RUSSIAN bombardment on the outskirts of Kharkiv. — MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS OF UKRAINE

THE PHILIPPINES will force Filipinos in Ukraine to evacuate, as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) raised the alert there to Level 4, with Russia continuing its military strikes on its neighbor.

The mandatory evacuation would be enforced at the government’s expense, DFA said in a statement on Monday.

The Philippine Embassy in Poland and a rapid response team will help Filipinos leave Ukraine, a European democracy of 44 million people that Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

Russia launched the devastating attack by air, land and sea after President Vladimir Putin denied for months he would invade his neighbor. He then tore up a peace deal and sent forces across borders in Ukraine’s north, east and south.

“DFA continues to closely monitor the political and security developments in Ukraine,” the Philippine Embassy in Poland said in a statement.

Meanwhile, 17 more Filipinos came home from Ukraine at the weekend, DFA said.

The first group consisted of four Filipino adults and three Filipino-Ukrainian children with their three Ukrainian mothers, while the second group was made up of two Filipino adults and a Filipino-Ukrainian child with his Ukrainian mother. They all arrived via Qatar Airlines from Warsaw.

The third group of three Filipinos came from Kyiv and arrived in Manila on their own through Emirates Airlines, DFA said in a separate statement.

The Philippine Honorary Consulate General in Kyiv helped the Filipino evacuees travel from Kyiv to Lviv, while the Philippine Embassy in Warsaw provided for their transportation and other means in Warsaw. The embassy also arranged their travel documents and visas, coronavirus tests and flights to Manila, the agency said.

Meanwhile, 21 Filipino crew members of the M/V S-Breeze were expected to arrive in Manila on Tuesday with the help of the Philippine Embassy in Budapest and Philippine Honorary Consulate in Moldova, DFA said.

The United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees on Sunday said more than 1.53 million have left Ukraine after the Russian invasion. The UN expects at least four million people to flee the country after Russia’s attack.

Ukrainian and Russian representatives held talks last week for a possible cease-fire and the withdrawal of Russian forces.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier said Russia’s continued attacks were meant to extract concessions from his country, but it would not work.

Last month, he pleaded that his country be admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) so that the 30-member intergovernmental alliance, which consists of 28 European and two North American countries, could provide military assistance.

NATO last week said it would provide Ukraine with air defense missiles and anti-tank weapons after NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg held another call with Mr. Zelensky. The alliance and the United States earlier said they would not send forces to fight alongside Ukraine.

The Philippines has voted yes to a United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It sought an end to the fighting and appealed for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

“We strongly urge the cessation of hostilities; but while an offense can be stopped at will, the defense cannot rest until the offense stops,” the Philippines said earlier.

It has echoed the call by the UN secretary-general to respect humanitarian principles. “Safe access to humanitarian assistance must be assured by the most effective means.”

All states enjoy the right to full sovereignty in all their areas of jurisdiction, the Philippines said, citing the UN Charter.

“We especially condemn the use of separatism and secession as a weapon of diplomacy for inviting and inflicting terrible cruelties and indiscriminate killings far in excess of that of any other kind of conflict,” the Philippines said, alluding to Russia’s deployment of troops in two breakaway regions in Ukraine. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan and Norman P. Aquino