Russia has said it will treat arms shipments to Ukraine from NATO countries as “legitimate targets” for military action in a dangerous new escalation of tensions.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov’s warning came as Ukraine’s supporters, including the UK, Germany and the US, rushed thousands of missiles anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns in Kiev in response to Moscow’s aggression.
Ryabkov said Russia had “warned the United States that pumping weapons from a number of countries it is orchestrating is not just a dangerous move, it is an action that makes these convoys legitimate targets. “.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s president, has revealed that at least 1,300 troops from his country have been killed in the conflict so far in the first estimate of Ukraine’s combat casualties after nearly three weeks of fighting. Ukraine claimed to have killed some 12,000 Russian soldiers.
Heavy fighting continued across Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz reported that Vladimir Putin had shown no willingness to end the war after a phone call between the leaders in which they renewed a call for a ceasefire and to negotiations. A statement from the French president’s office described the conversation with the Russian leader as “very frank and also difficult”.
Russian forces continued to pulverize the besieged port city of Mariupol, shelling a mosque housing more than 80 people, including children, the Ukrainian government said on Saturday, while fighting also raged on the outskirts of Kiev.
In several areas around the capital, artillery barrages sent residents rushing for cover and air raid sirens sounded. The British Ministry of Defense said Russian ground forces massed north of Kiev had now closed within 15 miles of the city center as their attempt to encircle it continued.
Columns of smoke were seen rising above the southwest of the city after a strike on an ammunition depot in the town of Vasylkiv.
In the south, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces had captured the eastern outskirts of Mariupol, tightening armed pressure on 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.
Zelenskiy encouraged his people to maintain their resistance, which many analysts believe prevented the swift offensive and military victory expected by the Kremlin. “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 for us,” he said.
He accused Russia of employing “a new stage of terror” with the apparent kidnapping of Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov, who was last seen being dragged from his office on Friday by police officers. armed men, causing a demonstration in the city.
Zelenskiy added that Russia would have to carpet bomb the Ukrainian capital 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.”
In a somber coda that spoke of continued levels of destruction, Zelenskiy added that some small Ukrainian towns had ceased to exist.
Despite crippling economic sanctions on Moscow and international isolation, Putin – who has imposed his own draconian crackdown on media freedom and freedom of expression in Russia – has given no indication that he was swayed to end the war.
During his 90-minute call with Macron and 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. Among other things, the Kremlin previously demanded a pledge from NATO never to accept Ukraine as a member and that the alliance withdraw from countries such as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.
Ukrainian authorities have continued their efforts to evacuate besieged cities, including the capital, as well as towns and villages in Kyiv, Sumy and other regions.
Kyiv Region Governor Oleksiy Kuleba said fighting and threats of Russian air attacks were continuing yesterday morning, but later said some evacuations were underway. “We will try to get people out every day, as long as a ceasefire can be observed,” he said.
The governor of the Russian-controlled Donetsk Territory said the constant shelling made it difficult to get aid to Mariupol.
“There are reports of looting and violent clashes between civilians over the few basic supplies that remain in the city,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. “Medicines for deadly diseases are running out quickly, hospitals are only partially functioning and food and water are in short supply.”
People were boiling underground water to drink, using wood for cooking and burying corpses near where they lay, said a staff member from the international group Médecins Sans Frontières in the town.
“We saw people who died because of lack of medicine,” he said, adding that many people were also injured or killed. “The neighbors just dig a hole in the ground and put the bodies in there.”