More than 2 million civilians have already fled Ukraine, the United Nations said Tuesday — as Russia was accused of fresh war crimes for shelling scores of refugees trying to evacuate along promised safe routes.
“Today, the outflow of refugees from Ukraine reaches two million people. Two million,” Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, tweeted of the fastest exodus Europe has seen since World War II.
The UN’s data portal recorded 2,011,312 refugees, or greater than 275,000 more than its last count Monday. Hundreds of thousands of those fleeing are children, according to UNICEF, the UN children’s agency.
More than 1.2 million Ukrainian refugees have fled to neighboring Poland, while nearly 100,000 went into the Russian Federation itself, according to the data, which does not include those displaced from their homes but who remain in Ukraine.
Ukraine officials Tuesday insisted that hundreds of thousands more citizens were effectively being held “hostage” in cities that were surrounded with no safe exits on the 13th day of the invasion.
“Russia holds 300k civilians hostage in Mariupol, prevents humanitarian evacuation despite agreements,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted, with the city’s mayor putting the figure even higher, at a half-million.
The city saw yet more airstrikes, even though one of the city’s Russian forces had said it would allow a safe exit for those eager to leave. A 6-year-old girl and her mom were among those killed in the bombings of the city, Ukrainian officials said.
“Ceasefire violated! Russian forces are now shelling the humanitarian corridor from Zaporizhzhia to Mariupol,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry tweeted.
The attacks came as “8 trucks + 30 buses” were “ready to deliver humanitarian aid to Mariupol and to evacuate civilians to the city of Zaporizhzhia,” Ukrainian officials said.
“The invaders did not let children, women, elderly people out of the city,” Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operation claimed in a Facebook post, calling it “the genocide of the people of Ukraine.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed Tuesday that there were “very credible reports of civilians coming under fire as they try to evacuate.
“Targeting civilians is a war crime, and it’s totally unacceptable,” he said.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said she is “deeply concerned about civilians trapped in active hostilities in numerous areas.”
Bachelet also told the UN Human Rights Council that her office has received reports of pro-Ukrainian activists being arbitrarily detained in areas “under the control of armed groups.”
On Tuesday, convoys of buses started trying to evacuate civilians from other cities, including Sumy and the town of Irpin, a Kyiv suburb where women and children were killed in a brutal bombardment Sunday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called Tuesday for the expansion of humanitarian corridors and more support from the Red Cross.
He said there was no firm agreement on the route out of Mariupol, so “Russian troops can simply shoot on this transport on the way.”
The battle for Mariupol is crucial because its capture could allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. An estimated 200,000 people — nearly half the city’s population of 430,000 — hope to flee.
It was unclear if any of the buses managed to get out amid the reported shelling.
Kyiv, a city of nearly 4 million, still appeared to be protected by soldiers, and volunteers have built hundreds of checkpoints, often using sandbags, stacked tires and spiked cables.
“Every house, every street, every checkpoint, we will fight to the death if necessary,” Mayor Vitali Klitschko vowed.
The ongoing exodus came as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights put the death toll at 474 Ukrainian civilians, including 29 children.
The agency acknowledged the actual tally is likely far higher, and Ukraine said it had registered the deaths of at least 38 children, with more than 70 other youngsters injured.
The under-siege nation claimed its invaders had paid a far higher toll, claiming to have killed at least 12,000 Russian military personnel. The Pentagon has put that figure at more like 2,000 to 4,000.