Residents of Ukraine’s beleaguered southeast coast awaited possible evacuation on Sunday as the country’s president said Russia’s obsession with capturing a key port city had weakened it and created opportunities for its army.
Two loud explosions were heard in Odessa on the Black Sea early on Sunday and black smoke was seen rising above the city, Ukraine’s largest port and home to its navy headquarters.
“Odessa was attacked from the air. Some missiles were shot down by air defense,” the city council said in a brief statement on the Telegram messaging app. He said fires had been reported in some areas, but gave no indication of what had been hit in the attack.
With Mariupol east of Odessa in Russia’s crosshairs, Ukraine insists it has taken a head start elsewhere in the country, leading troops to retake territory to the north from the capital of kyiv as Russian forces departed.
“Ukraine has gained invaluable time, time that allows us to outwit the enemy’s tactics and weaken their capabilities,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday evening.
Inside Mariupol, however, surrounded by Russian forces for more than a month and brutalized by some of the worst attacks of the war, conditions remain dire and prospects for escape uncertain.
Around 100,000 people are thought to remain in the Sea of Azov city, less than a quarter of its pre-war population of 430,000, and severe shortages of water, food, fuel and drugs persist.
Many still in Mariupol are waiting for the fulfillment of promises to help them reach safety. Among those trying to get residents out was the International Committee of the Red Cross, which had still not reached the town on Saturday, a day after local authorities said it had been blocked by Russian forces .
Some residents fled on their own, including Tamila Mazurenko, who reached Zaporizhzhia, a town still under Ukrainian control that served as a hub for further evacuations.
“I only have one question: why? she said of her city’s ordeal. “Our normal life has been destroyed. And we lost everything. I don’t have a job, I can’t find my son.
Mariupol is in the predominantly Russian-speaking region of Donbass, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops for eight years. Its capture would create an unbroken land corridor from Russia to Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
As Ukrainian troops moved cautiously to retake territory north of kyiv, the country and its Western allies said Russia was strengthening itself in eastern Ukraine. Where Russian troops are retreating, Ukraine has said it will continue its attacks, shelling and targeting them as they withdraw.
“Peace will not be the result of decisions made by the enemy somewhere in Moscow. There is no need to entertain vain hopes that they will simply leave our land. We can only have peace by fighting,” Zelenskyy said.
Although the geography of the battlefield has shifted, little has changed for many Ukrainians for more than five weeks in a war that has sent more than 4 million people fleeing the country as refugees.
Zelenskyy alleged that as Russian troops moved, they left mines around houses, abandoned equipment and even the bodies of the dead. These claims could not be independently verified, but Ukrainian troops heeded the warning.
In Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, Associated Press reporters saw Ukrainian soldiers, backed by a column of tanks and other armored vehicles, use cables to drag bodies out of a remote street , lest they were entrapped. Residents said the dead — AP counted at least six — were civilians killed unprovoked by departing Russian soldiers.
In towns and villages surrounding kyiv, signs of fierce fighting were everywhere following the Russian redeployment. Destroyed armored vehicles of both armies lay in the streets and fields with scattered military equipment.
Ukrainian troops were stationed at the entrance to Antonov airport in the suburb of Hostomel, demonstrating control of the runway that Russia tried to storm in the early days of the war.
Inside the compound, the Mriya, one of the largest planes ever built, lay in ruins under a hangar riddled with holes from the February attack.
“The Russians couldn’t make one like this, so they destroyed it,” said Oleksandr Merkushev, mayor of nearby Irpin.
The head of Ukraine’s delegation in talks with Russia says Moscow negotiators informally agreed to most of a draft proposal discussed in face-to-face talks in Istanbul this week, but no written confirmation has been forthcoming. has been provided. However, Davyd Arakhamia told Ukrainian television that he hoped the project would be developed enough for the presidents of the two countries to meet to discuss it.
Although glimmers of hope have emerged for Ukraine in some places, Zelenskyy said he expects towns where Russian forces are moving to come under missile and rocket strikes from afar and the battle to the east is intense. In his Saturday evening speech, he called on his people to do all they can to ensure the country’s survival, even such simple acts as being kind to each other.
“When a nation is defending itself in a war of annihilation, when it comes to the life or death of millions of people, there are no things that are unimportant. … And everyone can contribute to a victory for all,” the president said. “Some with weapons in their hands. Some while working. And some with a warm word and help at the right time. Do everything you can so that we are united in this war for our freedom, for our independence.
Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Andrea Rosa in Irpin, Ukraine, and Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine