Russian forces pushed deeper into the besieged and battered port city of Mariupol in Ukraine on Saturday, where heavy fighting crippled a major steel mill and local authorities asked for more Western aid.
The fall of Mariupol, the scene of some of the worst sufferings of warwould mark a major advance on the battlefield for the Russians, who are largely bogged down after more than three weeks away from the major cities the largest land invasion in Europe since World War II.
“Children, old people die. The city has been destroyed and has disappeared from the face of the earth”, Mariupol said police officer Mikhail Vershnin from a street strewn with debris in a video aimed at Western leaders, authenticated by The Associated Press.
Details also surfaced Saturday of a missile attack that killed up to 40 marines in the southern city of Mykolaiv the previous day, according to a Ukrainian military official who spoke to the New York Times.
Russian forces have already cut off Mariupol from the Sea of Azov, and its fall would link Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, to eastern areas controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. It would be a rare advance in the face of the savage Ukrainian resistance that has dashed Russia’s hopes of a quick victory and electrified the West.
Ukrainian and Russian forces fought over the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol, said Vadym Denysenko, adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister. “One of the largest metallurgical plants in Europe is actually being destroyed,” Denysenko said in a televised address.
The Mariupol City Council claimed hours later that Russian soldiers had forcibly relocated several thousand townspeople, mostly women and children, to Russia. It didn’t say where, and AP couldn’t immediately confirm the claim.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said that the closest forces that could support Mariupol are already fighting “the overwhelming force of the enemy” and that “there is currently no military solution to Mariupol.”
Zelenskyi said early Sunday that the siege of Mariupol will go down in history as a war crime by Russian troops.
“To do to a peaceful city what the occupiers did is a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come,” he said in a video address to the nation.
Despite the siege of Mariupol, many remained impressed by Ukraine’s ability to hold back its much larger, better-armed enemy. The UK Ministry of Defense said Ukraine’s airspace will continue to be effectively defended.
“Gaining control of the air was one of Russia’s key objectives in the early days of the conflict and the continued failure to do so has severely hampered its operational progress,” the ministry said on Twitter.
In Mykolaiv, rescuers searched the rubble of the naval barracks destroyed in what appeared to be a missile attack on Friday. The region’s governor said the Marines were asleep when the attack took place.
It was not clear how many Marines were inside at the time, and rescuers were still searching the rubble for survivors the next day. But a senior Ukrainian military official, who spoke to the New York Times on condition of anonymity to reveal confidential information, estimated that up to 40 marines were killed, making it one of the deadliest known attacks on Ukrainian forces during the war .
Estimates of Russian deaths vary widely, but also conservative numbers are in the low thousands. In the 2008 war with Georgia, Russia had 64 dead in five days of fighting. It has lost about 15,000 people in Afghanistan in ten years and more than 11,000 in the years of fighting in Chechnya.
The Russian military said Saturday that it had used its latest hypersonic missile in combat for the first time. Major General Igor Konashenkov said Kinzhal missiles destroyed an underground warehouse storing Ukrainian missiles and missile ammunition in western Ivano-Frankivsk region.
Russia has said the Kinzhal, carried by MiG-31 fighter jets, has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (about 1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US could not confirm the use of a hypersonic missile.
UN bodies have confirmed more than 847 civilian deaths since the war began, although they concede the real number is likely much higher. That’s what the UN says More than 3.3 million people have fled Ukraine as refugees.
The north-western Kiev suburbs of Bucha, Hostomel, Irpin and Moshchun came under fire on Saturday, the Kiev regional administration reported, and Slavutich, 165 kilometers (103 miles) north of the capital, was “completely isolated”.
Evacuations from Mariupol and other besieged cities took place along eight out of 10 humanitarian corridors, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, and a total of 6,623 people left the country.
Waiting to board a bus at a triage center near the Moldova-Ukraine border, a woman named Irina said she decided to leave her home in Mykolaiv this week after a loud explosion shook the walls and her woke little daughter.
“Can you imagine how scared I was, not for me, but for my child?” said Irina, not giving her last name. “So we decided to get here, but I don’t know where we’re going, where we’re going to stay.”
Vereshchuk said the planned humanitarian aid for the southern city of Kherson, which Russia captured earlier in the war, could not be delivered because the trucks were stopped en route by Russian troops.
Ukraine and Russia have held several rounds of negotiations to end the conflict but remain divided on several issues, with Moscow pushing for its neighbor’s demilitarization and Kyiv demanding security guarantees.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel on Saturday for the second time this week. The Kremlin said Putin “outlined basic assessments of the course of talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives,” while Bettel briefed him on “contacts with the leadership of Ukraine and other countries.”
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss accused Putin of using the talks as a “veil” while his troops regroup. “We don’t see any serious withdrawal of Russian troops or any serious proposals on the table,” she told the Times of London.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said during a visit to NATO ally Bulgaria on Saturday that the Russian invasion has “stalled on several fronts” but the US has yet to see any signs of Putin sending in additional forces.
In Ukraine there are hospitals, schools and buildings where people sought shelter were attacked.
At least 130 people survived the bombing of a Mariupol theater used as a shelter, but another 1,300 are believed to be inside, Ludmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner, said on Friday.
“We pray that they are all alive, but so far there is no information about them,” Denisova told Ukrainian television.
A satellite image released by Maxar Technologies on Saturday confirmed earlier reports that much of the theater was destroyed. It also showed the word “CHILDREN” in Russian in large white letters outside the building.
The Zaporizhia region of southern Ukraine announced a 38-hour curfew after nine people were killed in two rocket attacks on Friday.
Russian forces have fired on eight towns and villages in the eastern Donetsk region, including Mariupol, in the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s National Police said on Saturday. Dozens of civilians were killed or wounded and at least 37 homes and facilities were damaged, including a school, museum and shopping mall.
In the western city of Lviv, Capital of Culture of Ukrainehit by Russian missiles on Friday, military veterans trained dozens of civilians on how to use firearms and grenades.
“It’s difficult because I have very weak hands, but I can do it,” said one trainee, 22-year-old Katarina Ishchenko.
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