Number of refugees fleeing Ukraine reaches 1.5 million | CBC News

The latest:

  • Ukrainian refugee count rises to 1.5 million; UN agency warns ‘many times more’ could be displaced.
  • Officials in port city of Mariupol say shelling has again prevented civilians from leaving.
  • Bombs dropped on residential areas of Chernihiv, north of the capital, Ukrainian officials say.
  • IMF to weigh Kyiv’s request for $1.4B in emergency financing.

More than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine have crossed into neighbouring countries in the space of 10 days, the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on Sunday.

That number was announced as Kyiv pressed the West to toughen sanctions and deliver more weapons to repel Russia’s attack, now in its 11th day.

In an interview on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday, Grandi said escalations in the conflict could displace “many times more” than the current refugee count.

A Ukrainian soldier helps with the evacuation of civilians on Sunday near Irpin, Ukraine. (Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images)

Moscow and Kyiv have traded blame over Saturday’s failed ceasefire to allow civilians to flee Mariupol and Volnovakha, two southern cities besieged by Russian forces. Ukraine said more talks were set for Monday, but Russia was less definitive.

A second attempt to evacuate civilians from Mariupol failed on Sunday after local authorities said Russian forces continued shelling the port city.

“It is extremely dangerous to take people out under such conditions,” the city council said in an online statement.

Capturing Mariupol could allow Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

People who have been able to escape Ukraine have spilled into neighbouring Moldova, Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.

What else is reported happening on the ground

  • Ukraine’s national security service on Sunday said Russian forces in Kharkiv fired rockets at a physics institute that contains nuclear material and a reactor.
  • Russian forces launched hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks across the country, including bombs dropped on residential areas of Chernihiv, north of the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said. They said a column of Russian armoured vehicles threatening the capital remained stalled outside Kyiv.
  • Ukrainians fleeing the town of Irpin, just outside Kyiv, were caught in shelling by Russian forces on Sunday and forced to dive for cover, witnesses said. Irpin, some 25 kilometres northwest of the capital, has seen intense fighting in recent days. U.S. news outlets said that at least three people were killed — a woman and two children, but Reuters said it could not independently verify what happened.
  • President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainian forces were holding key cities in the central and southeastern part of the country, while the Russians were trying to block and keep encircled Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Chernihiv and Sumy.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency has said Russian forces are tightening their grip on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Ukraine’s largest, that they seized last week. The director general of the agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said Sunday that Ukrainian staff members are now required to seek approval for any operation, even maintenance, from the Russians.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Moldova on Sunday, pledging support to the small Western-leaning former Soviet republic, which is also coping with an influx of refugees from neighbouring Ukraine.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau departed for Europe on Sunday, stopping first in London for a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands to discuss ways to provide additional support for Ukraine. He will also meet with other European leaders during the week.

‘Drive this evil out of our cities’

Meanwhile, Zelensky called on those in areas occupied by Russian troops to fight.

“We must go outside and drive this evil out of our cities,” he said in an address on Saturday night.

WATCH | Ordinary Ukrainians learn to use rifles to join the fight against Russia:

Ordinary Ukrainians learn to use rifles to join the fight against Russia

In the basement of a community centre, ordinary Ukrainian citizens are learning how to use a rifle — many for the very first time — in an effort to join the fight against the Russian invasion. 1:40

In a televised address on Sunday, Zelensky said Russia was preparing to bombard another southern city, Odesa, on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.

He also renewed calls for foreign countries to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying “the world is strong enough to close our skies.”

NATO countries have ruled out policing a no-fly zone, which would bar all unauthorized aircraft from flying over Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that Moscow would consider any third-party declaration of a no-fly zone over Ukraine as “participation in the armed conflict.”

British military intelligence said on Sunday that Russian forces were targeting populated areas in Ukraine, comparing the tactics to those Russia used in Chechnya in 1999 and Syria in 2016. But it said Ukrainian resistance was slowing the advance.

