Ukraine claims 20k foreigners join fight

Washington—Some 20,000 international volunteers have traveled to Ukraine to join in the fight against invading Russian forces, a top Ukrainian official said Sunday.

CROSSING TO SAFETY. Evacuees cross a destroyed bridge as they flee the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, on March 7. Ukraine dismissed Moscow’s offer to set up humanitarian corridors from several bombarded cities on Monday after it emerged some routes would lead refugees into Russia or Belarus. AFP

“This number is around 20,000 now. They come from many European countries mostly,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told US broadcaster CNN.

“Many people in the world hated Russia and what it was doing in recent years, but no one dared to openly oppose and fight them,” he said.

“So, when people saw that Ukrainians are fighting, that Ukrainians are not giving up, many felt motivated to join the fight” and bring Russia to account for its invasion.”

Meanwhile, Russia declined to attend a hearing at the United Nations’ top court on Monday at which Ukraine is asking for an immediate order to halt the conflict, the head judge said.

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“The court regrets the non-appearance of the Russian Federation in these oral proceedings,” International Court of Justice President Joan Donoghue said.

The Russian ambassador to the Netherlands, Alexander Shulgin, wrote to the court and “indicated that his government did not intend to participate,” she said.

Russian forces pummeled Ukrainian cities from the air, land, and sea on Monday, with warnings they were preparing for an assault on the capital Kyiv, as terrified civilians remained trapped in besieged Mariupol.

The relentless fire has pushed more than 1.5 million people across Ukraine’s borders as refugees, though many others are displaced internally or trapped in cities being reduced to rubble by Russian bombardment.

International sanctions intended to punish Moscow have so far done little to slow the invasion, and Washington said it was now discussing a ban on Russian oil imports with Europe.

The comments sent the price of Brent crude soaring to near a 14-year high, with markets in Tokyo and Hong Kong slumping.

While Ukraine’s top diplomat said he understood the desire of foreigners to contribute on the ground, it was most important to receive “sustainable, political, economic and military support” from around the world.

“And we need US leadership in this exercise, with special focus on air defense,” Kuleba said.

Late last month, at the start of the invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky openly invited foreigners to his country to form part of an “International Legion” that would fight side by side with Ukrainians against the Russians.

Volunteers were invited to apply at Ukrainian embassies in their respective countries.

Denmark has given the green light for its nationals to take up arms in Ukraine.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss gave similar permission to UK nationals, but she was contradicted Sunday by the country’s head of the armed forces Admiral Tony Radakin, who said it was “unlawful and unhelpful” for Britons to fight against Russia in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s representative at the court in The Hague, Anton Korynevych, criticized Russia for not showing up at the ICJ’s Peace Palace headquarters.

“The fact that Russia’s seats are empty speaks loudly. They are not here in this court of law, they are on a battlefield, waging aggressive war against my country,” he said.

“This is how Russia solves disputes.”

Kyiv lodged an urgent case at the ICJ on February 27, saying that Russia had illegally justified its war by falsely alleging genocide in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

Ukraine has asked the court to take provisional measures ordering Russia to “immediately suspend the military operations”, pending a full judgment that could take years.

Korynevych added that the court “has a responsibility to act.”

“Russia must be stopped, and the court has a role to play in stopping that,” he said.

On the ground, air sirens sounded in cities across the country, including the capital Kyiv, and intense aerial bombardment continued

in the city of Kharkiv, which has endured almost non-stop fire in recent days.

“The enemy continues the offensive operation against Ukraine, focusing on the encirclement of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, and Mykolayiv,”

the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a statement.

Russian forces “began to accumulate resources for the storming of Kyiv”, the statement added.

In the south of the country, regional military officials said Russia had shelled the village of Tuzly in the Odessa region from the sea, targeting “crucial infrastructure sites” but causing no injuries.

And Russia’s Interfax reported a large explosion that set alight a fuel depot Monday morning in Lugansk, a town held by pro-Russian separatist rebels.

