On the 38th day of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, Saturday, finally positive for the civilians of Mariupol. A massive evacuation took place in the evening whereas until now, the inhabitants had been able to flee only drop by drop. This Friday, more than 3,000 people fled the city, by bus and private cars, according to the Ukrainian authorities. But after weeks of shelling, around 160,000 people are still stuck in the beleaguered and devastated port on the Sea of Azov. The Russians want to seize it to allow territorial continuity, from Crimea to the two pro-Russian separatist republics of Donbas.
- Russian forces reposition themselves in the East and South and loosen the noose on Kyiv and Cherniguiv
- The entire Kyiv region has been “liberated” according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense
- In Mariupol, 3,000 civilians have finally managed to leave the city
- The Pentagon will provide up to $300 million more in military aid to Ukraine
- Since Friday, Russia demands payment in rubles for its gas from “unfriendly” countries
The situation on the military front
Russia withdraws from the North
Ukraine has confirmed that Russian forces are carrying out a “rapid withdrawal” from the Kyiv and Cherniguiv regions in the north of the country, to better “maintain control” of the “vast territories” they occupy in the east and the south. The entire Kyiv region is now “liberated” according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.
Ukrainian forces were able to retake “more than 30 localities” and seize “a large number of abandoned military vehicles without fuel”, said a Ukrainian presidential adviser, Oleksiï Arestovitch.
Among these localities, Boutcha, northwest of Kyiv, was devastated by the fighting and where nearly 300 people had to be buried “in mass graves” according to its mayor Anatoly Fedoruk.
Strikes planned in the East?
According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Russia is consolidating and preparing “powerful strikes” in the East, notably on Mariupol where some 160,000 people are still blocked and at least 5,000 inhabitants have been killed. For the Russians, control of Mariupol would ensure territorial continuity from Crimea to the two pro-Russian separatist republics of Donbas, Donetsk, and Lugansk.
Timid evacuations of civilians
Unable for weeks, evacuations began on a small scale. On Friday, “humanitarian corridors operated in three regions: Donetsk, Lugansk, and Zaporizhzhia. We managed to save 6,266 people, including 3,071 from Mariupol,” President Zelensky said overnight from Friday to Saturday. This Saturday, seven humanitarian corridors were planned in the East and South-East, according to Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.
Did the Ukrainians touch Russia on its soil?
As peace talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials resumed on Friday via video, the Kremlin warned that the attack in Belgorod would hamper negotiations. ” This is not something that can be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for further negotiations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned.
According to the governor of the Belgorod region in Russia, Ukrainian helicopters hit a fuel depot in the town of the same name, about 40 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. The head of Ukrainian diplomacy, Dmytro Kouleba, had previously declared that he could “neither confirm nor deny that Ukraine was involved”.
This strike in Russia would be the first of its kind if confirmed to be the work of the Ukrainian Air Force, as Russia has repeatedly claimed to have complete control of the air in Ukraine.
The diplomatic situation and international reactions
Resumption of talks and exchange of prisoners
After the helicopter strike carried out on Russian territory and attributed to Ukraine by Russia, the talks resumed by videoconference. “Our positions on Crimea and Donbas have not changed,” announced the Russian negotiator. Ukraine is still waiting for a “response to the proposals that were made in Istanbul” earlier this week.
Kyiv had accepted Ukraine’s neutrality and renounced joining NATO, provided that its security was guaranteed by an international agreement with other countries against Russia. Ukraine also proposed that the question of Crimea and the Donbas, the loss of which Moscow wants to make it recognize, be the subject of subsequent negotiations.
The belligerents have also carried out an exchange of prisoners, indicated Kyiv, “an exchange has just taken place, 86 Ukrainian soldiers including 15 women are already in safety”, indicated Kyiv without specifying the number of Russian citizens.
Additional help from the United States
“Give us missiles. Give us planes,” the Ukrainian president pleaded on Fox News. “Can’t you give us F-18s or F-19s or whatever you have? Give us the old Soviet planes. That’s all…Give me something to defend my country with.”
The request has been heard by the United States, the Pentagon will thus provide up to 300 million additional dollars in military aid to Ukraine, announced the spokesman for the American Department of Defense. “The United States has now committed more than $2.3 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since the Biden administration took office,” including ” more than $1.6 billion in military assistance since his invasion,” said John Kirby. The new aid package includes laser-guided missile systems, Switchblade “kamikaze” drones, as well as Puma-like light drones.
Pope Francis calls for “global and shared responses”
Pope Francis, traveling to Malta, called for “global and shared responses” to “the widening migration emergency”, as millions of people flock to Europe, fleeing the war in Ukraine. “The widening of the migratory emergency – think of the refugees from martyred Ukraine – calls for broad and shared responses. Some countries can’t take on the whole problem in the indifference of others”, launched the pope during a speech at the presidential palace in the capital Valletta where he castigated the acts of “a few powerful” locked up in “nationalist interests”.
The European Union and the United Nations mobilized
Roberta Metsola, the Maltese President of the European Parliament, went to Kyiv on Friday and assured the Ukrainian Parliament, meeting in extraordinary session, of the support of the European institutions. Ms. Metsola, elected President of the European Parliament on January 18, is the first leader of a European institution to visit the Ukrainian capital since the beginning of the Russian invasion. “We will help you rebuild your cities, when this illegal, unprovoked, and unnecessary war is over,” she said in a statement.
This Sunday, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Britain’s Martin Griffiths, will be in Moscow to try to obtain a “humanitarian ceasefire” in Ukraine, the UN chief announced on Friday. United, Antonio Guterres.
Threats to gas supply
Reacting to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to stop gas supplies to “unfriendly” countries if they did not open accounts in rubles in Russian banks, France said on Friday that it was not waiting “a priori for rupture” of its deliveries.
Germany, heavily dependent on Russian gas, said it had received the decree from the Kremlin and was reviewing it “to determine its concrete effects”.
The humanitarian situation and solidarity with Ukrainians
More than 10.6 million Ukrainians have fled
After five weeks of the war, more than 4.1 million refugees have fled Ukraine, to which must be added almost 6.5 million internally displaced people, according to the UN. Some 90% of them are women and children.