'Make yourselves visible and heard': Zelensky calls for more shows of support for Ukraine
Zelensky sends message to the world in latest video as NATO and European leaders prepare to meet in Brussels
- Zelensky calls on people around the world to show their support for Ukraine.
- NATO estimates 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine since war started.
- Russians holding captive 11 bus drivers, 4 rescue workers from humanitarian convoy, Ukraine's deputy PM says.
- U.S. says it has determined Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is calling on people around the world to come "to your squares, your streets" to stand with Ukraine and against the war.
In a late Wednesday video address shot near the presidential offices in Kyiv, Zelensky said that the war "breaks my heart, the hearts of all Ukrainians and every free person on the planet."
He called for people to visibly show their support for Ukraine starting from Thursday, one month after Russia launched its invasion.
"Come from your offices, your homes, your schools and universities," he said. "Come in the name of peace. Come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine, to support freedom, to support life.
"Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard. Say that people matter. Freedom matters. Peace matters. Ukraine matters."
Four weeks into the war, NATO estimated on Wednesday that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed fighting in Ukraine, where the country's military and civilian defence units have put up stiffer-than-expected resistance and denied Moscow the lightning victory it hoped for.
By way of comparison, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 ended a decade later with an estimated 15,000 Soviet troops killed.
A senior NATO military official said its estimate of Russian losses was based on information from Ukrainian officials, details Russia has released — intentionally or not — and intelligence gathered from open sources. The official spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by NATO.
Ukraine has released little information about its own military losses, and the West has not given an estimate, but Zelensky said nearly two weeks ago that about 1,300 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed.
When Russia unleashed its invasion Feb. 24 in Europe's biggest offensive since the Second World War and brandished the prospect of nuclear escalation if the West intervened, a swift toppling of Ukraine's democratically elected government seemed likely.
But with Wednesday marking four full weeks of fighting, Russia is bogged down in a grinding military campaign.
With its ground forces repeatedly slowed or stopped by hit-and-run Ukrainian units armed with Western-supplied weapons, Russian President Vladimir Putin's troops are bombarding targets from afar, falling back on the tactics they used in reducing cities to ruins in Syria and Chechnya.
Russian official raises nuclear arsenal
In an ominous sign that Moscow might consider using nuclear weapons, a senior Russian official said the country's nuclear arsenal would help deter the West from intervening in Ukraine.
"The Russian Federation is capable of physically destroying any aggressor or any aggressor group within minutes at any distance," Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the state aerospace corporation, Roscosmos, said in televised remarks.
He said Moscow's nuclear stockpiles include tactical nuclear weapons, designed for use on battlefields, along with far more powerful nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. Roscosmos oversees missile-building facilities.
U.S. officials long have warned that Russia's military doctrine envisages an "escalate to de-escalate" option of using battlefield nuclear weapons to force the enemy to back down in a situation when Russian forces face imminent defeat. Moscow has denied having such plans.
Rogozin is known for his bluster, and he did not make clear what actions by the West would be seen as meddling, but his comments almost certainly reflect thinking inside the Kremlin.
Putin has warned the West that an attempt to introduce a no-fly zone over Ukraine would draw it into a conflict with Russia. Western nations have said they would not create a no-fly zone to protect Ukraine.
Zelensky to speak to NATO leaders
As U.S. President Joe Biden left for Europe on Wednesday to meet with key allies about possible new sanctions against Moscow and more military aid to Ukraine, he warned there is a "real threat" Russia could use chemical weapons.
Ahead of the NATO summit, Zelensky called on the alliance to provide "effective and unrestricted" support to Ukraine, including any weapons the country needs to fend off the Russian invasion.
"We ask that the alliance declare that it will fully assist Ukraine to win this war, clear our territory of the invaders and restore peace in Ukraine," he said in his nightly video address Wednesday.
He appealed to Western countries to stay united in the face what he says are Russia's efforts to "lobby its interests" with "some partners" to bring them over to its side.
"We will see who is a friend, who is a partner and who has sold out and betrayed us," he said in an emotional speech.
"Together we should not allow Russia to break anyone in NATO, the EU or G7, to break them and drag them to the side of war."
Zelensky noted that Ukrainian skies are still not closed to Russian aircraft and missiles and that Ukraine hasn't received the fighter jets or modern air-defence systems it requested. He said Ukraine also needs tanks and anti-ship systems.
"It has been a month of defending ourselves from attempts to destroy us, wipe us off the face of the Earth," he said.
"We have lasted six times longer than the enemy had planned, but the Russian troops are destroying our cities, killing civilians indiscriminately."
Zelensky will speak to the NATO summit by video, the president's office said.
The U.S. government has also determined that Russian troops have committed war crimes in Ukraine, and it will work to prosecute the offenders, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. He cited evidence of indiscriminate or deliberate attacks against civilians and the destruction of apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, shopping centres and other sites.
