Russia strikes near Ukrainian capital; besieged port city | National policy

By MSTYSLAV CHERNOV and YURAS KARMANAU – Associated Press

MARIUPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces pounded the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Saturday, bombarding its downtown as residents took cover at an iconic mosque and elsewhere to avoid blasts. fight also raged in the suburbs of the capitalKiev, while Russia continued its bombardment of other cities in the country.

Mariupol has endured some of Ukraine’s worst punishments since the Russian invasion. Incessant barrages have repeated failed attempts to bring food, water and medicine to the city of 430,000 people and to evacuate its trapped civilians. More than 1,500 people have died in Mariupol during the siege, according to the mayor’s office, and the shelling even halted efforts to bury the dead in mass graves.

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Talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire broke down again on Saturday, and while the United States announced its intention to provide another $200 million to Ukraine for weapons, a senior Russian diplomat warned that Moscow could attack foreign shipments of military equipment.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russia of employing “a new stage of terror” with the alleged detention of a mayor of a town west of Mariupol.

Outside Mariupol, Russian soldiers looted an aid convoy trying to reach the town and blocked another, a Ukrainian official said. The Ukrainian military said Russian forces captured the eastern outskirts of Mariupol, tightening their siege of the strategic port. Taking Mariupol and other ports on the Sea of ​​Azov could allow Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.

“They bombard it (Mariupol) 24 hours a day, launching missiles. It’s hate. They kill children,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address. Satellite images released on Saturday by the Maxar company showed fires in parts of the city and extensive damage to apartments, houses and other infrastructure.

An Associated Press reporter in Mariupol witnessed tank fire on a nine-story building and was with a group of hospital workers who came under sniper fire on Friday. A worker shot in the hip survived, but conditions at the hospital were deteriorating: electricity was restricted to operating tables and people with nowhere to go lined the hallways.

Among them was Anastasiya Erashova, who was crying and shaking as she held a sleeping child. The shelling had just killed her other child as well as her brother’s child, Erashova said, her scalp covered in blood.

“No one could save them,” she said.

In Irpin, a suburb about 20 kilometers northwest of central Kiev, bodies lay in the open on Saturday in the streets and in a park.

“When I woke up in the morning, everything was covered in smoke, everything was black. We don’t know who is shooting and where,” resident Serhy Protsenko said as he walked through his neighborhood. Explosions rang out in the distance. “We have no radio or information.”

Some Irpin residents took shelter in a pitch-dark basement, unsure where they might go or how they would find food if they left. Others were carrying luggage on planks on a waterway where a bridge had been damaged.

Zelenskyy encouraged his people to maintain their resistance, which many analysts say prevented the quick military victory the Kremlin was likely expecting.

“The fact that the entire Ukrainian people resisted these invaders has already gone down in history, but we have no right to relax our defense, however difficult it may be,” he said. Later Saturday, Zelenskyy reported that 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers had died since the Russian invasion began on February 24.

Zelenskyy again deplored NATO’s refusal to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine and said Ukraine had been looking for ways to procure air defenses, although it did not give details. US President Joe Biden announced an additional $200 million in aid to Ukraine, with an additional $13 billion included in a bill which was passed by the House and should be passed by the Senate within a few days. NATO has said imposing a no-fly zone could lead to a wider war with Russia.

Ukraine’s president also accused Russia of detaining the mayor of Melitopol, a town 192 kilometers (119 miles) west of Mariupol. The Ukrainian leader called on Russian forces to heed calls from protesters in the occupied city for the release of the mayor.

In several areas around Kiev, artillery barrages sent residents rushing to safety as air raid sirens sounded. The British Ministry of Defense said Russian forces which had been massed north of the capital had come within 25 kilometers (15 miles) of the city center and dispersed, likely to support an attempted attack. encirclement.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday that seven people in a convoy of people fleeing Peremoha, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) northeast of Kiev, were killed when Russian forces fired on the group.

Ukrainian military and volunteer forces are preparing for an all-out assault on the capital. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Thursday that around 2 million people, or half of the metropolitan region’s residents, had left and “every street, every house…is being fortified.” .

Zelenskyy said on Saturday that Russia would have to bomb Kiev and kill its inhabitants to take the city.

“They will only come here if they kill us all,” he said. “If that is their goal, let them come.”

French and German leaders held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday in an unsuccessful attempt to reach a ceasefire. According to the Kremlin, Putin set the conditions for ending the war. To end hostilities, Moscow demanded that Ukraine drop its NATO candidacy and adopt neutral status; recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea, which it annexed to Ukraine in 2014; recognize the independence of the separatist regions in the east of the country; and agree to demilitarize.

During a 90-minute call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday, Putin raised “issues related to agreements being discussed to implement Russian demands” to end the war, the Kremlin said without providing details.

Zelenskyy told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Saturday that he would be willing to meet Putin in Jerusalem to discuss ending the war, but first there would have to be a ceasefire. Bennett recently met in Moscow with Putin, who ignored previous offers of talks from Zelenskyy.

In Mariupol, the Ukrainian government said on Saturday the Sultan Suleiman Mosque had been hit, but an unverified Instagram post from a man claiming to be the president of the mosque’s association said the building was spared when a bomb fell about 750 yards (700 yards).

The Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey said 86 Turkish nationals, including 34 children, were among those who sought refuge in the mosque, which is modeled after one of the most famous and largest mosques in Turkey. Istanbul.

With the port’s electricity, gas and water cut off, aid workers and Ukrainian authorities described an ongoing humanitarian disaster. Aid group Doctors Without Borders said Mariupol residents are dying from lack of medicine and draining heating pipes for drinking water.

Russian forces struck at least two dozen hospitals and medical facilities, according to the World Health Organization.

The Russian invaders seem to have struggled far more than expected against determined Ukrainian fighters. Yet the stronger Russian military threatens to overwhelm Ukrainian forces, despite a steady stream of weapons and other aid from the West to Ukraine’s democratically elected, west-facing government.

A senior Russian diplomat has warned that Moscow could attack foreign shipments of military equipment to Ukraine. Speaking on Saturday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow had warned the United States “that the pumping of weapons from a number of countries which it is orchestrating is not just a dangerous move – it is an action that makes these convoys legitimate targets”.

Thousands of soldiers on both sides were reportedly killed along with scores of civilians, including at least 79 Ukrainian children, according to his government. At least 2.5 million people have fled the country, according to the UN refugee agency.

One of them is Elena Yurchuk, a nurse from the northern city of Chernihiv, which was heavily bombed. She was at a Romanian train station on Saturday with her teenage son, Nikita, unsure if their house was still standing.

“We have nowhere to go back,” said Yurchuk, 44, a widow who hopes to find work in Germany. “There was nothing left.”

Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press reporters Felipe Dana, Andrea Rosa in Irpin, Andrew Drake in Kyiv and other reporters from around the world contributed.

Follow AP coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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