third-party declaration to close Ukrainian airspace to become a party to the war.
“The world is strong enough to close our skies,” Mr. Zelenskyy said Sunday in a video address.
The West, fearing a direct military clash with Russia, has rebuffed Mr. Zelenskyy’s pleas.
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, cautioned Sunday about the risk of escalation associated with a no-fly zone.
“I think people need to understand what a no-fly zone means … it’s not some rule you pass that everybody has to oblige by,” he told ABC’s “This Week” program. “It’s the willingness to shoot down the aircraft of the Russian Federation, which is basically the beginning of World War III.”
President Biden called Mr. Zelenskyy on Sunday to discuss the U.S. strategy, which has involved harsh economic sanctions on Russia and rapid U.S. assistance to Ukraine.
The White House said the conversation also covered talks between Russia and Ukraine, but it did not give details.
A third round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations is slated for Monday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spent the weekend visiting NATO member nations in Eastern Europe, which have taken in more than 1 million refugees over the past 11 days.
Mr. Blinken crossed briefly over the Polish border into western Ukraine on Saturday in a show of solidarity with Kyiv. He was in Moldova on Sunday to pledge support for that Western-leaning former Soviet republic, which is coping with an influx of refugees and warily watching Russia’s moves in Ukraine.
Like Ukraine for the past several years, Moldova has been dealing with a breakaway Russian separatist region.
The U.S. and allies last week imposed a widening slate of economic sanctions on Russian companies and the oligarchs surrounding Mr. Putin. The German government halted the certification of Nord Stream 2, a pipeline recently built to carry Russian natural gas to Germany.
The Western sanctions have crippled the Russian economy and sent the value of the ruble tumbling. Russia’s financial system sustained yet another blow over the weekend as Mastercard, Visa and American Express announced they were suspending operations in the country.
Mr. Blinken told the CBS program “Face the Nation” in an interview from Moldova on Sunday that the U.S., the European Union and the Group of Seven leading industrial countries were working together to “increase pressure on Russia through additional sanctions, all of which are very actively under discussion and will be implemented in the coming days.”
Mr. Putin on Saturday likened the West’s sanctions to “declaring war” on Russia.
He continued to pin the blame for Russia’s invasion squarely on the Ukrainian leaders and condemned their resistance. “If they continue to do what they are doing, they are calling into question the future of Ukrainian statehood,” he said. “If this happens, it will be entirely on their conscience.”
Reports surfaced throughout the weekend of indiscriminate Russian shelling of populated areas that killed civilians, including women and children.
The World Health Organization on Sunday condemned attacks on health care workers in Ukraine that killed six people and injured 11 others. Attacking health care workers is a violation of international humanitarian law, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter.
Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said during a visit to Poland with other House members that the humanitarian crisis is likely to grow more severe in the coming days.
“It’s very emotional. A lot of the members were actually in tears. To see these mothers and their children,” Mr. McCaul said. “I have to say, historically, I’m reminded of when Hitler invaded Poland. … This seems eerily similar, and watching these refugees coming out of Ukraine, over 100,000 yesterday, over 100,000 today, 1.5 million over the last week and a half, and they say it’s only going to get worse as the noose is tightening around the neck of Ukraine.”
From Poland, Mr. McCaul told CNN’s “State of the Union” program that Russia’s invasion unified a NATO alliance that was struggling to find momentum and focus in recent years.
“I think if Putin has done anything, he’s taken a NATO that was on life support and really unified it against him,” Mr. McCaul said. Mr. Putin “is trying to put the noose around the neck of Ukraine, but I think the noose is going around his neck. He sees the world is against him; this is his greatest fear.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.