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UPDATE 1-Red Cross hopes to evacuate civilians from besieged Sumy, Ukraine

·2 min read

* ICRC says operation would bring Sumy civilians to safe area

* Says people in Mariupol 'being suffocated with no aid'

* 3 million Ukrainian refugees have now fled abroad - IOM

* 1.4 million of the refugees are children - UNHCR (Adds details, quotes)

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, March 15 (Reuters) - The Red Cross is hoping to organise the evacuation of two convoys of some 30 buses with civilians out of the besieged northeastern Ukrainian city of Sumy and their passage to a safe area, a spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Ewan Watson, spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told a U.N. briefing in Geneva that the operation would be carried out with the Ukrainian Red Cross but was not underway yet.

"We are moving towards Sumy with a view to facilitate safe passage of civilians out, we are hoping that does take place as planned," Watson said, adding that he had no other details.

"We've seen humanitarian corridors are promised and not respected," he said, saying it was up to the warring sides to implement the agreement.

Watson noted there had been delays with similar evacuations from the southeastern city of Mariupol, where he said people are "essentially being suffocated in this city now with no aid'.

"We know of families undoing oil heaters to take water out as a last resort to have something to drink," he said.

Some 3 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland since Russian forces invaded 20 days ago, Paul Dillon of the U.N.'s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

They include 1.8 million Ukrainians now in Poland, U.N. refugee agency spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh said, while 300,000 have gone on to Western Europe, he said.

Among them are 1.4 million children, meaning 73,000 children have become refugees on average each day over the last 20 days -- almost one per second, UNICEF spokesperson James Elder told the same briefing.

"Ukrainian children arriving in neighbouring countries are at significant risk of family separation, violence, sexual exploitation, and trafficking," Elder said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)