What is a humanitarian corridor? Meaning of term, and where Russia is opening corridors in Ukraine

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The Russian military said it will open humanitarian corridors to allow Ukrainians to flee cities that have come under heavy attack

On Monday 7 March Russia announced new “humanitarian corridors” to transport Ukrainians caught and trapped under its bombardment.

However, the fact that these corridors lead only to Russia and Belarus was criticised by Ukraine and the West.

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Senior Ukrainian officials rejected the proposals, preferring routes for civilians to western and southern parts of Ukraine.

UK Government minister James Cleverly called Russia’s humanitarian corridors “cynical beyond belief”.

Here’s everything you need to know about what a humanitarian corridor is, what Russia has proposed and how Ukraine has responded.

AFP via Getty Images

What is a humanitarian corridor?

A humanitarian corridor is a temporary demilitarised zone to allow the safe passage of humanitarian aid as well as refugees out of a crisis region.

They are set up to reduce civilian casualties during a war.

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They were first discussed in 1990 when they were defined in resolution 45/100 of the United Nations’ general assembly.

In 1992, the International Institute of Humanitarian Law from San Remo in Italy defined the concept more specifically.

They were used frequently during the Bosnian War and Syrian Civil War.

In 2016, a joint Russian and Syrian proposal set up humanitarian corridors out of eastern Aleppo.

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What is Russia offering?

Russia said it would open humanitarian corridors from four Ukrainian cities on Monday morning.

The routes are designed for people to reach Russia, Belarus or other parts of Ukraine.

Here are the routes offered:

  • Kyiv to Hostomel, Rakivka, Sosnovka, Ivankiv, Orane or Chernobyl (all Ukraine) and Gomel (Belarus), then by air to Russia
  • Kharkiv to Nekhoteyevka or Belgorod (both Russia), then by air, road or rail
  • Mariupol to Novoazovsk (Ukraine), Taganrog or Rostov-on-Don (both Russia), then by air, road or rail to a chosen destination or temporary holding place
  • Mariupol to Portivske, Mangush, Respublika, Rosivka, Bilmak, Polohi, Orekhiv or Zaporizhzhya (all Ukraine)
  • Sumy to Sudzha or Belgorod (both Russia) then by any transport
  • Sumy to Golubivka, Romny, Lokhvitsya, Lubny or Poltava (all Ukraine)

A Russian military statement says it will carry out “uninterrupted objective control of the evacuation, including with the use of drones”.

How has Ukraine responded?

The corridors have been criticised for providing Ukrainians with routes to countries that are attacking their home - Russia and Belarus.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “This is a completely immoral story. People’s suffering is used to create the desired television picture.

“These are citizens of Ukraine, they should have the right to evacuate to the territory of Ukraine.”

AFP via Getty Images

Zelensky asked the international community on Monday to provide Ukraine with military aircraft and to boycott Russian oil, products and other exports.

“If the invasion continues and Russia has not abandoned its plans against Ukraine, then a new sanctions package is needed ... for the sake of peace,” he said in a video address.

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The Ukrainian government is proposing eight humanitarian corridors, including from Mariupol, that would allow civilians to travel to the western regions of Ukraine where there is no Russian shelling.

Ukrainian deputy prime minister Irina Vereshchuk called the proposed evacuation routes to Russia and Belarus “unacceptable”.

Belarus is a close ally of the Russian President Vladimir Putin and served as a launching ground for the invasion.

Russia broke an earlier ceasefire agreement at the weekend by continuing to heavily shell the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha.

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What have other countries said?

The humanitarian corridors came at the direct request of French President Emmanuel Macron.

However, he has said he did not request for corridors to be made into Russia.

The Elysee presidential palace told BFMTV: “The president of the Republic has neither requested nor obtained corridors to Russia after his conversation with Vladimir Putin.

“The president of the Republic insistently asks to let the civilian populations leave and to allow the transport of aid.”

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James Cleverly, UK Government minister for Europe and North America, told BBC Breakfast: “Providing evacuation into the arms of the country that is currently destroying yours is nonsense.”

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