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Ukrainian President Zelenskyy sees openings as Russia settles on beleaguered Mariupol

KYIV, Ukraine – Residents of Ukraine’s beleaguered southeastern coast awaited a possible evacuation on Sunday as the country’s president said Russia’s obsession with capturing a key port city had weakened its forces and created opportunities for his army.

Two loud explosions were heard in Odessa on the Black Sea, and black smoke was seen rising over the city, where the headquarters of the Ukrainian Navy is located. It is west of Mariupol, a small port that has been under attack for most of the war and which rescuers are desperate to reach.

Odessa City Council said in a brief statement that an early morning airstrike sparked fires in some areas. The Russian military said hours later it used ships and aircraft-fired missiles to hit an oil processing plant and fuel depots that supplied Ukrainian troops.

The city council said Ukrainian air defenses shot down missiles before they hit the city. Ukrainian army spokesman Vladyslav Nazarov said the attack caused no casualties.

In Mariupol, conditions remained dire and prospects for escape uncertain. The beleaguered town, which has been brutalized by some of the war’s worst attacks, reported weeks ago that water, food, fuel and medicine were running out. Around 100,000 people are thought to still be there, less than a quarter of the city’s pre-war population of 430,000.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it hoped a team sent to help evacuate residents would reach Mariupol on Sunday. Ukrainian authorities said Russia agreed days ago to allow safe passage from the city, but similar agreements have repeatedly been broken under continued shelling.

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.

With Mariupol in Russia’s crosshairs, Ukraine insists it has a head start elsewhere in the country. As his country’s troops recaptured territory north of the capital of kyiv after the departure of Russian troops, President Volodymyr Zelensky called on all Ukrainians to do all they could “to thwart the tactics of the enemy and weaken his abilities”.

“Peace will not be the result of decisions made by the enemy somewhere in Moscow. There is no need to entertain vain hopes that he will simply leave our land. We can only have peace by fighting “, said Zelenskyy on Saturday evening.

Zelenskyy and Ukraine’s western allies believe that Russia has moved its forces from the capital region and the north of the country in order to strengthen in the east and south. The Ukrainian leader again urged the West to provide its army with fighter jets and more anti-missile systems.

“Every Russian missile that hits our cities and every bomb dropped on our people, on our children, only adds black paint to the story that will describe everyone on whom the decision depended – the decision whether or not to help the Ukraine with modern weapons,” Zelenskyy said. noted.

As 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 and displaced millions others from their homes.

The Kharkiv regional governor said on Sunday that Russian artillery and tanks had carried out more than 20 strikes on Ukraine’s second-largest city and its outskirts in the northeast of the country over the past day. Governor Oleh Synyehubov said a missile strike on the town of Lozovo injured four people and Russian tanks shelled a hospital in the town of Balakliia.

Zelenskyy claimed on Saturday that Russian troops had left mines around houses, abandoned equipment and even the bodies of the dead as they retreated from around kyiv. These claims could not be independently verified, but Ukrainian troops heeded the warning.

In Bucha, northwest of the capital, Associated Press reporters saw Ukrainian soldiers, backed by a column of tanks and other armored vehicles, use cables to pull bodies from a street in distance, lest they have been trapped. 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 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.

Ukrainian negotiator Davyd Arakhamia told Ukrainian television he hoped the policy was developed enough for the two countries’ presidents to meet to discuss it.

Ukrainian authorities have warned that Russia’s focus on eastern Ukraine does not mean Kyiv and other cities will not again become targets. In his Saturday evening speech, Zelenskyy called on his people to do whatever they can to ensure the country’s survival, even by engaging in such simple acts as being kind to one another.

“When a nation is defending itself in a war of annihilation, when it comes to the life or death of millions, there are no unimportant things. … And everyone can contribute to a victory for all,” the president said.


Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Andrea Rosa in Irpin, Ukraine, and Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.

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