A convoy of Ukrainian buses set out for the southern port city of Mariupol on Thursday to try to reach trapped civilians, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
he said the International Committee of the Red Cross had confirmed that Russia had agreed to open a humanitarian corridor to the besieged city where tens of thousands of civilians remain after weeks of Russian bombardment.
The latest comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says his country’s forces are preparing for Russia to mount a new offensive in the south-east region of Donbas as Moscow announced it was scaling back military efforts around the capital Kyiv.
Mr Zelensky said in his address to the nation on Wednesday evening: “We know that this is not a withdrawal but the consequences of being driven out. But we also are seeing that Russia is now concentrating its forces for new strikes on Donbas and we are preparing for this.”
It came with talks between Ukraine and Russia due to resume on Friday by video, according to the head of the Ukrainian delegation, David Arakhamia.
The delegations met in-person on Tuesday in Istanbul, after two weeks of meeting by video, and the faint outlines of a possible peace agreement seemed to emerge.
The Ukrainian delegation offered a framework under with the country would declare itself neutral – dropping its bid to join Nato, as Moscow has long demanded – in return for security guarantees from a group of other nations.
Russian diplomats responded positively to Ukraine’s proposal.
Mr Zelensky on Wednesday said the negotiations were continuing, but they remained “words without specifics”.
The president has also recalled his ambassadors to Georgia and Morocco for seemingly failing to persuade those countries to support Ukraine and punish Russia for the invasion.
“With all due respect, if there won’t be weapons, won’t be sanctions, won’t be restrictions for Russian business, then please look for other work,” Mr Zelenskyy said.
“I am waiting for concrete results in the coming days from the work of our representatives in Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa.”
The president also said he was expecting results from Ukraine’s military attaches in embassies abroad.
He said “the diplomatic front is one of the key fronts” in Ukraine’s battle to win the war against Russia.
Mr Zelensky thanked the White House for pledging an additional 500 million dollars (£380 m) in direct aid, but said he was open with US President Joe Biden about Ukraine needing more to resist the Russian invasion.
“If we really are fighting for freedom and in defence of democracy together, then we have a right to demand help in this difficult turning point. Tanks, aircraft, artillery systems. Freedom should be armed no worse than tyranny,” he said.
Meanwhile, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency visited a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Wednesday to meet Ukrainian officials and provide technical assistance.
Rafael Mariano Grossi said the agency is not involved in political talks with the Russians.
“We are trying to be very active in order to ensure that as soon as possible, the situation is regressed, and the facilities are back in the hands of the Ukrainians,” Grossi said.
Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors at four plants, one of which (Zaporizhzia) is under the Russian military’s control.
Vladimir Putin’s advisers are scared to tell him the truth about the progress of his Ukraine invasion but the extent of the Russian leader’s “misjudgements” must be “crystal clear to the regime”, Sir Jeremy Fleming has said.
In a rare public address during a visit to Australia, the head of Britain’s GCHQ spy agency said Mr Putin had “massively misjudged the situation”.
And he warned China not to become “too closely aligned” with the Kremlin.
He said: “It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people.
“He underestimated the strength of the coalition his actions would galvanise. He under-played the economic consequences of the sanctions regime. He over-estimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory.
“We’ve seen Russian soldiers – short of weapons and morale – refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft.
“And even though we believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgements must be crystal clear to the regime.”
He added: “It’s become his personal war, with the cost being paid by innocent people in Ukraine and increasingly, by ordinary Russians too.”
Speaking at the Australian National University in Canberra, Sir Jeremy said western allies were making “deeply secret intelligence” public to get ahead of Mr Putin’s information war, while also tackling cyber threats.
On China, he said the country’s long-term interests are not well served by an alliance with a leader that “wilfully and illegally” ignores the international “rules of the road”.
His intervention comes after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week directly confronted President Xi Jinping over Beijing’s stance on the conflict in Ukraine in what was described as a “frank and candid” discussion.
On Thursday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will urge Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to work with other democracies to counter Mr Putin’s aggression in Ukraine amid reluctance to publicly condemn the actions of Russia – a long-standing ally dating back to the Cold War.
India, which is heavily reliant on Moscow for arms imports, has abstained in a series of votes in the United Nations on the issue.
In the UK, Johnson defended how quickly Ukrainians fleeing the conflict were being offered visas, as he was warned of the danger of refugee schemes turning into “Tinder for sex traffickers”.
