Refugees stand in line in the cold as they wait to be transferred to a train station after crossing the Ukrainian border into Poland, at the Medyka border crossing in Poland, on March 7 Refugees stand in line in the cold as they wait to be transferred to a train station after crossing the Ukrainian border into Poland, at the Medyka border crossing in Poland, on March 7  (AFP or licensors)

Number of Ukrainian refugees rises as Russia hits civilian areas

The United Nations says more than 1.5 million people have now fled Ukraine into neighboring countries as the country faces mounting attacks by some 200,000 Russian troops. The refugee crisis comes as Russian forces respond to Ukraine's resistance by targeting "populated areas" in several cities. The attacks continue despite mounting opposition against the war in Ukraine and Russia itself.

By Stefan J. Bos
A defiant Katya recently sang the Ukrainian anthem in a bombed-out Kyiv flat. She cleaned up the glass of the destroyed apartment of her mother, Oksana.  

"Long live Ukraine," she said, her voice trembling, her eyes full of tears.

The flat is among civilian sites that Russia has bombed since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine began more than a week ago.

"I was sleeping," recalled Katya's mother, Kyiv resident Oksana Gulenko. "There was a sharp explosion. And I was thrown three meters or 10 feet from the room I was into the corridor. That was it. The glass shattered. Sounds were coming from the street. I got scared. I started crawling on the floor."

The explosions came when her daughter's pastry shop that she helps run was to celebrate a birthday party. Now there are tears.

Russian forces are increasingly targeting civilian sites. President Volodomy Zelensky said Sunday that a civilian airport in the city of Vinnytsia, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) southwest of the capital Kyiv was destroyed by Russian rockets.

Fighting rocking areas

So far, most of the fighting in Ukraine rocked areas in the north and east of the capital Kyiv and the country's southern regions.

A fresh attempt to evacuate civilians from the besieged southern city of Mariupol began Sunday.

But the city council said a temporary ceasefire would last only until nine o'clock in the evening. And even then, it was unclear if fighting had stopped in the area.

A similar evacuation plan announced on Saturday was already aborted due to Russian attacks. Frightened residents, including children, tried to escape the relentless shelling.

Russian forces faced stiff resistance, and many Russian vehicles were destroyed, including northwest of Kyiv.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin says his country's military action will not stop until Moscow's demands are met that Ukraine disarms and stays neutral outside the NATO military alliance. He has also pledged to topple the pro-Western government.

His announcement came despite protests. Hundreds of people were reportedly detained Sunday in Russian cities after jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny called for anti-war demonstrations.

Jerusalem peace? 

Amid the clashes, Israel's prime minister was Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in a bid to end Europe's worst conflict since World War Two.

The office Naftali Bennett said their meeting lasted about three hours and took place "in coordination and with the blessing of the U.S. administration."

Prime Minister Bennett, an observant religious Jew, flew to Moscow during the Sabbath when much of Israel came to a standstill,
underlining the urgent nature of his mission.

The talks with President Putin also focused on the safety of Ukraine's Jewish population amid raging battles.

Bennett then spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who suggested  Jerusalem host peace talks in Jerusalem.  

For now, with more than 1.5 million people already fleeing Ukraine and shelling continuing, reaching a peace deal in Jerusalem
remains uncertain.

07 March 2022, 10:39