Russia on Monday proposed another handful of humanitarian corridors for Ukrainian civilians to leave several cities Russia is shelling — Kyiv, Mariupol, Kharkiv, and Sumy — but four of the six routes took the Ukrainians either to Russia or Belarus, a Russian ally aiding in its Ukraine invasion. The other two led to eastern Ukraine. Trial escape routes for the 200,000 residents trying to leave Mariupol collapsed Saturday and Sunday. Ukraine called Russia's new proposal a nonstarter.
"This is an unacceptable way of opening humanitarian corridors," said Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. "Our people will not go from Kyiv to Belarus to then be flown to the Russian Federation." British Europe Secretary James Cleverly agreed, telling BBC News, "Providing evacuation routes into the arms of the country that is currently destroying yours is a nonsense."
Some Ukrainians have fled to Russia and Belarus to escape the war, according to the United Nations, but the vast majority have gone to Poland, with smaller numbers heading to Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and Moldova.
Russia's Defense Minister said the humanitarian escape routes grew out of "French President Emmanuel Macron's personal request to Russian President Vladimir Putin" during a two-hour phone call on Sunday. But France said Macron did not ask for routes to Russia. "It's another way for Putin to push his narrative and say that it is the Ukrainians who are the aggressors and they are the ones who offer asylum to everyone," an Élysée official told France's BFM television on Monday.
"The Russian proposal was reminiscent of similar ones in Syria," The Associated Press reports. "In 2016, a joint Russian and Syrian proposal to set up humanitarian corridors out of besieged opposition-held eastern Aleppo was deeply criticized on humanitarian grounds. Human rights activists said the tactic, coupled by brutal sieges, effectively gave residents a choice between fleeing into the arms of their attackers or dying under bombardment."