Thousands of people are trying to leave eastern Ukraine ahead of an expected Russian offensive in the region.More than 10 million people are already thought to have fled their homes in Ukraine because of the invasion, according to the United Nations. As well as the 4.3 million who have left for neighbouring countries, another 6.5 million people are thought to be displaced inside the war-torn country itself.
Where are people fleeing inside Ukraine?
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister has warned people in large parts of the east of the country to evacuate while still possible. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said people in the Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk regions should try to leave now, or risk their life. The UN’s 10 million figure is based on research carried out by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) between 9 and 16 March. Of the 2,000 internally displaced people it surveyed:
- Nearly 30% had come from Kyiv.
- More than 36% had fled from the east of Ukraine.
- 20% come from the North Ukraine.
- Nearly 40% were now in the west of Ukraine.
- Less than 3% in Kyiv and only 5% had left their homes in anticipation of the invasion, with the vast majority fleeing either at the start of the war or when it reached their area
The IOM estimates that more than half of the people who are internally displaced are women, and many are deemed particularly vulnerable because they are pregnant, have a disability or are a victim of violence.
Children hiding from Russian attacks in their basement bomb room.
4.3 Million have so far left Ukraine for Neighbouring Countries
War crimes are defined by the UN as a serious breach of international humanitarian law committed against civilians or “enemy combatants”. The West has already repeatedly accused Russia of committing war crimes in the last few weeks, and the International Criminal court’s prosecutor has already opened an investigation into it. The condemnation against Russia has only grown since the Bucha massacre hit the news.
US President Joe Biden has now called for a war crimes trial against Putin, whom he calls a “war criminal”. German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said the photographs show the “unbelievable brutality of the Russian leadership and those who follow its propaganda”, while French president Emmanuel Macron said there is now “clear evidence of war crimes” in Bucha.
The UN High Commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet also said she was “horrified” by the sight of the massacre and the photographs raised “serious and disturbing questions about possible war crimes, grave breaches of international humanitarian law and serious violations of international human rights law”.
‘Genocide’ claims from Ukraine
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has described the evidence from Bucha as “genocide”. He visited Bucha for his first trip outside of Kyiv since the war began in February, and was soon struggling to hold back his emotions as he witnessed the devastation.
He said civilians in these liberated regions has a been subjected to treatment “not seen even during the Nazi occupation 80 years ago”. Only on Sunday, Zelenskyy criticised how “hundreds of people killed, tortured, executed civilians”, and said the “bodies on the streets….booby-trapped area… even the bodies of the dead are booby-trapped.”
He vowed: “The time will come when every Russian will learn the whole truth about who among their fellow citizens killed, who gave orders, who turned a blind eye to the murders.” Wladimir Klitschko, brother of Kyiv’s mayor, also alleged that Bucha is evidence of genocide.
The brutal attack has added to claims that Russia now intends to destroy Ukraine. Previously, Moscow had alleged that it wanted to “liberate” its European neighbour from the so-called “nazification” at the top of the country’s government – even though there is no evidence of Nazis ruling in Ukraine.
More sanctions from the West?
Ukrainian officials have pleaded for more severe sanctions against Moscow following the “rape, torture and killings” of Russian soldiers.
The country’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Monday: “Half measures are not enough anymore. I demand from our partners, on behalf of the victims of Bucha and the people of Ukraine, to take the most severe sanctions against Russia this week.”
Macron seemed to agree that the massacre meant new measures are now needed against Russia. He told the French press: “I’m in favour of a new round of sanctions and in particular on coal and gasoline. We need to act.” However, this perspective is not shared across Europe, despite the united sense of outrage at the treatment of the Ukrainians.
Poland is pushing for Europe to quickly come off Russian energy, while Germany wants to gradually phase out the fuel coming from Russia over the coming months. Meanwhile, the UK has actually called for Russia to be suspended from the UN Human Rights Council over its war crimes.
What does it mean for Russia’s attacks?
The massacre itself might not have changed Russia’s approach, Putin has now redirected his forces away from Kyiv due to the strength of the Ukrainian resistance. Soldiers will now move a focus towards the Donbas region, which includes the besieged city of Mariupol, as it looks to dominate the south-east.
Access to Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, is now blocked, according to Ukraine’s general staff, adding: “The enemy is regrouping troops and concentrating its efforts on preparing an offensive operation in the east of our country.”
At the moment, two-thirds of Russian troops are thought to be en route to Belarus or already there for more supplies and reinforcements. The ministry of defence tweeted out its latest update and concluded fighting is expected to “diminish significantly over this week as the remainder of Russian forces withdraw” and regroup for a fresh redeployment in eastern Ukraine.