Ukrainian civilians flee Russian attack – POLITICO

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Tens of thousands of civilians are trapped as Russian troops step up their attack on eastern Ukraine.

Many are unable to evacuate from embattled towns in Donbass, while others are under heavy fire not far from the front line. Those who managed to escape are finding refuge in increasingly crowded western Ukraine.

With Russia destroying cities and accused of its troops committing war crimes against civilians, authorities want people to leave and not sit out the onslaught at home.

“Some people are careless. Such people think that grenades will fall anywhere other than where they are. Some older people are stubborn in the sense that they say: ‘We were born here – and we will die here,'” Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, told POLITICO in a telephone interview.

He estimates that up to 70,000 out of 330,000 near the front lines in his region have refused to leave their homes, despite pleas from local officials and the government in Kyiv.

The region is the scene of fierce fighting and is part of territory Russia on Friday designated as a war target in Ukraine as it seeks to seize the country’s entire Black Sea coast and the industrial Donbass region to the east.

Not everyone is afraid of the Russians. There is a minority of pro-Muscows, Gaidai said. “They are waiting for the arrival of the ‘Russian world’.”

“There aren’t that many of them, but there are people like that. Basically, these people belong to low social classes, they have low incomes,” he said. “They watch Russian TV 24/7 and are just zombified.”

But for the overwhelming majority, Russia’s ruthless approach to urban fighting is the main reason they fled.

Two weeks ago, the city of Lysychansk, with a population of 95,000, was heavily shelled by Russian troops. “Ten people were killed in one of the microdistricts. Parts of their bodies lay on the street for everyone to see. People in that area evacuated the city immediately,” he said. “But people in the surrounding areas who heard the blasts but didn’t see the bodies stayed in their homes.”

get people out

The central government in Kyiv is finding it increasingly difficult to negotiate with Russia on humanitarian corridors that allow civilians to leave war-torn regions. Earlier this week the government said it had been unable to secure such corridors for three days in a row.

The most tragic situation is here besieged Mariupol in the neighboring Donetsk region. Of a pre-war population of 450,000, Ukrainian authorities estimate that up to 170,000 remain in the city, many of whom were completely destroyed in weeks of shelling and street fighting.

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed on Thursday that his forces had taken Mariupol, but hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers, along with some civilians, remain inside Azovstal’s massive steelworks.

On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk called that a humanitarian corridor out of the city agreed for Wednesday failed mainly due to the inability of the Russian military command to control its forces on the ground.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had to stop its activities in the city.

“Now it is unrealistic to bring help there. If the situation changes and becomes calm, our team will go there and distribute humanitarian aid. But now the situation in Mariupol is almost apocalyptic, and in such circumstances it is simply impossible to work,” said ICRC spokesman Oleksandr Vlasenko.

He said the Red Cross camp had also been hit by the fighting.

“Fortunately nobody [from the ICRC team] was there, although our employees have been in Mariupol for a long time. Our people have been helping civilians living in bomb shelters.”

This is not the only case in which a civilian object was hit by the Russians.

Gaidai claimed evacuation buses in the Luhansk region had been repeatedly fired upon by Russian troops, despite agreements on humanitarian corridors. “That’s why we never relied on it [the corridors] Firstly – we just get people out every day.”

Just a few weeks ago, buses were taking up to 3,000 people out of the danger zone every day; that has now fallen to only about 100 a day.

“But even if it’s only 10 people a day, we will still continue to evacuate them,” said Gaidai, speaking of a location in the Luhansk region that he could not reveal for security reasons.

“I change my location because there are some [Russian] Sabotage and reconnaissance groups ordered to eliminate me,” the governor said.

Temporary accommodation

While Ukrainian authorities are trying to evacuate as many civilians as possible from the east, the country’s western regions are preparing for a new wave of refugees.

In the early days of the war, most refugees came by train, but Russia’s missile attack earlier this month on a train station in Krematorsk in eastern Ukraine that killed 57 people changed that.

“The authorities have reduced the number of evacuation trains and people have started to travel by other means of transport, mainly by bus,” Serhiy Kiral, deputy mayor of Lviv, told POLITICO.

He estimates that up to 2,500 people come to the Lviv region every day. The city of 700,000 has already taken in over 200,000 refugees since the full-scale Russian invasion began on February 24.

He called the refugee movement “a dynamic process” with some people moving on to Poland, some staying in Lviv and others returning to Kyiv after Russian forces were forced to withdraw from near the Ukrainian capital.

Although the city still has “more breathing room” to accommodate new refugees in schools, gymnasiums and concert halls that have been converted into shelters, this is only a temporary solution.

“We need help building emergency shelters or better yet, permanent new homes for the displaced,” he said. This would not only offer people better living conditions, but also return the around 500 school buildings, sports and music facilities to their original purpose.

“Schools are for children to learn. Gyms are for sport,” he said. Ukrainian civilians flee Russian attack – POLITICO

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