Russians strike near Kyiv, block aid convoy; port city reels

Russians strike near Kyiv, block aid convoy; port city reels

Russian forces pounded the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, shelling its downtown as residents hid in an iconic mosque and elsewhere to avoid the explosions. Fighting also raged in the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, as Russia kept up its bombardment of other cities throughout the country.

Mariupol has endured some of Ukraine`s worst punishment since Russia invaded. Unceasing barrages have thwarted repeated attempts to bring food, water and medicine into the city of 430,000 and to evacuate its trapped civilians. More than 1,500 people have died in Mariupol during the siege, according to the mayor`s office, and the shelling has even interrupted efforts to bury the dead in mass graves.

Talks aimed at reaching a cease-fire again failed Saturday, and while the US announced plans to provide another USD200 million to Ukraine for weapons, a senior Russian diplomat warned that Moscow could attack foreign shipments of military equipment. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of employing `a new stage of terror` with the alleged detention of a mayor from a city west of Mariupol.

Russian soldiers on Saturday pillaged a humanitarian convoy that was trying to reach Mariupol and blocked another, a Ukrainian official said. Ukraine`s military said Russian forces captured Mariupol`s eastern outskirts, tightening their siege of the strategic port. `They are bombing it (Mariupol) 24 hours a day, launching missiles. It is hatred. They kill children,` Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said during a video address. An Associated Press journalist in Mariupol witnessed tanks firing on a nine-story apartment building and was with a group of hospital workers who came under sniper fire on Friday.

In Irpin, a suburb about 12 miles (20 kilometers) northwest of central Kyiv, bodies lay out in the open Saturday on streets and in a park. Zelenskyy encouraged his people to keep up their resistance. `We do not have the right to let up our defense, no matter how difficult it may be,` he said. Later Saturday, Zelenskyy reported that 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers had died since the Russian invasion began. Zelenskyy again deplored NATO`s refusal to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine and said Ukraine has sought ways to procure air defence assets, though he didn`t elaborate. NATO has said that imposing a no-fly zone could lead to a wider war with Russia.

The Ukrainian president also accused Russia of detaining the mayor of Melitopol, a city 192 km west of Mariupol. The Ukrainian leader called on Russian forces to heed calls from demonstrators in the occupied city for the mayor`s release. In multiple areas around Kyiv, artillery barrages sent residents scurrying for shelter as air raid sirens wailed. Britain`s Defence Ministry said Russian forces that had been massed north of the capital had edged to within 25 kilometers of the city centre and spread out, likely to support an attempted encirclement.

A convoy of hundreds of people fleeing Peremoha, about 20 kilometers northeast of Kyiv, were forced to turn back under shelling by Russian forces that killed seven people, including a child, Ukraine`s defense ministry said Saturday. Moscow has said it would establish humanitarian corridors out of conflict zones, but Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of disrupting those paths and firing on civilians. Ukraine`s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said just nine of 14 agreed-upon corridors were open on Saturday, and that about 13,000 people had used them to evacuate around the country.

Ukraine`s military and volunteer forces have been preparing for an all-out assault on the capital. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Thursday that about 2 million people, half the metropolitan area`s inhabitants, had left and that `every street, every house ` is being fortified.` Zelenskyy said Saturday that Russia would need to carpet-bomb Kyiv and kill its residents to take the city. `They will come here only if they kill us all,` he said. `If that is their goal, let them come.`

French and German leaders spoke Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a failed attempt to reach a cease-fire. According to the Kremlin, Putin laid out terms for ending the war. For ending hostilities, Moscow has demanded that Ukraine drop its bid to join NATO and adopt a neutral status; acknowledge the Russian sovereignty over Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014; recognise the independence of separatist regions in the country`s east; and agree to demilitarise.

Zelenskyy told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Saturday that he would be open to meeting Putin in Jerusalem to discuss an end to the war, but that there would first have to be a cease-fire. Bennett recently met in Moscow with Putin, who has ignored previous offers of talks from Zelenskyy. In Mariupol, the Ukrainian government said Saturday that the Sultan Suleiman Mosque was hit, but an unverified Instagram post by a man claiming to be the mosque association`s president said the building was spared when a bomb fell about 750 yards away.

Russian forces have hit at least two dozen hospitals and medical facilities, according to the World Health Organization. Thousands of soldiers on both sides are believed to have been killed along with many civilians, including at least 79 Ukrainian children, its government says. At least 2.5 million people have fled the country, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

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