Russians advance on Ukraine’s ports, meet resistance in city
Kyiv: Street fighting broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest city and Russian troops squeezed strategic ports in the country’s south Sunday, advances that appeared to mark a new phase of Russia’s invasion following a wave of attacks on airfields and fuel facilities elsewhere in the country.
Following its gains on the ground, Russia sent a delegation to Belarus for peace talks with Ukraine, according to the Kremlin.
Ukraine’s president suggested other locations, saying his country was unwilling to meet in Belarus because it served as a staging ground for the invasion.
Until Sunday, Russia’s troops had remained on the outskirts of Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) south of the border with Russia, while other forces rolled past to press the offensive deeper into Ukraine.
Videos posted on Ukrainian media and social networks showed Russian vehicles moving across Kharkiv and Russian troops roaming the city in small groups. One showed Ukrainian troops firing at the Russians and damaged Russian light utility vehicles abandoned nearby.
The images underscored the determined resistance Russian troops face while attempting to enter Ukraine’s bigger cities. Ukrainians have volunteered en masse to help defend the capital, Kyiv, and other cities, taking guns distributed by authorities and preparing firebombs to fight Russian forces.
Ukraine’s government also is releasing prisoners with military experience who want to fight for the country, a prosecutor’s office official, Andriy Sinyuk, told the Hromadske TV channel Sunday. He did not specify whether the move applied to prisoners convicted of all levels of crimes.
“We are fighting, fighting for our country, fighting for our freedom because we have the right to do that,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
“The past night was tough — more shelling, more bombing of residential areas and civilian infrastructure. There is not a single facility in the country that the occupiers wouldn’t consider as admissible targets.”
Huge explosions lit up the sky early Sunday near Kyiv, where terrified residents hunkered down in homes, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale Russian assault.
A 39-hour curfew to keep people off the capital’s streets until Monday morning complicated the task of assessing the intensity of the fighting.
Zelenskyy’s office said explosions were reported at Kyiv International Airport.
Flames billowed from an oil depot near an airbase in Vasylkiv, a city 37 kilometers (23 miles) south of Kyiv where there has been intense fighting, according to the mayor. Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline to the east in Kharkiv, prompting the government to warn people to cover their windows with damp cloth or gauze as protection from smoke, the president’s office said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t disclosed his ultimate plans, but Western officials believe he is determined to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own, redrawing the map of Europe and reviving Moscow’s Cold War-era influence.
The pressure on strategic ports in the south of Ukraine appeared aimed at seizing control of the country’s coastline stretching from the border with Romania in the west to the border with Russia in the east.
A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said Russian forces had blocked the cities of Kherson on the Black Sea and the port of Berdyansk on the Azov Sea.
He said the Russian forces also took control of an airbase near Kherson and the Azov Sea city of Henichesk. Ukrainian authorities also have reported fighting near Odesa, Mykolaiv and other areas.
Cutting Ukraine’s access to its sea ports would deal a major blow to the country’s economy. It also could allow Moscow to build a land corridor to Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014 and until now was connected to Russia by a 19-kilometer (12-mile) bridge, the longest bridge in Europe which opened in 2018.
The number of casualties so far from Europe’s largest land conflict conflict since World War II remain unclear amid the fog of combat.
Ukraine’s health minister reported Saturday that 198 people, including three children, had been killed and more than 1,000 others wounded.
It was unclear whether those figures included both military and civilian casualties. Russia has not released any casualty information.
Ukraine’s UN ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, tweeted Saturday that Ukraine appealed to the International Committee of the Red Cross “to facilitate repatriation of thousands of bodies of Russian soldiers.”
An accompanying chart claimed 3,500 Russian troops have been killed.
Laetitia Courtois, ICRC’s permanent observer to the UN, told The Associated Press that the situation in Ukraine was “a limitation for our teams on the ground” and “we therefore cannot confirm numbers or other details.”
The United Nations’ refugee agency said late Saturday more than 200,000 Ukrainians have arrived in neighbouring countries since the invasion started Thursday. The UN has estimated the conflict could produce as many as 4 million refugees, depending how long it continues.
Zelenskyy denounced Russia’s offensive as “state terrorism.”
He said the attacks on Ukrainian cities should be investigated by an international war crimes tribunal and cost Russia its place as one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
“Russia has taken the path of evil, and the world should come to depriving it of its UN Security Council seat,” he said.