“The scale and strength of Ukrainian resistance continue to surprise Russia,” British military intelligence said.

Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilian areas.

“Attacks on health-care facilities or workers breach medical neutrality and are violations of international humanitarian law,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on Twitter, saying WHO had confirmed attacks on “several” health-care centres, causing multiple deaths and injuries.

He made no mention of Russia in his tweet.

Putin likens sanctions to ‘declaration of war’

Putin, who calls the invasion a “special military operation,” reiterated that he wanted a neutral Ukraine that had been “demilitarized” and “de-Nazified.” He likened Western sanctions “to a declaration of war.”

“This is not only a military operation but a war, which is leading to death, destruction and misery,” Pope Francis said in his weekly address to crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

A sports venue destroyed by shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, is seen on Saturday. (Yurii Kochubei/The Associated Press)

Ukraine and Western countries have decried Putin’s reasons as a baseless pretext for the invasion and have imposed sweeping sanctions aimed at isolating Moscow and crippling its economy.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, after meeting the U.S. secretary of state at the Ukraine-Poland border on Saturday, said he expected new sanctions and weapons for Ukraine in coming days.

WATCH | Ukrainian president pleads to U.S. senators for planes, drones to fight Russia: 

Ukrainian president pleads to U.S. senators for planes, drones to fight Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a ‘desperate plea’ for planes Saturday on a call with more than 300 people that included U.S. senators. He’s also pushed NATO to impose a no-fly zone over his country. 3:58

The United States has promised to send more weapons and has said it could escalate sanctions. President Joe Biden has sought $10 billion US in emergency funding to respond to the crisis.

Washington is working with Poland as Warsaw considers whether to provide fighter jets to Ukraine, the White House said.

Zelensky asked for help securing aircraft from European allies in a video call with U.S. lawmakers. He again called for more lethal aid, a ban on Russian oil, a no-fly zone and an end to Visa and MasterCard privileges in Russia.

Corporate pullbacks

Visa and MasterCard later said they would suspend credit card operations in Russia, the latest in a dramatic series of  corporate pullbacks over the invasion.

Seeking to mediate, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Putin at the Kremlin on Saturday and later spoke to  Zelensky.

“We continue dialogue,” Zelensky tweeted after the call.

Russia told the EU and NATO to stop the “pumping of state-of-the-art weapons systems” into Kyiv, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, according to RIA.

Russia claims Ukraine working on nuclear weapon 

Russian media cited an unidentified source on Sunday as saying Ukraine was close to building a plutonium-based “dirty bomb” nuclear weapon, although the source cited no evidence.

Shortly before the invasion, Putin had said Ukraine was using Soviet know-how to create its own nuclear weapons, and  that this was tantamount to preparation for an attack on Russia.

WATCH | Why Putin drove Russia into war and won’t back down

Why Putin drove Russia into war and won’t back down

Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine without regard for any advice from those around him, longtime observers say. This decision and how the campaign is unfolding, including the threat of nuclear weapons, have some questioning his state of mind. 8:05

Ukraine’s government has said it had no plans to rejoin the nuclear club, after giving up its nuclear arms in 1994 following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The International Monetary Fund warned the conflict would have a “severe impact” on the global economy, driving up energy and grain prices. It said it would weigh Kyiv’s request for $1.4 billion in emergency financing as early as this  week.

People hold Ukrainian flags as they attend the Angelus noon prayer recited by Pope Francis from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sunday. (Andrew Medichini/The Associated Press)

Ukraine’s military said more than 11,000 Russian troops had been killed so far and 88 Russian aircraft shot down. Reuters could not corroborate the claim.

Hundreds of civilian deaths so far

Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières said it was rushing more emergency supplies to Ukraine as hospitals faced shortages.

More than 350 civilians have been killed, according to the UN rights office, with hundreds more injured.

Demonstrations were planned on Sunday in Washington and elsewhere after jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny called for worldwide protests on March 6 against the war. Protests were held in Chile, Paris and Israel on Saturday. 

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