Mr Johnson said it was important that “checks both ways” were being carried out before Ukrainian refugees could come to the UK, both to ensure those in need were who they said they were, and also that those offering help were fit to do so.
Appearing in front of the Commons Liaison Committee, Mr Johnson said there had already been cases of “people coming from that war zone who may not be entirely who they say they are” after it was revealed just 2,700 visas have been granted to people wanting to come to the UK under the Homes For Ukraine scheme despite applications reaching 28,300.
The UN refugee agency said four million people have now fled Ukraine since Russia launched its war on February 24.
Mr Johnson said: “What I wanted was a system that was as light touch as possible and would enable people to come here, but would enable us also to do checks.
“We are outside the Schengen system, we have the advantage of being able to clarify people’s status, (that) they’re bona fide – that’s not a bad thing if you want to have a programme that really works and commands confidence.”
Dame Diana Johnson, the Labour chair of the Home Affairs Committee, told Mr Johnson that some anti-slavery and refugee groups had warned that the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship “risked operating as Tinder for sex traffickers”.
He said: “I think that is one of the reasons why it is important to have as light touch as possible, but to have DBS checks and checks both ways to make sure we have a programme that is really working.”
Defending the rate of progress in resettling refugees, the Prime Minister added: “These numbers are climbing.”
New laws were also announced on Wednesday which aim to prohibit the maintenance of aircraft or ships belonging to sanctioned Russian oligarchs or their businesses.
The Foreign Office said the new powers, which have been laid in Parliament via a statutory instrument, had been used immediately to sanction Russian businessmen Eugene Shvidler and Oleg Tinkov.
Meanwhile, the finance, trade and shipping sanctions imposed in relation to Crimea have been expanded to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
More than four million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its war, in the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War, according to the UN refugee agency.
The new figure was posted on a UNHCR website. More than 2.3 million have arrived in Poland, but many have travelled on to other countries or back into Ukraine.
Aid workers say the numbers have eased in recent days as many people await developments in the war.
An estimated 6.5 million people have also been displaced from their homes within the country.
More than 608,000 have entered Romania, over 387,000 have gone to Moldova, and about 364,000 have entered Hungary since the war began on February 24, based on counts provided by governments.
4 million have fled Ukraine
~ 6.5 million are displaced inside the country
~ 13 million are estimated to be stranded in affected areas or unable to leave
We are confronted with the realities of a massive humanitarian crisis that is growing by the second. pic.twitter.com/ZTBj1ldrql
— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) March 30, 2022
From the onset of the war, UNHCR had projected that about four million might flee Ukraine, though it has repeatedly said it has been reassessing its forecasts.
“Refugees from Ukraine are now 4 million, five weeks after the start of the Russian attack,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted as he crossed the border into Ukraine.
Mr Grandi said he would be in the western city of Lviv to discuss ways to increase support “to people affected and displaced by this senseless war”.
UNHCR teams and their partners have been working to deliver protection, emergency shelter, cash assistance, core relief items and other critical services for those who have fled.
Meanwhile in Ireland, the additional 35,000 homes which will have to be built to house Ukrainian refugees will be a mix of permanent and modular housing, the Minister for Housing has said.
Darragh O’Brien said that around an additional 35,000 homes will be needed over the next number of years to accommodate an unprecedented amount of refugees.
Local councils have also been asked this week to submit a list of serviced zoned or unzoned sites which could be used for permanent or temporary housing.
The Government has also identified 500 properties which could be converted into housing.
Minister O’Brien said that the Government has to make sure that the multi-billion Housing for All plan is also delivered while housing for refugees is built.
“Many of the people who are here, not that they want to, but will be staying here for a number of years and we’ve got to make provision for that.”
Planning permission will be circumvented so that housing can be built faster.
He said that 500 “significant” properties have been identified, which include a mix of conversions and vacant properties, including empty social housing.
Additional housing may also be procured through “emergency powers” said Minister O’Brien.
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/convoy-of-buses-trying-to-reach-trapped-civilians-in-mariupol-as-ukraine-braces-for-offensive-in-donbas-after-kyiv-withdrawal-41505730.html Convoy of buses trying to reach trapped civilians in Mariupol, as Ukraine braces for offensive in Donbas after Kyiv ‘withdrawal’