Addressing Japan's parliament earlier on Wednesday, Zelensky said four weeks of war have killed thousands of his people, including at least 121 children. The figures have not been independently verified. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said Wednesday that it has so far confirmed 977 civilian deaths and that the figure is likely much higher.
"Our people cannot even adequately bury their murdered relatives, friends and neighbours. They have to be buried right in the yards of destroyed buildings, next to the roads," he said.
Top Putin aide resigns
In an apparent reflection of growing divisions in Russia's top echelons, top official Anatoly Chubais has resigned, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Interfax news agency.
Chubais, the architect of Russia's post-Soviet privatization campaign, had served in a variety of top roles over three decades. His latest was as Putin's envoy to international organizations.
Peskov would not say if Chubais had left the country.
The war's economic and geopolitical shockwaves — with soaring energy prices, fears for global food supplies, and Russia and China aligning in a new world order with Cold War echoes — have reverberated across a world yet to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.
Major Russian objectives remain unfulfilled. The capital, Kyiv, has been shelled repeatedly but is not encircled.
More shelling and gunfire shook the city Wednesday, with plumes of black smoke rising from the western outskirts, where the two sides battled for control of multiple suburbs. Mayor Vitali Klitschko, said at least 264 civilians have been killed in the capital since war broke out.
The shelling also claimed the life of another journalist Wednesday. The independent Russian news outlet The Insider said Russian journalist Oksana Baulina had been killed in a Kyiv neighbourhood.
Ukraine holds on to Mariupol
In the south, the port city of Mariupol has seen the worst devastation of the war, enduring weeks of siege and bombardment. But Ukrainian forces have prevented its fall, thwarting an apparent bid by Moscow to fully secure a land bridge from Russia to Crimea, seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Zelensky said 100,000 civilians remain in a city that had 430,000 people. It has been shattered by strikes from air, land and sea, and repeated efforts to get desperately needed food and other supplies to those trapped have often failed.
"They bombed us for the past 20 days," said 39-year-old Viktoria Totsen, who fled into Poland. "During the last five days, the planes were flying over us every five seconds and dropped bombs everywhere — on residential buildings, kindergartens, art schools, everywhere."
Zelensky accused Russian forces of seizing a humanitarian convoy. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the Russians were holding captive 11 bus drivers and four rescue workers along with their vehicles.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross travelled Wednesday to Moscow for discussions with Russian officials on humanitarian aid, prisoners of war and other matters.
"The devastation caused by the conflict in recent weeks, as well as eight years of conflict in Donbas, has been vast," Red Cross President Peter Maurer said referring to the region in Eastern Ukraine where pro-Russia separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014.
Entire neighbourhoods destroyed: refugee
It is not clear how much of Mariupol is still under Ukrainian control. Fleeing residents say fighting continues street by street. In their last update, over a week ago, Mariupol officials said at least 2,300 people had died, but the true toll is hard to independently verify and could be much higher. Airstrikes in the past week destroyed a theatre and an art school where civilians were sheltering in underground bomb shelters.
In the besieged northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces bombed and destroyed a bridge that was used for aid deliveries and civilian evacuations, regional governor Viacheslav Chaus said.
Kateryna Mytkevich, who arrived in Poland after fleeing Chernihiv, wiped away tears as she spoke about what she had seen.
The city is without gas, electricity or running water, said Mytkevich, 39, and entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed.
"I don't understand why we have such a curse," she said.
Russia says 'military operation' going according to plan
Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, the Kremlin spokesperson insisted the military operation was going "strictly in accordance" to plans.
Russia wants to "get rid of the military potential of Ukraine" and to "ensure that Ukraine changes from an anti-Russian centre to a neutral country," Peskov said.
Russia has released very little information on its casualties, saying March 2 that nearly 500 soldiers had been killed and almost 1,600 wounded.
Ukraine also claims to have killed six Russian generals. Russia acknowledges just one dead general.
Officially, Russia is calling the campaign a "special military operation." It has effectively outlawed terms such as "invasion" and "war" in reference to Ukraine, and police have arrested thousands of antiwar protesters.
But as casualties mount and quick victory is no longer in sight, Russia is having to work to shore up morale. It has arrested thousands of antiwar protesters and cracked down on the media.
Under a law passed Wednesday, troops in Ukraine will get the same benefits as veterans of previous wars, including tax breaks, discounts on utilities and preferential access to medical treatment.
Talks to end the fighting have continued by video. Zelensky said negotiations with Russia are going "step by step, but they are going forward."
With no peace, those not yet fighting prepared to do so.
"Everything's a best-seller these days," said Zakhar Sluzhalyy, who owns a gun shop in the western city of Lviv.
"We're defending our land," he said. "We're fighting for our freedom and that of the rest of Europe."