Russians strike near Kiev, block aid convoy; harbor town reels

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MARIUPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Russia bombarded towns across Ukraine on Saturday, pounding Mariupol in the south, shelling the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, and thwarting the efforts of people trying to flee the violence.

MARIUPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Russia bombarded towns across Ukraine on Saturday, pounding Mariupol in the south, shelling the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, and thwarting the efforts of people trying to flee the violence.

In Mariupol, which has endured some of the worst punishment since the Russian invasion, efforts to bring food, water and medicine to the port city of 430,000 and to evacuate civilians have been thwarted by constant attacks. More than 1,500 people 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.

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

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russia of trying to break up his country, as well as starting “a new stage of terror” with the alleged detention of a mayor of a town west of Mariupol .

“Ukraine will stand this test. We need time and strength to smash the war machine that has come to our land,” Zelenskyy said during his nightly address to the nation on Saturday.

Russian soldiers looted a humanitarian convoy trying to reach Mariupol 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.

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.”

Zelenskyy encouraged his people to maintain their resistance.

“We have no right to relax our defence, however difficult it is,” he said. Later Saturday, Zelenskyy reported that 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers had died since the Russian invasion began on February 24.

The first major city to fall earlier this month was Kherson, a vital Black Sea port of 290,000 people. Zelenskyy said on Saturday that the Russians were using blackmail and bribery to try to force local officials to form a “pseudo-republic” in the southern Kherson region, much like those in Donetsk and Luhansk, two eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists began to fight Ukraine. forces in 2014. One of the pretexts used by Russia to invade was that it had to protect the breakaway regions.

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 has announced an additional $200 million in aid to Ukraine, with another $13 billion included in a bill that has passed the House and is expected to pass the Senate within 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.

A convoy of hundreds fleeing Peremoha, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) northeast of Kiev, was forced to turn back as shelling by Russian forces killed seven people, including a child, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. Moscow has said it will establish humanitarian corridors out of conflict zones, but Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of disrupting those pathways and shooting civilians.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said only nine of 14 agreed corridors were open on Saturday and around 13,000 people had used them to evacuate the country.

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 people 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.

In Mariupol, where electricity, gas and water have been cut, aid workers and Ukrainian authorities have described an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe. Aid group Doctors Without Borders said residents were dying from a 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. However, the more powerful Russian army threatens to crush the Ukrainian forces.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned on Saturday that his country could attack foreign shipments of military equipment to Ukraine. He said the sending of equipment 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 town of Chernihiv. 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.”

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

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

Mstyslav Chernov and Yuras Karmanau, The Associated Press































































































































































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