• Talk of humanitarian corridors comes after failed cease-fires
  • Oil price surges as U.S. considers Russia oil ban
  • Ukraine says Russian forces preparing assault on Kyiv

LVIV/IRPIN, Ukraine, March 7 (Reuters) – Moscow said on Monday it would provide corridors for residents of Ukraine’s two main cities to flee to Russia and Belarus, a move Ukraine called an immoral stunt to exploit the suffering of civilians under Russian bombardment.

Russian and Ukrainian delegations assembled for a third round of talks in Belarus, both sides said. Two previous rounds yielded little beyond pledges to open routes for humanitarian access that have yet to be successfully implemented.

“In a few minutes, we will start talking to representatives of a country that seriously believes large-scale violence against civilians is an argument,” Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “Prove that this is not the case.”

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Russia’s announcement of “humanitarian corridors” came after two days of failed ceasefires to allow civilians to escape the besieged city of Mariupol, where hundreds of thousands are trapped without food and water, under relentless bombardment.

A corridor from Kyiv would lead to Russia’s ally Belarus, while civilians from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city, would be directed to Russia, according to maps published by the RIA news agency.

“Attempts by the Ukrainian side to deceive Russia and the whole civilised world … are useless this time,” the ministry said.

A spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the move “completely immoral” saying Russia was trying to “use people’s suffering to create a television picture”.

“They are citizens of Ukraine, they should have the right to evacuate to the territory of Ukraine,” the spokesperson told Reuters.

More than 1.7 million Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion have so far crossed into Central Europe, the United Nation’s refugee agency said on Monday, as thousands more streamed in that direction.

Sweeping sanctions have subjected Russia to isolation from global commerce never before visited on such a large economy. Global share prices plunged on Monday after Washington said it was considering extending sanctions to Russia’s energy exports, until now carved out from trade bans. read more

Russia is the world’s biggest exporter of oil and gas. Brent crude prices briefly spiked above $139 a barrel on Monday, the closest they have come in 14 years to the all-time high of $147. Investment banks say prices could approach $200 this year if Russian supply evaporates, with dire consequences for the global economy. Russia and Ukraine are also both among the world’s main exporters of food and industrial metals.

Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians. It calls the campaign it launched on Feb. 24 a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and remove leaders it describes as neo-Nazis. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a transparent pretext for an invasion to conquer a nation of 44 million people.

Who buys Russia's oil and gas? Who buys Russia's oil and gas?
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The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Russian forces were “beginning to accumulate resources for the storming of Kyiv”, a city of more than 3 million, after days of slow progress in their main advance south from Belarus.

‘NO PEACEFUL PLACE ON THIS EARTH’

Ukraine said 2,000 civilians had been evacuated from Irpin, a Kyiv suburb that has been under heavy attack. Reuters journalists in the town on Sunday witnessed residents running for their lives, carrying small children, pets and bags of belongings. Families dove for cover as explosions burst in the town and flames shot up into the sky. Panting with exhaustion and shock, they were helped onto busses by Ukrainian troops.

The situation was quieter on Monday. Ukrainian police released footage of more civilians making their way out.

In a speech to the nation late on Sunday, Zelenskiy described one family cut down as they tried to escape Irpin on Sunday, and said Russians responsible for such atrocities would never be forgiven: “For you there will be no peaceful place on this earth, except for the grave.”

Ukraine said on Monday its forces had retaken control of the town of Chuhuiv in the northeast, site of heavy fighting for days, and of the strategic Mykolayiv airport in the south, which the regional governor said was under tank fire. Neither claim could immediately be verified.

The United Nations called for safe passage to reach people cut off from lifesaving aid across Ukraine. In a humanitarian update it described one psychiatric hospital 60 km (37.3 miles)from Kyiv, running out of water and medicine with 670 people trapped inside, including bedridden patients with severe needs.

The WHO said at least six people had been confirmed killed in nine attacks on health care facilitaties since the start of the war. read more

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters Moscow would halt operations if Ukraine ceased fighting, amended its constitution to declare neutrality, and recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the independence of regions held by Russian-backed separatists.

While Russia’s advance in the north on Kyiv has been stalled for days with an armoured column stretching for miles along a highway, it has made more progress in the south, pushing east and west along the Black and Azov Sea coasts.

In the port of Mariupol, residents are sleeping underground to escape a week of shelling by Russian forces that has cut off food, water, power and heat. read more

About half were due to be evacuated on Sunday, but that effort was aborted for a second day when a ceasefire collapsed, with both sides accusing each other of shooting and shelling.

Moscow has acknowledged nearly 500 deaths among its soldiers, but Western countries say the true number is much higher and Ukraine says it is many thousands. Death tolls cannot be verified, but footage widely filmed across Ukraine shows burnt-out wreckage of Russian armoured columns and Ukrainian cities reduced to rubble by Russian strikes.

In Russia itself, the authorities have imposed a near total blackout on non-official information. The last significant independent broadcasters of the post-Soviet era were shut last week, and a new law threatens long jail terms for reporting deemed by the authorities to discredit the military. Many foreign news organisations have suspended reporting from Russia.

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Reporting by Reuters bureaus
Writing by Peter Graff
Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Philippa Fletcher

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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