Russia announces new safe passage routes from Ukrainian cities

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Previous attempts to evacuate civilians from besieged Mariupol failed, with both sides blaming each other

Moscow said on Monday it was opening routes for Ukrainian civilians to evacuate to Russia amid its ongoing offensive in the country.

The Russian Defense Ministry said a temporary ceasefire will start at 10am local time on Monday, citing the “catastrophic” humanitarian situation on the ground.

A safe passage was opened from Kiev to Belarus, where refugees will be airlifted to Russia, the ministry said. Exit routes to Russia were set up from the eastern Ukrainian cities of Kharkov and Sumy, as well as Mariupol on the Azov Sea coast. Moscow warned Ukraine not to prevent civilians from leaving. It also said any attempts of the Ukrainian side to shift the blame for undermining humanitarian efforts would be “senseless,” as Russia will monitor the evacuation by using drones.

The ministry said the step was taken after a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron on Sunday. Macron said he demanded “a ceasefire and the protection of civilians.”

The Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), which broke off from Ukraine shortly after the 2014 coup in Kiev, considers Mariupol part of its territory. However, for eight years, the city has been controlled by Ukraine. DPR forces backed by Russian troops effectively surrounded Mariupol last week.

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FILE PHOTO. Civilians from Ukraine after crossing Ukrainian-Polish border in Medyka. ©Beata Zawrzel / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Attempts to arrange safe passage from the city on Saturday and Sunday failed, with both sides blaming each other. The Mariupol City Council accused Russia of shelling, while Moscow claimed Ukrainian “nationalists” were using civilians as “a human shield.” RT was unable to independently verify the situation on the ground.

Ukraine has reported heavy shelling in Kiev, Kharkov, and elsewhere, accusing Russia of hitting residential areas. The Russian Defense Ministry, however, insists that it only targets military sites, such as airfields, air defense units, and radar stations.

More than 1.5 million people have fled Ukraine to the West after Russia attacked the country on February 24, according to the UN.

Additionally, 96,000 people fled to Russia in the week prior to the offensive, during the flare-up between Ukraine and the DPR, as well as the neighboring Lugansk People’s Republic, another entity that seceded from Ukraine in 2014.

Moscow argued that it was forced to attack Ukraine in order to defend the DPR and LPR. Russia also said it seeks “demilitarization and denazification” of the country, without elaborating, but made it clear that it wants Ukraine to officially become a neutral state that will never join NATO.

Kiev said the attack was entirely unprovoked and appealed to the international community for help. Many countries, including the US, UK, and EU member states, imposed new sanctions on Russia in response to the offensive.

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