News World As Russia breaks promise, figures show more than four million Ukrainians are now refugees
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As Russia breaks promise, figures show more than four million Ukrainians are now refugees

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More than four million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the invasion and 1189 civilians have been killed, according to the latest United Nations figures detailing the human toll of war.

Another six million people are displaced within their own country, meaning that in total at least a quarter of the population has had to abandon home in search of safety.

It’s the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War Two.

There had been some hope peace talks would bring relief for residents but it has become clear that the suffering will continue as Russia strikes civilian areas despite agreeing to scale down some operations.

“I think it’s a tragic milestone,” said Alex Mundt, the UNHCR senior emergency coordinator in Poland.

The UN’s Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, meanwhile, said Russia’s allegedly indiscriminate attacks on populated areas of Ukraine “may amount to war crimes”.

Addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, Ms Bachelet said there were credible allegations that Russia had used “cluster munitions” to kill civilians.

The BBC reports that such weapons are widely banned by an international treaty, but neither Russia nor Ukraine are signed up to it.

Her office has also verified 77 incidents in health facilities had been damaged – including 50 hospitals.

Australian leaders will hear directly about the impact on Ukraine’s people when Ukrainian president addresses parliament on Thursday night.

Read on for the latest updates on the war.

Russia breaks promise

As reported in The New Daily’s Starter newsletter on Wednesday morning, Russia has said it would significantly reduce military operations near Kyiv and the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv “to increase mutual trust” for peace talks.

It appears that promise has already been broken.

“It’s not true,” Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a video address to European Union regional officials.

“The whole night we listened to sirens, to rocket attacks and we listened to huge explosions east of Kyiv and north of Kyiv.

“There are immense battles there, people died, still die.”

In the northern city Chernihiv, “the entire night was pretty tense”, according to regional governor Viacheslav Chaus.

“They attacked Nizhyn and Chernihiv. Mostly Chernihiv. Again, part of the civilian infrastructure was destroyed,” Mr Chaus told the BBC.

“None of the military buildings were targeted last night. They kept attacking only civilian infrastructure.”

Chernihiv’s mayor told CNN Russian strikes on the city had intensified, and that another 25 civilians had been wounded during the latest attacks.

Residents told the BBC fighting sounded less intense during the night but still “rough”.
One local told the news service: “We heard there was fighting all night in the suburbs, away from the city centre. We heard artillery. But there was no aviation tonight.”

AAP reporters said intensified bombardment could be heard in Kyiv on from suburbs where Ukrainian forces have regained territory in recent days.

The capital itself was not hit but windows rattled from the relentless artillery on its outskirts.

Reuters journalists southeast of Irpin, a Kyiv suburb which has been the site of intense fighting for weeks, heard frequent shelling and ordnance exploding on the ground and in the air.

Ukrainians leaving the area spoke of heavy shelling north of Irpin, shells landing in Irpin itself and dead bodies in the streets.

Ukrainian Defence Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said Ukraine’s armed forces had observed some movements of Russian forces away from the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions but did not consider this to be a mass withdrawal.

“It is preparing to resume offensive operations,” he said.

Over the past week, Ukrainian forces have recaptured towns and villages on the outskirts of Kyiv, broken the siege of the eastern city of Sumy and pushed back Russian forces in the southwest.

Six millions Ukrainians are displaced within the country as they search for safety. Photo: Getty

Ukraine’s offer on the table

Russia’s lead negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said on Russian television that Ukraine had said in writing it was willing to give up its ambition of joining NATO, adopt ‘non-bloc’ status, renounce nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and commit not to host foreign troops or military bases on its soil.

Mr Medinsky also said Ukraine had agreed not to conduct military exercises with foreign armies except by agreement with state guarantors including Russia.

“Ukraine has declared its readiness to fulfil those fundamental requirements that Russia has been insisting on over the past years. If these obligations are met, then the threat of creating a NATO bridgehead on Ukrainian territory will be eliminated,” he said.

“This is the essence, meaning and importance of the document preliminarily agreed upon at a… high level by Ukraine. However, work continues, negotiations continue.”

Mr Medinsky said Russia was not giving up its insistence that Ukraine recognise the loss of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and the independence of the two self-proclaimed breakaway territories in eastern Ukraine that make up the Donbas region.

“I want to emphasise separately that our country’s position on principle regarding Crimea and Donbas remains unchanged,” he said.

That is a major sticking point for Ukraine, which says it will not make any concessions on its territorial integrity.

Gas warning amid talk of more sanctions

Sanctions have largely isolated Russia from world trade but the country is still the biggest supplier of oil and gas to Europe.

Facing a sharp decline in its currency, Russia has told buyers from “unfriendly” countries they will have to pay with roubles, something the G7 says breaks contracts.

Germany, Russia’s biggest gas customer, declared an “early warning” on Wednesday of a possible emergency if Russia were to cut off supplies.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck urged consumers and companies to reduce consumption, saying “every kilowatt-hour counts”.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s president has said he has spoken to the US about more sanctions aimed at Russia:

Georgian breakaway region to  join Russia

Elsewhere, the leader of breakaway region South Ossetia in the country of Georgia said the territory will take steps in the near future to become part of Russia.

Russia recognised the territory and the coastal region of Abkhazia as independent after fighting a war with Georgia in 2008.

It has provided them with extensive financial support, offered Russian citizenship to their populations and stationed thousands of troops there.

“I believe that unification with Russia is our strategic goal, our path, the aspiration of the people,” Anatoly Bibilov, was quoted as saying by the press service of the United Russia party.

“We will take the relevant legal steps in the near future. The republic of South Ossetia will be part of its historical homeland – Russia.”

As in the Russian-speaking Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, Russia has used recognition of the breakaway regions and the awarding of citizenships to maintain an armed presence in an area of the former Soviet Union that it sees as part of its natural sphere of influence.

In Ukraine, Russia’s long-standing support for armed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk gave it a platform to launch a large-scale military incursion on February 24, one of whose stated aims is to “liberate” the entire, wider Donbass region from Ukrainian control.

-with AAP