The city of 100,000 ghosts

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It is vital that these operations are carried out. The lives of tens of thousands of people depend on it.” This was the message from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regarding the possibility of opening a humanitarian corridor in Mariupol, a city in southern Ukraine that has become ground zero of this war. Russia announced the entry into force of a “humanitarian ceasefire” from ten in the morning to allow the evacuation and the kyiv authorities sent 45 buses. The convoy could start today. Before the war, this town had 400,000 registered inhabitants. Now it is estimated that 100,000 remain trapped in the Russian encirclement, under extreme living conditions.

Runners are essential. According to the Ukrainian administration, 75,000 citizens of Mariupol have already left through this route in recent weeks, although often in the middle of crossfire. Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk described the situation of the civilians trapped in the ruins as “desperate”. Its mayor, Vadym Boichenko, recently took stock of the war and raised the number of residents killed in the fighting to 5,000. Many of them have had to be buried in mass graves.

The invading troops, with the support of Chechen units, have practically taken the city, but the local defenses resist in an urban center reduced to rubble by the incessant fire of artillery and aviation. Moscow deploys all its strength here due to the strategic value of Mariupol to ensure dominance of the southern part of the country. The leader of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally of Vladimir Putin, maintains that between 90 and 95% of the enclave is already under Russian control.

Apparent calm in the capital

On the northern front of kyiv, on the other hand, fewer explosions were heard throughout the day. Although places like Irpin have been “liberated” since last Sunday, according to the Ukrainians, access to the press and civilians who want to see if their houses are still standing was prohibited for another day. The relative silence was broken in the middle of the afternoon with a loud detonation in the center of the capital. A projectile hit a military installation, according to local media.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg assured that, despite this apparent calm, the Kremlin “maintains pressure on kyiv.” Supported by Western intelligence reports, he specified that «Russian units are not withdrawing, but repositioning; trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce their offensive in the Donbas region.” The Alliance detected that the main movements of the occupation troops took place in Chernobyl, from where a long caravan of 700 armored vehicles left and the Russian National Guard returned control of the nuclear power plant to the responsible Ukrainian entity, Energoatom. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned that there had been no changeovers among plant personnel for ten days. Now it returns to the hands of Ukraine.

Volodímir Zelenski’s government continues to take steps in search of relative normality. Yesterday the end of the dry law, which has been in force since the beginning of the war, was announced. All the liquor, wine and beer shelves have remained covered with sheets or plastic at the points of sale and a sign reminded customers of the obligation to comply with the regulations. After a long month of prohibition, alcohol can be purchased in kyiv again, albeit with limited hours: from nine in the morning to four in the afternoon. Little by little, cafes, restaurants and some other shops reopen, but the situation in the city is far from what prevailed 37 long days ago.

Zelensky: “It is a humanitarian catastrophe with thousands of deaths”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said yesterday that thousands of people have died in Mariupol during the siege. “Everyone knows that there is a humanitarian catastrophe there,” he lamented by videoconference before Belgian legislators. In his speech to the House of Representatives, he criticized Belgium for continuing to trade in diamonds from Russia, given that this sector is excluded from the European sanctions imposed by the invasion. In his round of telematic contacts to strengthen ties with the West and demand help from it, he called on the Netherlands to be prepared to boycott Russian energy and “not pay billions to Putin for the war.” In turn, before the Australian Chamber, he denounced Moscow’s “impunity” after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine in 2014, in which almost 300 people died.

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