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Civilian evacuation begins in Sumy as Ukraine warns refugees could be forced to Russia: Live updates – USA TODAY

The first safe corridor intended to allow civilians to escape war-torn Ukrainian cities opened Tuesday, a significant move met with skepticism after similar efforts failed as the number of people fleeing the country surpassed 2 million.

The exodus continues as President Joe Biden reportedly was preparing to announce a ban on the U.S. import of Russian energy, the latest effort to ratchet up sanctions against Russia for its brutal assault on its neighbor.

“The first stage of civilian evacuation from Sumy has just begun,” the Ukraine communications agency tweeted Tuesday. “The Russian Defense Ministry has officially agreed to the humanitarian corridor in a letter to the Red Cross.”

The agency tweeted video of buses rolling out of Sumy, a city of 260,000 people in Ukraine’s northeast near the Russian border. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said those fleeing Sumy and other cities would have the option of going to Russia or to western Ukrainian cities that have not been targeted.

Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk warned that the Russians were preparing to “disrupt the work of humanitarian corridors and manipulate the route” to force people to go to Russia. And the Ukraine military claimed Russia had launched an attack in the direction of the humanitarian corridor out of the besieged southern city of Mariupol.

The U.N. office of human rights has recorded 1,335 civilian casualties since the war began, including 474 killed and 861 injured. More than two dozen children are among the fatalities.

The U.N. said the true toll likely is “considerably higher, especially in government- controlled territory and especially in recent days, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed” and many reports are pending corroboration.

The U.N.’s refugee agency said Tuesday that 2,011,000 Ukrainians had fled the country, most of them to Poland. The European Union could see as many as 5 million Ukrainian refugees if Russia continues to attack cities, E.U. foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said.

Ukrainian soldiers help an elderly woman cross a destroyed bridge as she evacuates the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, on March 8, 2022.

Latest developments:

►The Ukrainian military intelligence agency said Russian Maj. Gen. Vitaly Gerasimov, 45, was killed in battle near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

►Energy giant Shell said Tuesday that it will stop buying Russian oil and natural gas and shut down its service stations and other operations in the country. 

►Senior U.S. officials traveled to South America over the weekend to meet with President Nicolas Maduro’s government, a surprise high-level meeting between the countries. Officials discussed easing oil sanctions on Venezuela amid the fallout from a possible oil embargo on Russia, according to Reuters.

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VISUALS:Mapping and tracking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

THE WEAPONRY OF MODERN WAR:A look at weapons being used in Ukraine

In Mariupol, a struggle to survive

In Mariupol, the Russian army has broken the agreements on the humanitarian corridor for a fourth day in a row, making evacuation “impossible,” the Ukraine government said. Shelling has continued nonstop for a week, and most utilities are out. Civilians in the besieged southeastern port city are struggling to survive, and the Associated Press reports that bodies have been left uncollected on the streets.

Efforts to set up evacuation routes have repeatedly collapsed. With water supplies cut, people have been relying on streams or melting snow. Power outages have residents relying on their car radios for information, some broadcast from areas controlled by Russia or Russian-backed separatist forces.

Looting for food, clothes and even furniture is widespread, and locals refer to the practice as getting a “discount,” AP reports.

Boy, 11, escapes to Slovakia on his own

An 11-year-old boy has made a heroic journey to Slovakia alone to flee the Russian attacks. According to a Facebook post from the Slovak Embassy in the U.K., the boy crossed the Slovakian border with just a plastic bag, a passport and a phone number written on his hand. Volunteers took him to get food, heat and drinks as they prepared him for his next journey. Officials were able to contact his mother from the phone number written on his hand. In a video posted on Facebook, she thanked everyone for her son’s safety. 

“He conquered everyone with his smile, fearlessness and determination of a real hero,” a Slovak Interior Ministry representative said.

– Asha C. Gilbert

US reportedly to ban import of Russian energy

President Joe Biden will announce a ban on the U.S. import of Russian energy in the latest effort to ratchet up sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a source familiar with the announcement told USA TODAY. The White House updated Biden’s schedule Tuesday morning to include remarks announcing “actions to continue to hold Russia accountable for its unprovoked and unjustified war on Ukraine.”

The source, who spoke to USA TODAY on condition of anonymity, said the speech would focus on the forthcoming ban on Russian oil, liquefied natural gas and coal. Gas prices have already soared since the war began and the ban could push them higher. But pressure has been building in Congress for the administration to take this step.

Maureen Groppe and Courtney Subramanian

2 million have fled Ukraine

The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine reached 2 million on Tuesday, according to the United Nations, the fastest exodus Europe has seen since World War II.

“Today the outflow of refugees from Ukraine reaches 2 million people. Two million,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, wrote on Twitter. Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said she is “deeply concerned about civilians trapped in active hostilities in numerous areas.” 

Poland has been the escape point for more than 1.2 million of the refugees. Several hundred thousand have fled to other European nations, including about 100,000 to Russia. More than 15% of the country of 45 million people are ethnic Russians.

Russia warns oil prices could reach $300 per barrel

Russia warned the price of oil could leapfrog to $300 a barrel and threatened the possible closure of gas supplies to Europe amid rising tensions against Western countries considering a ban on Russia oil.

“It is absolutely clear that a rejection of Russian oil would lead to catastrophic consequences for the global market,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said in a statement on state television, according to Reuters. “The surge in prices would be unpredictable. It would be $300 per barrel if not more.”

Noting Germany’s decision last month to freeze the certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Novak said Russia could ax the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline – considered one of Europe’s main sources of natural gas.

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

Gas prices are now the most expensive in US history

After days of dramatically rising gas prices in wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the national average for a gallon of gas is now the highest in U.S. history, breaking the record that stood for nearly 14 years. As of Tuesday morning, the cost of regular gas in the U.S. is $4.17, according to AAA, up from $4.06 on Monday. Last week, the average cost was $3.60.

The previous national average high was $4.11, set on July 17, 2008, according to AAA.

“Americans have never seen gasoline prices this high, nor have we seen the pace of increases so fast and furious,” Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at fuel-savings app GasBuddy, said in a statement on Monday. 

Jordan Mendoza

PRICE GOUGING?Are oil and gas companies price gouging consumers at the pump?

Lviv struggling with influx of Ukrainians hoping to flee to Poland

Many refugees are crossing over to Poland through the far western city of Lviv. But the city is buckling under the pressure of the tens of thousands of people who have fled their hometowns in hopes of seeking refuge in another country. “We really need support,” Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said. The city needs big tents with kitchens in order to prepare food, he said.

The historical city, once a popular tourist destination, had a population of 700,000 before the war. Now, over 200,000 displaced Ukrainians are filling up Lviv’s sports halls, schools, church buildings and hospitals. 

– Celina Tebor

Congress reaches deal on bill banning Russian oil

Congressional leaders reached an agreement Monday on legislation that would ban Russian oil imports to the U.S. and end Russia’s permanent normal trade relation status, according to a Senate aide granted anonymity to discuss private deliberations. Voting could come swiftly but no schedule has been set.

President Joe Biden has been reluctant to ban Russian oil, fearing it could further fuel inflation heading into the midterm elections this November. Ending the normal trade relation status could result in steep tariffs on other Russian imports.

– Christal Hayes

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