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Ceasefire in Ukraine breaks down, blocking civilians from evacuating cities 

Efforts to evacuate large numbers of Ukrainians in cities under siege by Russian troops faltered Tuesday afternoon after Ukraine accused Russia of violating a ceasefire.

(CN) — Hopes to evacuate large numbers of civilians in Ukrainian cities under siege from Russian forces were smashed on Tuesday after both sides accused each other of violating a ceasefire and fighting and bombing continued to rage across eastern and southern Ukraine.  

Tuesday started with Russia and Ukraine seeming to agree on opening up humanitarian corridors out of several devastated cities but by the afternoon Ukraine accused Russian troops of violating the ceasefire and shelling an evacuation route out of the desperate city of Mariupol, where some 200,000 civilians are trapped.   

Also in the afternoon, in a major escalation on the economic front, U.S. President Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil, gas and coal imports, a move that rattled oil markets further and pushed up the price of energy even higher.   

The economic fallout of the war between Ukraine and Russia may push the world into a global recession that could cause even more unrest around a world already on its knees due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

Groups of civilians were evacuated from Sumy, Irpin and other besieged Ukrainian towns and cities on Tuesday before the ceasefire broke down.   

This was the second time the evacuation of Mariupol faltered, though some civilians have managed to flee the city via a route that leads to Russia-controlled territory. Russia media spoke to civilians charging Ukrainian forces were not letting people leave Mariupol.   

Fighting is especially intense in and around Mariupol, a southern port city surrounded by Russian and pro-Russian forces. Russia accuses hardcore Ukrainian soldiers with the Azov Battalion of not letting civilians leave the besieged city, which is deemed crucial in Russian efforts to connect Crimea, a peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, with parts of eastern Ukraine under Russian control.    

Russia came under fresh accusations of killing civilians and inflicting catastrophic damage on Ukrainian cities. Russia accuses Ukrainian forces of attacking from residential areas and using civilians as “human shields.”    

On Tuesday, Ukraine accused Russian troops of killing three orphanage teachers and wounding two others after striking a minibus in the region of Mykolayiv, an area near the southern port city of Odessa, which Russia is trying to seize. News media also showed horrifying video of what was described as a Russian armored vehicle firing at a civilian car and incinerating an elderly couple inside.  

Women and children fleeing from Ukraine arrive at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland, on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

For as horrific as Russia’s assault on Ukraine has been, some military experts say Russian military strategists may have made a miscalculation by actually being “too soft” at the opening stages of the invasion and choosing not to bomb Ukrainian military barracks and unleashing Russia’s catastrophic artillery might against Ukraine. Russia, some experts say, may not have wanted to cause massive deaths in the hope of not turning Ukrainian sentiment against Russia.   

Western and Ukrainian analysts suggest an increasingly isolated, irrational and ideological Russian President Vladimir Putin, obsessed with the idea of reconstituting the old Russian empire with himself as a new kind of tsar, badly misjudged the sentiment of a Ukrainian population in thinking they would welcome Russian troops as “liberators.”   

They argue he was deluded by a notion that Ukrainians in the eastern part of the country would not see Russia as the enemy but rather as a sister nation.  

On Tuesday, the heads of U.S. spy agencies warned that Putin’s setbacks in Ukraine may cause him to escalate attacks on Ukraine and that the world needs to be prepared for “an ugly next few weeks.” 

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They estimated that 2,000 to 4,000 Russian troops have been killed so far. Six days ago, Russia provided its only count on casualties, saying 498 of its soldiers had been killed. Ukraine claims it has killed more than 12,000 Russian troops.  

“Our analysts assess that Putin is unlikely to be deterred by such setbacks and instead may escalate,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the annual House of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats.  

“I think Putin is angry and frustrated right now. He's likely to double down and try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties,” said William Burns, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, at the hearing.  

On the ground in Ukraine, it does appear, based on voting patterns in past elections, that the country is deeply divided with people in western Ukraine generally pro-Western and those in eastern parts more pro-Russian.   