In Kharkiv, Russian fire hit a university and apartment block in the northeastern city, blowing out all the windows and leaving the facade completed blackened and charred.

In the tangle of splintered wood and mangled metal strewn across the ground in front of the building lay several dead bodies next to a car.

The legs of one person, dressed in brown trousers and black boots could be seen next to a blue surgical mask alongside the back of the car, its roof caved in under the weight of rubble.

Zelensky raged against the growing destruction and death toll, accusing Russian troops of “murder, deliberate murder” in an address.

“We will not forgive, we will not forget, we will punish everyone who committed atrocities in this war on our land,” he said. “There will be no quiet place on this Earth except the grave.”

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 in what the UN calls Europe’s fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II.

But some have found themselves trapped, including in the southern city of Mariupol, where a second attempt to allow civilians to flee some of the worst violence of the conflict collapsed on Sunday.

Both sides accused each other of breaching a ceasefire agreement, with the International Committee of the Red Cross warning of “devastating scenes of human suffering” in the strategic city on the Azov Sea.

One family who did manage to leave the city described spending a week without heat or electricity and running out of food and water.

“On the road, we saw there were bodies everywhere, Russians and Ukrainians… We saw that people had been buried in their basements.”

Meanwhile, the mayor of Irpin, a small town outside Kyiv, described seeing two adults and two children killed “in front of my eyes” when a shell hit them.

“It is impudence, they are monsters. Irpin is at war, Irpin has not surrendered,” Oleksandr Markushyn said on Telegram, adding that part of the city was in Russian hands.

AFP journalists saw civilians clambering over a bombed out bridge as artillery fire sounded around them. The body of a civilian killed

while fleeing lay on the road, partially covered with a blanket, next to a grey suitcase.

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.

But the Russian leader Vladimir Putin has equated global sanctions with a declaration of war and warned that Kyiv is “putting in question the future of Ukrainian statehood”.

Moscow has been forced to restrict sales of essential goods to limit black-market speculation, while on Sunday payment giant American

Express halted operations there, a day after Visa and Mastercard announced similar steps.

Despite harsh punishments for those voicing dissent, protests in Russia against the Ukraine invasion have continued, with more than 10,000 people arrested since the operation began.

Putin has pledged the “neutralisation” of Ukraine “either through negotiation or through war”, and expectations remain low for a third round of Russian-Ukrainian talks set for Monday.

NATO allies have so far rebuffed Ukraine’s calls for a no-fly zone, with one senior US senator, Marco Rubio, saying Sunday that it could lead to “World War III” against nuclear-armed Russia.

Putin has threatened “colossal and catastrophic consequences not only for Europe but also the whole world” if a no-fly zone is imposed.

In the Ukrainian capital, troops have been preparing for the expected Russian assault on Kyiv, including planting explosives on what they say is the last intact bridge standing in the way of advancing forces.

If they try to cross, the Ukrainians will blow up the bridge and “sink as many enemy tanks as we can while we do it”, said a fighter who gave his name as Casper.

Kyiv has urged the West to boost its military assistance, with Zelensky pleading for Russian-made planes that his pilots are trained to fly.

A barrage of Russian missiles destroyed an airport in central Ukraine’s Vinnytsia, said Zelensky, underscoring his appeal for help.

Moscow has also warned Ukraine’s neighbors against hosting Kyiv’s military aircraft, saying they could end up involved in armed conflict.

Weapons, ammunition, and funds have poured into Ukraine from Western allies as they seek to bolster Kyiv.

Blinken said Washington was “working actively” on a deal with Poland to supply it with American jets.

There are also ongoing concerns about the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear sites after the Russian attack on Friday on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant—Europe’s largest.

The UN nuclear watchdog has expressed “grave concern” about the situation at the plant, and France said it would include iodine tablets, which help protect against the effects of radiation exposure, to Ukraine along with other medical supplies.

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