An estimated 10 million people have fled their homes in Ukraine since its war with Russia began, with the majority of those fleeing westward into Europe’s interior rather than east into Russia.
“Among the responsibilities of those who wage war, everywhere in the world, is the suffering inflicted on civilians who are forced to flee their homes,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted on Sunday. “The war in Ukraine is so devastating that 10 million have fled — either displaced inside the country, or as refugees abroad.”
Nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s pre-war population of 44 million have now left their homes, as people continue to stream out of the country. While European countries have offered to shelter the millions of non-combats fleeing the war-torn country, Russia has intensified its strikes on civilian targets. The east Ukraine city of Mariupol has been under particularly heavy pressure as Russia has sought its surrender.
Russia offered to open up humanitarian corridors for Ukrainians to leave the besieged city if Ukrainian officials would surrender by Monday. Russian Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev, who did not say what would happen should Ukraine reject the ultimatum, offered a corridor east to Russia and another one west to other parts of Ukraine.
“There can be no talk of any surrender, laying down of arms,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said, according to the Associated Press. “We have already informed the Russian side about this.”
Mariupol’s mayor is similarly committed to resisting the Russian onslaught. As the AP reported:
Mariupol Mayor Piotr Andryushchenko also quickly dismissed the offer, saying in a Facebook post he didn’t need to wait until the morning deadline to respond and cursing at the Russians, according to the news agency Interfax Ukraine.
Russian forces have reportedly laid Mariupol under siege in recent weeks, blocking humanitarian assistance from getting into the city while largely stopping civilians from evacuating. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in late February, has stalled in much of the country as the fighting in Mariupol remains intense and costly. As the AP reported last week:
Several appeals for humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians went unheeded, until Ukrainian officials said Wednesday that about 30,000 people had fled in convoys of cars. Airstrikes and shells have hit the maternity hospital, the fire department, homes, a church, a field outside a school. For the estimated hundreds of thousands who remain, there is quite simply nowhere to go.
The surrounding roads are mined and the port blocked. Food is running out, and the Russians have stopped humanitarian attempts to bring it in. Electricity is mostly gone and water is sparse, with residents melting snow to drink. Some parents have even left their newborns at the hospital, perhaps hoping to give them a chance at life in the one place with decent electricity and water.
People burn scraps of furniture in makeshift grills to warm their hands in the freezing cold and cook what little food there still is. The grills themselves are built with the one thing in plentiful supply: bricks and shards of metal scattered in the streets from destroyed buildings.