Russia's siege of Mariupol could 'put an end' to negotiations, Zelensky says
Russia claims to have driven Ukrainian troops out of most of southern port city
Russian forces accelerated scattered attacks on Kyiv, western Ukraine and beyond on Saturday in an explosive reminder to Ukrainians and their Western supporters that the whole country remains under threat, despite Russia's pivot toward mounting a new offensive in the east.
Stung by the loss of its Black Sea flagship and indignant over alleged Ukrainian aggression on Russian territory, Russia's military command had warned of renewed missile strikes on Ukraine's capital. Officials in Moscow said they were targeting military sites, a claim repeated — and refuted by witnesses — throughout 52 days of war.
But the toll reaches much deeper. Each day brings new discoveries of civilian victims of an invasion that has shattered European security. As Russia prepared for the anticipated offensive, one mother wept over her 15-year-old son's body after rockets hit a residential area in the northeast city of Kharkiv. An infant and at least eight other people died in the attack, officials said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Ukrainian media that the continuing siege of Mariupol could scuttle any attempts to find a negotiated end to the war.
"The destruction of all our guys in Mariupol — what they are doing now — can put an end to any format of negotiations," Zelensky said in an interview.
The president's office said the southern port city is holding out but the situation is critical. The battle for Mariupol has come at a horrific cost to trapped and starving civilians.
Later, in his nightly video address to the country, Zelensky said Ukraine needs more support from the West to have a chance at saving Mariupol.
"Either our partners give Ukraine all of the necessary heavy weapons, the planes, and without exaggeration immediately, so we can reduce the pressure of the occupiers on Mariupol and break the blockade," he said, "or we do so through negotiations, in which the role of our partners should be decisive."
Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said Saturday that Ukrainian forces have been driven out of most of the city and remain only in the huge Azovstal steel mill. Russia also said that any Ukrainian forces left could lay down their weapons by 6 a.m. Moscow time Sunday and their lives would be spared, according to a report by Russian state-run news agency TASS.
If Moscow captures Mariupol, it would be the first big city to fall since Russian forces began their invasion on Feb. 24. Mariupol's capture would allow Russian forces in the south, which came up through the annexed Crimean Peninsula, to fully link up with troops in the Donbas region, Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland.
Also Saturday, the mayor of Kyiv said one person was killed and several wounded in missile strikes there.
Vitali Klitschko said medics were at the scene of the reported attacks, caring for the wounded. "Kyiv was and remains a target of the aggressor," he said.
Smoke rose early Saturday from eastern Kyiv as the mayor reported a strike on the city's Darnytskyi district. He advised residents who fled the city earlier in the war not to return for their own safety.
IN PHOTOS | Scenes from Day 52 of the Russia-Ukraine war:
"We're not ruling out further strikes on the capital," Klitschko said. "We can't prohibit, we can only recommend. If you have the opportunity to stay a little bit longer in the cities where it's safer, do it."
Konashenkov, the Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson, said Russian forces targeted an armoured vehicle plant in Kyiv. He didn't specify where exactly the plant in Kyiv is located, but there is one in the Darnytskyi district.
Konashenkov said the plant was among multiple Ukrainian military sites hit with "air-launched high-precision long-range weapons." As the U.S. and Europe send new arms to Ukraine, the strategy could be aimed at hobbling Ukraine's defences ahead of what's expected to be a full-scale Russian assault in the east.
It was the second strike in the Kyiv area in two days. Another hit a missile plant on Friday as tentative signs of pre-war life began to resurface in the capital after Russian troops failed to capture the city and withdrew to concentrate on Eastern Ukraine.
In the Kyiv region alone, Ukrainian authorities have reported finding the bodies of more than 900 civilians, most shot dead, after Russian troops retreated two weeks ago.
Kyiv was one of many targets Saturday. The Ukrainian president's office reported missile strikes and shelling over the past 24 hours in eight regions stretching across the country.
In apparent preparations for its assault on the east, the Russian military has intensified shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, in recent days. Friday's attack killed civilians and wounded more than 50 people, the Ukrainian president's office reported.
On Saturday, Kharkiv was hit by an another explosion, believed to have been caused by a missile, according to firefighters and journalists at the scene.
Saturday's strike near an outdoor market and residential and industrial buildings killed one person and wounded at least 18, according to rescue workers who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Elsewhere, long-range missiles were used to destroy a military repair facility in the Black Sea shipbuilding centre Mykolaiv, the Interfax news agency reported, quoting Russia's Defence Ministry.
The continuing offensive follows Russia's announcement on Friday that it would intensify long-range strikes in retaliation for unspecified acts of "sabotage" and "terrorism," hours after it confirmed the sinking of its Black Sea flagship, the Moskva, in the Black Sea.
Kyiv and Washington say the ship had been hit by Ukrainian missiles in a striking display of Ukraine's military success against a far better-armed foe. Moscow said the vessel sank after a fire.
Aircraft from Belarus carry out strikes in Lviv
Explosions were heard in the early hours on Saturday in the western city of Lviv, local media reported.
The governor of the Lviv region — far from the Russian border and an area long seen as a relatively safe zone — reported airstrikes on the region by Russian Su-35 aircraft that took off from neighbouring Belarus on Saturday. Maksym Kozytskyy didn't provide any details about possible casualties or damage.
Ukraine's air defence system shot down four cruise missiles, Kozytskyy said.
Officials estimate 2,500 to 3,000 Ukrainian troops have died in the war, Zelensky told CNN in an interview Friday. He said about 10,000 have been injured and it's "hard to say how many will survive."
The office of Ukraine's prosecutor general said Saturday that at least 200 children have been killed and more than 360 wounded.
The United Nations' human rights office said it has confirmed the deaths of 1,982 civilians but cautioned that the figure does not include people killed in blockaded cities like Mariupol and the actual number is almost sure to be considerably higher.
Russia's warning of stepped-up attacks on the capital came after Russian authorities accused Ukraine on Thursday of wounding seven people and damaging about 100 residential buildings with airstrikes in Bryansk, a region bordering Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials have not confirmed striking targets in Russia, and the reports could not be independently verified.
Russian Maj. Gen. Vladimir Frolov, whose troops have been among those besieging Mariupol, was buried Saturday in St. Petersburg after dying in battle, Gov. Alexander Beglov said. Ukraine has said several Russian generals and dozens of other high-ranking officers have been killed in the war.
The diplomatic chasm between Russia and the West deepened further Saturday, as Moscow barred British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and a dozen other top British officials from entering the country in response to the country's sanctions.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis on Saturday invoked "gestures of peace in these days marked by the horror of war" in an Easter vigil homily in St. Peter's Basilica attended by the mayor of the occupied Ukrainian city of Melitopol and three Ukrainian parliamentarians. Francis did not refer directly to Russia's invasion but has called, apparently in vain, for an Easter truce to reach a negotiated peace.
With files from Reuters