Ukraine evacuates civilians from Sumy as Russian assault stalls

‘We are not afraid’

Russia’s invasion has brought death and destruction to areas across Ukraine but slow progress in its military offensive.

Civilians, carrying bags of belongings and holding children’s hands, have fled the Russian assault on packed trains headed West and lined up at Ukraine’s borders to escape.

Two million people have now fled to neighboring countries since the conflict began, the head of the United Nations refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, tweeted Tuesday, in what the he has called the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

As cities across the country struggled under Russian bombardment, Zelenskyy on Monday sought to boost morale. Showing he was at work in Kyiv rather than in hiding, he promised to rebuild the country while condemning Russian forces for targeting civilian infrastructure like bread factories and churches.

“It is like a nightmare for them,” he said. “They forgot that we are not afraid of police vans, of tanks, of machine guns when the most important thing is on our side — truth.”

Ukraine’s military said it had stalled the Russian advance in an update early Tuesday, but the country’s defense minister warned that Russian forces were gathering for a new wave of attacks on key areas, including Kyiv and Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.

Russia has now committed nearly all of the troops it had amassed around Ukraine, according to a senior U.S. defense official.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown no sign of pulling back in the face of fierce resistance, and his military might significantly overpowers Ukraine’s, a fact that Zelenskyy highlighted on Tuesday.

He warned in a speech posted on Telegram that Russia still had enough missiles to wreak havoc on Ukrainian cities and renewed his request for the West to implement a no-fly zone above Ukraine. The United States and its allies have resisted those calls, fearing it could escalate the conflict into a broader war on the continent.

Energy threats

Moscow, facing fierce resistance and crippling sanctions, threatened to stop the flow of gas through pipelines from Russia to Europe.

On Monday it said it could halt the flow of natural gas through existing pipelines from Russia to Germany in response to Berlin’s decision last month to halt the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

“We have every right to take a matching decision and impose an embargo on gas pumping through the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline,” Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said.

Oil giant Shell became the latest Western company to halt operations in the country, announcing Tuesday that it would stop buying Russian oil and gas in addition to closing all of its service stations across the country.

The company’s CEO, Ben van Beurden, apologized for buying Russian crude oil last week and committed to dedicating profits from remaining amounts it has to a fund. 

As Russia’s isolation has grown since the war began nearly two weeks ago, the Kremlin has warned against the West’s involvement. But Zelenskyy has urged greater military aid for Kyiv and more punishing measures against Moscow.

President Joe Biden has not committed to a ban on Russian energy imports, but lawmakers struck a bipartisan deal on Monday to pass legislation that would do so.

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