Slow Progress In Evacuations Of Ukrainian Civilians From Conflict Zones As EU Slaps Fresh Sanctions on Russia

Civilians are trickling out of several besieged Ukrainian cities amid an uneasy cease-fire announced by Russia as Western nations continued to ratchet up sanctions against Moscow for its unprovoked invasion, which has sparked a major humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousands trapped without basic supplies.

Russia said early on March 9 that its forces would "observe a regime of silence" from 10 a.m. Moscow time on March 9 to ensure safe passage for civilians wishing to leave Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and the Black Sea port of Mariupol, which the Red Cross has said faces "apocalyptic" conditions.

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But officials reported mixed results in shuttling people out of the war zones, with only a safe corridor out of the eastern city of Sumy being confirmed.

Officials in Enerhodar, the location of Europe's biggest nuclear power plant which Russian forces seized last week, said some humanitarian supplies were making their way into the city, with vehicles expected to take residents out as they left the area.

It was unclear whether residents of Mariupol would be able to escape the fighting after a similar attempt on March 8 failed when the cease-fire broke down.

Corridors to let civilians escape and allow aid to reach besieged areas have been the main subject of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations, but there has been little success in opening them.

Lyudmyla Kunytska, a resident of Irpin just outside of Kyiv, said she and a group of other civilians came under heavy fire on March 8 while trying to use one of the corridors.

She said that, even though the vehicles they were traveling in were clearly marked as containing children, Russian troops opened fire, killing her mother and others in the unarmed group.

"Our vehicles had inscriptions saying “Children,” “Evacuation,” but they started shooting at us," she told RFE/RL.

Another woman at the scene, Olena Dovzhenko, said her husband was wounded in the shooting, covering her in blood as he tried to shield her.

She said the Russian soldiers approached her and instead of helping, they told her "how bad we are for living in Ukraine" and how they came to “save” us.

"Imagine that. My beloved husband is bleeding, and they are telling me how bad I am living here,” she said.

The number of people to have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion continues to grow, with the head of the United Nation's refugee agency, UNHCR, estimating on March 9 that the figure has now reached somewhere near 2.2 million people.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told a news conference during a visit to Stockholm that "the time is now to try to help at the border," rather than discussions on the division of refugees between countries.

With Russian missile and artillery attacks intensifying, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy reiterated his call for a no-fly zone to protect Ukraine, saying that otherwise, the international community would be responsible for a mass humanitarian catastrophe.

"Russia uses missiles, aircraft, and helicopters against us, against civilians, against our cities, against our infrastructure. It is the humanitarian duty of the world to respond," he said as the war stretched into its 14th day.

So far, many NATO countries, along with other Western allies, have supplied only defensive weaponry to Kyiv amid threats from Moscow that it would make the donors a direct party to the conflict and thus open to retaliation.

On the diplomatic front, the European Union continued to tighten sanctions on those "implicated in the Russian aggression in Ukraine," agreeing on new measures targeting another 14 oligarchs, 146 members of Russia's upper house of parliament, and their families.

The new sanctions also target the maritime sector and will exclude three Belarusian banks from the SWIFT financial payment messaging system, while also clarifying the issue of cryptocurrencies and giving a complete list of technologies and goods that cannot be sold between Russia and the bloc.

"We are further tightening the net of sanctions responding to Russia's military aggression against Ukraine," European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen wrote in a tweet.

Earlier in the day, Britain, which is not an EU member, unveiled new aviation sanctions under which any Russian plane can be detained while exports of aviation or space-related goods to Russia can also be banned.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris begins a tour of two European NATO allies, Poland and Romania, on March 9 to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine and impact the war is having on the region, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov travels to Turkey, where he will meet his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, on March 10.

On March 8, the United States announced a ban on oil and other energy imports from Russia, while Britain said it would also phase out Russian oil by the end of the year.

The EU, which is heavily dependent on Russian energy supplies, planned to slash gas imports by two-thirds. Oil and gas exports account for a significant portion of Russia's budget revenues and are a key source of foreign currency to defend the ruble.

In Washington, congressional leaders reached a bipartisan deal early on March 9, providing $13.6 billion to help Ukraine and European allies as part of an overdue $1.5 trillion measure financing federal agencies for the rest of this year.

Biden had requested $10 billion for military, humanitarian, and economic aid last week, and Democratic and Republican backing was so staunch that the amount was upped to $12 billion on March 7 and $13.6 billion just a day later.