Those divisions have been exacerbated since the 2014 overthrow of a pro-Russian Ukrainian president in the so-called “Maidan Revolution.”   

Following that insurrection, the country was thrown into conflict with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the eruption of armed conflict between pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donbas and Ukrainian forces.   

Many eastern Ukrainians, reportedly, have felt discriminated against since pro-Western politicians took over Kyiv’s government following the Maidan Revolution, a series of protests, violent episodes and intrigues that many political scientists say amounted to a U.S.-backed coup d’etat.    

There is no doubt, for now at least, that Ukrainians appear united and determined to resist the Russian onslaught. It remains to be seen how deep the resistance is and whether in fact large swaths of eastern Ukraine will want to join a long-lasting insurgency against Russia and pro-Russian regimes in Ukraine.   

For now, though, Ukraine seems destined for many more days, if not weeks and months, of war.   

With the ceasefire breaking down once again, fighting was being reporting in many parts of the country by Tuesday night and there seemed to be little hope for a ceasefire any time soon, though a meeting between Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to take place in Turkey on Thursday.  

Ukrainian soldiers walk on a destroyed bridge in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

The United Nations estimates that more than 2 million Ukrainians have left the country since Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24. With Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 called upon to fight the Russian invaders and not allowed to leave Ukraine, the vast majority of refugees are women, children and the elderly.  

The humanitarian disaster in Ukraine, a country of 44 million people, is growing as millions of people find themselves lacking food, water, gas, electricity and other basic necessities. Russia has bombed essential infrastructure in many parts of the country and trapped civilians are suffering freezing temperatures.    

With Russia's invasion entering its 13th day on Tuesday, military experts said Putin’s hopes for a quick victory also are being dashed by determined resistance by Ukrainian forces.  

Since the Maidan Revolution, Ukraine’s military has been revamped, possibly purged of people with pro-Russian sentiments and modernized thanks to billions of dollars in funding and training by the United States and NATO.  

The growing NATO presence in Ukraine and the country’s desire to join the anti-Russian military alliance were “red lines” for Putin and once he failed to get NATO to assure that Ukraine would not become a member, he apparently felt he had no option but to launch his wild and bloody invasion, which is shaking the foundations of the post-Cold War order.       

Russia is believed to be suffering heavy losses, though there is no clear picture just how many of its soldiers have been killed and how much of its weaponry destroyed. But with a much larger and stronger military, Russia is expected to continue fighting and eventually wear down the Ukrainian forces.  

There is evidence that Western arms shipments, such as anti-tank rocket launchers, are arriving in greater numbers and getting into Ukrainian hands. Some military experts say the war’s outcome is far from certain. Even if Russia is able to seize large parts of Ukraine, any pro-Russian government faces potentially years of insurgency.    

On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy incited Ukrainians to keep up the fight and his government vowed that they would win the war and beat back the Russians. Zelenskyy is pleading for the West to enter the war too and on Tuesday compared what was happening in Ukraine to events at the start of World War II.   

“We shall not give up and shall not lose. We shall go the whole way,” he said in a televised address to the British Parliament on Tuesday, mimicking a speech Winston Churchill gave to the British people in June 1940.   

“We shall fight in the seas, we shall fight in the air, we shall defend our land, whatever the cost may be,” he said. “We shall fight in the woods, in the fields, on the beaches, in the cities and villages, in the streets, we shall fight in the hills ... We shall not surrender… Glory to the great Ukraine!”  

Besides the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, this war poses risks to the rest of the world because the West’s economic blockade of Russia could lead to a global recession, economists worry.    

Russia supplies about 18% of the world’s wheat supply and Ukraine about 7%. Russia is also a major supplier of titanium, aluminum and other necessities, so it’s economic turmoil could have far-reaching consequences.   

For now, the European Union is not ready to join the U.S. in banning Russian oil and gas imports because it relies so heavily on Russian energy. About 30% of its energy comes from Russia.   

But the United Kingdom, a staunch U.S. ally, said it will phase out Russian energy imports by the end of the year. The U.K. gets about 8% of its energy from Russia.     

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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