A train passenger holding a dog is seen through the car window
Civilians pack a train leaving Irpin, Ukraine.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
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Humanitarian crisis in Ukraine deepens as Biden travels to Europe

Ukrainian officials say Russian forces hijacked an aid convoy bound for Mariupol, the scene of the worst humanitarian crisis of the nearly monthlong war.

Ukraine accused Russian forces Wednesday of hijacking an aid mission near the besieged city of Mariupol, where one of the worst humanitarian crises of the war has unfolded amid scarce supplies of food and water and streets of buildings reduced to rubble from ceaseless shelling.

According to Ukrainian officials, 15 aid workers and drivers were seized as they made their way to the strategic southeastern port next to the Crimean peninsula, a city that remains under Ukraine’s control but that was said to be breached by an unknown number of Russian troops Tuesday.

The Red Cross said that one of its convoys was unable to enter the city, but confirmation of the Ukrainian allegation of abductions was unavailable.

“We are trying to organize stable humanitarian corridors for Mariupol residents, but almost all of our attempts, unfortunately, are foiled by the Russian occupiers, by shelling or deliberate terror,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said an in overnight video address.

As the capital, Kyiv, and other cities have resisted Russian advances — the Ukrainian military said Tuesday that it retook a strategically significant suburb west of Kyiv, and a temporary cease-fire was reported Wednesday in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine — Mariupol has become the site of what international observers have called one of the worst human catastrophes of the nearly monthlong war.

“Employees of the state emergency service and bus drivers have been taken captive,” Zelensky said. He described the city, where an estimated 100,000 people — about a quarter of its prewar population — remain trapped, as one of “inhumane conditions. In a total blockade. Without food, water, medication. Under constant shelling, under constant bombing.”

A peace sign in the yellow and blue of Ukraine stands near the clock tower in downtown Santa Cruz

SANTA CRUZ UKRAINE RELIEF

How to help

Lookout is compiling a running list of efforts around Santa Cruz County to help those affected by Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Please let us know if we’ve missed anything by emailing us here.

Ongoing: Capitola’s Sante Adairius Rustic Ales has released an IPA called Platform 4, with proceeds from sales going to World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit helping to feed Ukrainian refugees throughout the region. Platform 4 is available at both its Santa Cruz and Capitola locations. Follow Sante Adairius here for updates.

Ongoing: Pacific Cookie Company is selling a tower of a dozen cookies in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine, with proceeds going to World Central Kitchen. Available at its Pacific Avenue store and online; details here.

Ongoing: Santa Cruz’s Sugar Bakery is donating proceeds from sales of its signature macarons to Ukraine relief. Follow here for details and updates.

Ongoing: Santa Cruz’s Temple Beth El is encouraging community members to donate to the Ukraine Crisis Fund from the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Details here.

Ongoing: Links to charitable organizations operating in and around Ukraine from the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County.

Oct. 3: Ukrainian quartet DakhaBrakha will perform at downtown Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center, with net proceeds going to Ukraine relief fund Come Back Alive. Details here.

TBA: San Lorenzo Valley native chef Jessica Yarr has a pair of fundraisers in the works: a weekly soup pre-order, with 10% of proceeds going to the nonprofit Voices of Children Foundation, and an April fundraiser with baker Jennifer Latham, formerly of San Francisco’s famed Tartine Bakery. Sign up for Yarr’s newsletter here for more information, and follow her Eastern Europe-focused pop-up Chickenfoot here. Yarr raised $2,400 for nonprofit Sunflower of Peace with an event the first weekend of March.

Officials say more than 3,000 people have been killed in Mariupol, with rescue operations forced to move slowly to find any survivors beneath leveled buildings and much of the city without electricity. Zelensky said more than 7,000 people had been evacuated over the last day. Hundreds of former Mariupol residents arrived early Wednesday in Lviv, the city in western Ukraine that has become a hub for refugees escaping the country to safety in neighboring nations such as Poland, Romania and Moldova.

Attacks and street fighting continued elsewhere in Ukraine on Wednesday, with a report from the Kyiv city administration that overnight shelling had hit a high-rise apartment building and homes in the Sviatoshynskyi and Shevchenkivskyi districts, west of the city center. Information on deaths or injuries was unknown.

Deadly missile attacks on neighborhoods and suburbs in the capital have become a near-daily part of life as Russian forces remain arrayed on the outskirts, apparently unable to penetrate the city.

Zelensky, who has asked unsuccessfully for negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and spent the past week making daily appeals to foreign lawmakers, addressed the Japanese parliament Wednesday.

“I hope you will continue imposing sanctions. Let’s try to find a way which enables Russia to find a peaceful solution,” he said.

Zelensky has demanded that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization create a no-fly zone over Ukraine. But he has repeatedly been told by leaders of NATO member states, including the U.S., that that will not happen, for fear of turning the conflict into a world war.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak suggested alternative forms of assistance: modern air-defense systems, cruise missiles or shells, an embargo on Russian oil and the closure of ports around the world to Russian ships.

The U.S. and European nations have offered billions in military aid and imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia.

White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said that the U.S. would announce new sanctions Wednesday before President Joe Biden travels to Europe for an emergency NATO summit Thursday. Biden is expected to go on to Poland, which has received more than half of the 3.5 million refugees who have fled Ukraine.

In total, the United Nations says 10 million people have been displaced from their homes, many having left eastern Ukraine for safer areas in western parts of the country, since the Russian invasion began Feb. 24.

Ukrainian and Russian officials have regularly met for negotiations over the course of the war but have been unable to agree on terms for a cease-fire.

U.S. and British intelligence reports as well as independent monitors have said Russia’s invasion has not gone according to plan and described Russian troops as struggling to hold on to gains in key regions. A senior U.S. Defense official said this week that there were “indications that [Ukraine is] now able and willing to take back territory that the Russians have taken.”

In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that the invasion was “going on strictly in accordance with the plans and the purposes that were established beforehand.”

He said Russia’s goals were to “get rid of the military potential of Ukraine,” make sure Ukraine is a “neutral country” and rid the country of “nationalist battalions.”

Peskov also refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons. When asked about the possibility, he said that the Kremlin would consider a nuclear attack if there was an “existential threat for our country.”

McDonnell reported from Lviv and Kaleem from London.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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