The continuing siege of the port city of Mariupol, which has come at a horrific cost to trapped and starving civilians, could scuttle attempts to negotiate an end to the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told his country’s journalists in an interview.
“The destruction of all our guys in Mariupol — what they are doing now — can put an end to any format of negotiations,” he said on Saturday. Later, in his nightly video address to the nation, Zelenskyy said Ukraine needs more support from the West to have a chance at saving Mariupol.
“Either our partners give Ukraine all of the necessary heavy weapons, the planes, and without exaggeration immediately, so we can reduce the pressure of the occupiers on Mariupol and break the blockade,” he said, “or we do so through negotiations, in which the role of our partners should be decisive.”
Zelenskyy said the situation in Mariupol remains “inhuman” and Russia “is deliberately trying to destroy everyone who is there.” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Ukrainian forces had been driven out of most of the city and remained only in the huge Azovstal steel mill.
Earlier, he estimated that 2,500 to 3,000 Ukrainian troops had died in the war, and about 10,000 had been wounded. The office of Ukraine's prosecutor general said Saturday that at least 200 children have been killed, and more than 360 wounded.
Meanwhile, Russian forces accelerated scattered attacks on Kyiv, western Ukraine and beyond in an explosive reminder to Ukrainians and their Western supporters that the whole country remains under threat. Stung by the loss of its Black Sea flagship and indignant over alleged Ukrainian aggression on Russian territory, Russia's military command had warned of renewed missile strikes on Ukraine's capital.
As Russia prepared for the anticipated offensive, a mother wept over her 15-year-old son's body after rockets hit a residential area of Kharkiv, a city in northeast Ukraine. An infant and at least eight other people died, officials said.
In the towns and villages just outside Kyiv, authorities have reported finding the bodies of more than 900 civilians, most shot dead, since Russian troops retreated two weeks ago. Smoke rose from the capital again early Saturday as Mayor Vitali Klitschko reported a strike that killed one person and wounded several. The mayor advised residents who fled the city earlier in the war not to return.
“We're not ruling out further strikes on the capital,” Klitschko said. “If you have the opportunity to stay a little bit longer in the cities where it's safer, do it.” It was not immediately clear from the ground what was hit in the strike on Kyiv's Darnytskyi district. The sprawling area on the southeastern edge of the capital contains a mixture of Soviet-style apartment blocks, newer shopping centers and big-box retail outlets, industrial areas and railyards.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said an armored vehicle plant was targeted. He didn't specify where the factory was located, but there is one in the Darnytskyi district. He said the plant was among multiple Ukrainian military sites hit with “air-launched high-precision long-range weapons.”
As the US and Europe send new arms to Ukraine, the strategy could be aimed at hobbling Ukraine's defenses ahead of what's expected to be a full-scale Russian assault in the east. It was the second strike in the Kyiv area since the Russian military vowed this week to step up missile strikes on the capital. Another hit a missile plant Friday.
The Russian missiles hit the city just as residents were emerging for walks, foreign embassies planned to reopen and other tentative signs of the city's prewar life started resurfacing, following the failure of Russian troops to capture Kyiv and their withdrawal.
Kyiv was one of many targets Saturday. The Ukrainian president's office reported missile strikes and shelling over the past 24 hours in eight regions across the country. The governor of the Lviv region in western Ukraine, which has been only sporadically touched by the war's violence, reported airstrikes on the region by Russian Su-35 aircraft that took off from neighboring Belarus.
In apparent preparations for its assault on the east, the Russian military has intensified shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, in recent days. Friday's attack killed civilians and wounded more than 50 people, the Ukrainian president's office reported.
On Saturday an explosion believed to be caused by a missile sent emergency workers scrambling near an outdoor market in Kharkiv, according to AP journalists at the scene. One person was killed, and at least 18 people were wounded, according to rescue workers. Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said Saturday's toll was three dead and 34 wounded.
Nate Mook, a member of the World Central Kitchen NGO run by celebrity chef José Andrés, said in a tweet that four workers in Kharkiv were wounded by a strike. Andrés tweeted that staff members were unnerved but safe.
Russian forces also have taken captive some 700 Ukrainian troops and more than 1,000 civilians, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Saturday. Ukraine holds about the same number of Russian troops as prisoners and intends to arrange a swap but is demanding the release of civilians “without any conditions,” she said.