Ukraine: new American sanctions, Kyiv calls to evacuate the East

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SYEVERODONETS’K | The United States announced on Wednesday a new salvo of “devastating” sanctions against Russia, accused of war crimes, while Ukraine called on civilian populations to evacuate the east of its territory, now a priority target of the Kremlin.

• Read also: [EN DIRECT] 42nd day of war in Ukraine: here are all the latest developments

• Read also: Turkey calls for an investigation into Boutcha’s corpses

• Read also: Ukraine: after the horror, the wait

These new US measures, in response to the “atrocities” committed in Ukraine, prohibit “all new investment” in Russia and will apply the most severe constraints possible to the major Russian banks Sberbank and Alfa Bank, as well as to several important public companies. They also target the daughters of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

They were to be decided in coordination with the G7 and the European Union, pressed by Kyiv to do more against Moscow, in particular in terms of energy sanctions, a subject which divides the EU, some member states of which are very dependent on deliveries. Russians.


The United Kingdom immediately announced a ban on all investment in Russia and sanctions in finance and energy.

European Council President Charles Michel said on Wednesday that the EU should “sooner or later” impose sanctions on Russian oil and gas.

“We cannot tolerate any indecision after what we have been through,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, addressing the Irish Parliament.


He was referring to the accusations made against Russia of abuses against civilian populations, particularly in the town of Boutcha, near Kyiv. On Tuesday, he had already launched an impassioned appeal to the UN Security Council, summoned to act “immediately” in the face of the “war crimes” of which he accuses Moscow.

Mr. Zelensky notably had the diplomats project dramatic images showing, according to Kyiv, many corpses of civilian victims of violence filmed in localities recently evacuated by the Russian army.

Charges formally rejected by Moscow, Vladimir Putin denouncing on Wednesday a “gross and cynical provocation” of Ukraine in Boutcha.

But Germany, very dependent on Russian gas, considered that Moscow’s thesis of a Ukrainian staging was “not tenable” in view of the satellite photos which were broadcast.

Terms

China, very cautious about the conflict, for its part evoked “deeply disturbing” images, but recalled that “any accusation” must “be based on facts”.

Pope Francis lambasted “ever more horrible cruelty (including) against civilians, women and children.”

The Ukrainian authorities claim for their part to fear the discovery of other massacres and that that of Boutcha is “not the worst”.


Militarily, they also fear a large-scale Russian offensive in the east, in areas they control near the Russian border.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk also called on the civilian population of these regions, including the large city of Kharkiv, on Wednesday to “evacuate (…) now”, while there is time, on pain of “risking death”.

On the diplomatic level, Hungarian nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, just re-elected and close to Vladimir Putin, announced on Wednesday that he had suggested to the Russian president to declare an “immediate ceasefire” and to go to Budapest for discussions. with the Ukrainian, French and German leaders. “He said yes, but with conditions,” he said without further details.

But the conflict shows no sign of abating, and NATO is due to address it again during a meeting Wednesday and Thursday in Brussels of foreign ministers from the Alliance’s member states.

“War can last a long time, several months or even years. And that is why we must also be prepared for a long journey, both in terms of supporting Ukraine, maintaining sanctions and strengthening our defences,” said his secretary. General Jens Stoltenberg.


Jens Stoltenberg

NATO only intervenes militarily to defend its members when one of them is attacked or under UN mandate. Ukraine is not a member, but nothing prevents the thirty countries of the Alliance from providing assistance.

On the ground, Moscow is pursuing its new strategy: concentrating efforts on Donbass, the vast mining basin in eastern Ukraine partly in the hands of pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

“Surprise”

AFP journalists noted regular shelling on Wednesday morning in Severodonetsk, 100,000 inhabitants before the conflict, the easternmost city held by the Ukrainian army in the Donbass, very close to the front line.

AFP saw a building on fire while very few civilians were visible in the streets, running for cover as soon as the strikes resumed.


According to the regional governor, ten buildings, a shopping center and nearby garages were affected in total, which caused a major fire.

In Vougledar, a town of 15,000 people 50 kilometers southwest of Donetsk, two civilians were killed and five injured in the shelling of an aid distribution center, according to Donetsk region governor Pavlo Kirilenko.

A little further, Ukrainian forces were preparing to defend a road linking Izium, recently taken by Russian forces, to the neighboring cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the de facto capital of the east controlled by Kyiv.

Cluttered with anti-tank obstacles, the road is surrounded by trenches dug with bulldozers. Artillery pieces and other more or less buried armored vehicles dot the surroundings and the forest is full of shelters and other equipment.


“The Russians are busy, we know they are preparing to attack,” a senior officer told AFP, referring to an increase in Russian helicopter flights over the front.

“We are ready. (…) We have prepared some surprises for them”, added this veteran of the 2014 war, twice wounded.

Ukrainian logistics are also targeted. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, five fuel depots which supplied the Ukrainian forces in the regions of Kharkiv and Mykolaiv (south), as well as in Donbass and near Dnipro (east) were destroyed overnight by missiles .

Russian airstrikes hit 24 Ukrainian military sites in total, according to the ministry.

“My mother or my grandchildren”

Russian forces also continue to consolidate their positions on the coastal strip along the Sea of ​​Azov in southern Ukraine to connect the Donbass regions to the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014.

The fighting is still focused in particular on the large port city of Mariupol, whose mayor described the situation on Tuesday as having “exceeded the stage of a humanitarian disaster”.

Some 120,000 of its inhabitants are still stuck there, he said, and the evacuees, after a harrowing 200-kilometre journey, find themselves in reception centers in Zaporozhye, inland, where an ICRC convoy arrived on Wednesday with more than 500 refugees.

People who arrived before told AFP the hell of Mariupol, like Angela Berg, 55, who left everything in this city, including her mother, too old for the journey.

“A man armed with a machine gun forced us to lie on the ground in front of our 12-storey building, on pieces of broken glass. Then they started shooting at it with tanks, the building caught fire. And the man with the submachine gun was shooting at people trying to get out. They didn’t let us get anything back until it was all burnt down.”

Worse, she explains that she had to abandon her mother and her invalid sister-in-law to save the rest of her family, including her sick three-month-old granddaughter. “It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever made. I had to choose between my mother and my grandchildren”.

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