Ukraine rejects 'unacceptable' Russian evacuation offer
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Ukraine on Monday dismissed an offer from Moscow for humanitarian corridors that would lead refugees from bombarded cities into Russia and Belarus, as fresh talks got underway with slim hopes of ending the conflict.
The war has pushed more than 1.7 million people across Ukraine's borders in what the United Nations calls Europe's fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II, and the EU warned that figure could eventually reach five million.
International sanctions intended to punish Moscow have done little to slow the invasion, and Washington said it was now discussing a ban on Russian oil imports with Europe that pushed oil prices to a near 14-year high.
As global pressure mounted over horrifying scenes of civilians cut down during failed ceasefires, Moscow's defence ministry announced plans for humanitarian corridors and said a "regime of silence" had started at 0700 GMT.
But Ukraine rejected the proposal for the cities of Kharkiv, Kyiv, Mariupol and Sumy, as many of the routes led into Russia or its ally Belarus, raising questions over the safety of those who might use them.
"This is not an acceptable option," Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
"All this is not serious, it is moral and political cynicism, which I find intolerable," he told LCI television in an interview.
Russia's negotiator at the peace talks that began on the Belarus-Poland border in return accused Ukraine of the "war crime" of blocking the corridors.
So happy to get out
The talks would focus on "humanitarian corridors to evacuate" the civilian population in Ukraine, Belarusian news agency Belta said.
Outgunned Ukrainian forces have been trying to hold back Russian forces besieging cities as they push up from the east and south up in an attempt to encircle the capital Kyiv.
AFP journalists witnessed thousands of civilians on Monday fleeing the fighting via an unofficial humanitarian corridor in Irpin, a strategic suburb west of Kyiv.
A day earlier eight people died there in shelling, Ukrainian officials said. Images of the killing of one family of four shocked the world on Sunday.
"I am so happy to have managed to get out," said Olga, a 48-year-old woman leaving with her two dogs.
Children and the elderly were carried on carpets used as stretchers on the route, which leads over a makeshift bridge and then a single path secured by the army and volunteers.
Desperate people abandoned pushchairs and heavy suitcases to make sure they could get on the buses out of the war zone.
"We had no light at home, no light, no water, we just sat in the basement," Inna Scherbanyova, 54, an economist from Irpin, told AFP.
"Explosions were constantly going off... Near our house there are cars, there were dead people in one of them... very scary."
Two recent attempts to allow some 200,000 civilians to leave the besieged Azov Sea port of Mariupol have also ended in disaster.
Secure the skies
Refugees trying to escape Mariupol using humanitarian corridors were left stranded as the road they were directed towards was mined, the ICRC said on Monday.
The fighting continued elsewhere, with the Ukrainian military saying the Russians were "focusing on the encirclement of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mykolayiv."
The mayor of Gostomel, the town north of Kyiv that is home to a crucial military airfield, was shot dead by Russian forces while "distributing bread to the hungry", local officials said.
Fears meanwhile rose that main port of Odessa, dubbed the "pearl of the Black Sea", was the next target of Russia's offensive in the south.
"How many more deaths and losses must it take to secure the skies over Ukraine?" he said in a video message.
Twelve days of fighting have killed hundreds of civilians and wounded thousands. An unending stream of people -- mostly women and children -- has poured into neighbouring countries, especially Poland.
Western allies have imposed unprecedented sanctions against businesses, banks and billionaires in a bid to choke the Russian economy and pressure Moscow to halt its assault.
Moscow has been forced to restrict sales of essential goods to limit black-market speculation, while payment giants American Express, Visa and MasterCard have halted activities there.
Streaming giant Netflix suspended its service in Russia while social media titan TikTok halted the posting of new videos from Russia.
World War III
Despite harsh punishments for those voicing dissent, protests in Russia against the Ukraine invasion have continued, with more than 10,000 people arrested since it began.
But Putin has equated global sanctions with a declaration of war, put nuclear forces on alert and warned that Kyiv is "putting in question the future of Ukrainian statehood" by continuing to resist.
Putin has pledged the "neutralisation" of Ukraine "either through negotiation or through war", demanding that it be demilitarised.
NATO allies have so far rebuffed Ukraine's calls for a no-fly zone, with one prominent US senator, Marco Rubio, saying Sunday that it could lead to "World War III" against nuclear-armed Russia.
Deprived of direct military options, Western countries have instead been pouring weapons, aid and equipment into Ukraine to help its forces combat the Russians.
The EU meanwhile said it had agreed to start examining Ukraine's membership bid along with those of Georgia and Moldova.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Europe could see the entry of five million Ukrainian refugees "if the indiscriminate bombardments of cities continues."
Sputtering diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict continue with the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia and Turkey set to meet in southern Turkey on Thursday, Ankara said.
China said on Monday it was open to helping to mediate peace but stressed that the friendship between close allies Beijing and Moscow remained "rock solid".
The International Court of Justice meanwhile heard Ukraine's appeal for it to order Russia to halt the fighting, but Moscow declined to attend the sitting of the UN's top court, in The Hague.