Kyiv – Ukrainian leaders have accused Russia of capturing 15 rescuers and drivers from a humanitarian convoy trying to deliver desperate food and other supplies to the bloodied port city of Mariupol, which was also under naval attack after weeks of air and ground strikes.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky estimates that 100,000 civilians remain in Mariupol, the scene of some of the worst devastation in the war as Russia pushes an almost monthly offensive, bombing cities and towns. Those who managed to get out described a ruined city.
“They have been bombing us for the last 20 days,” said Victoria Totzen, 39, who fled to Poland. “For the past five days, planes have been flying over us every five seconds, dropping bombs everywhere – on apartment buildings, kindergartens, art schools, everywhere.”
Speaking late Tuesday in his evening video address to his nation, Zelensky accused Russian forces of blocking the convoy with aid, even though they had agreed to the route some time ago.
“We are trying to organize stable humanitarian corridors for the people of Mariupol, but almost all our attempts, unfortunately, have been thwarted by the Russian occupiers through shelling or deliberate terror,” Zelensky said.
The Red Cross confirmed that a convoy of humanitarian aid trying to reach the city had failed to enter.
The convoy’s attempt to deliver aid came when Russian naval ships joined weeks of Russian air and ground strikes in Mariupol, US officials said.
A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to assess the Pentagon, said Russian ships in the Sea of Azov had contributed to the shelling of Mariupol. The official said there were about seven Russian ships in the area, including a minesweeper and several landing craft.
The hands of an exhausted survivor in Mariupol trembled when she arrived by train in the western city of Lviv.
“It has nothing to do with the world. We couldn’t ask for help, “said Julia Kritska, who was helped by volunteers to deal with her husband and son.” People don’t even have water there. “
US President Joe Biden is due to travel to Europe for an emergency NATO summit on Thursday on Russia’s invasion and growing hostility to the West, where NATO members and other European allies are strengthening their defenses.
Biden is traveling to Brussels and Poland, which have taken in more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees since the February 24 invasion. He is expected to seek continued unity among the Western allies and announce more sanctions in a series of economic and financial sanctions against Russia.
Asked on CNN what Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved in Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Well, first of all, not yet. He has not yet achieved. ” But he insisted the military operation was “strictly in line with plans and objectives set in advance”.
Putin’s goals remain “to get rid of Ukraine’s military potential” and “ensure that Ukraine turns from an anti-Russian center into a neutral country,” Peskov said.
In the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, explosions and volleys shook the city, and heavy artillery fire could be heard from the northwest, where Russia tried to encircle and take over several of the capital’s suburbs.
Ukrainian forces captured a suburban town of Makariv this week, but partially lost three other northwestern suburbs, Ukraine’s defense ministry said.
A video released by Ukrainian police shows that they are investigating the damage in Makariv, including at the city’s police station, which a police officer said received a direct hit to its roof. Police passed ruined apartment buildings and a road punctured by shelling. The city looked almost deserted.
A Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said Ukrainian resistance had halted much of Russia’s advance but had not sent Moscow’s forces to retreat.
“We’ve seen indications that the Ukrainians are starting a little more offensive,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington. He said this was especially true in southern Ukraine, including near Kherson, where “they tried to regain territory.”
Russia’s much stronger and larger army has many Western military experts who warn against overconfidence in Ukraine’s long-term chances. Russia’s practice in past wars in Chechnya and Syria is to crush resistance with strikes that compare cities, kill countless civilians and send millions to flee.
But Russian forces seemed unprepared and often performed poorly against Ukrainian resistance.
The United States estimates that Russia has lost just over 10 percent of the total combat capabilities it had at the start of the battle, including troops, tanks and other materials.
Western officials say Russian forces are facing severe shortages of food, fuel and cold weather equipment, leaving some soldiers freezing.
The invasion has displaced more than 10 million people from their homes, nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s population, according to the United Nations.
Thousands of civilians are believed to have died. Estimates of Russian military casualties vary widely, but even conservative figures from Western officials are in the thousands.
Putin’s troops are facing unexpectedly heavy resistance, which has left most of Moscow’s ground forces miles from downtown Kyiv, and they are making slow progress in apparent efforts to cut off fighters in eastern Ukraine. The Russians are increasingly concentrating their air force and artillery on Ukrainian cities and civilians.
Talks to end the fighting continue through video. Zelenski said negotiations with Russia were “step by step, but they are moving forward.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said he sees progress in the talks.
“From my contacts with various actors, elements of diplomatic progress can be seen on several key issues,” and the gains are enough to end hostilities now, he said. He did not give details.
However, the Western official said there were no signs that Moscow was ready to compromise.
In the latest update from officials in Mariupol, they said on March 15th that at least 2,300 people had died in the siege. The city’s accounts show that the real fee is much higher, with the bodies lying uncollected. The airstrikes last week destroyed a theater and art school where many civilians had taken refuge.
Zelenski said in a statement that more than 7,000 people had been evacuated from Mariupol on Tuesday. Those who remain suffer “in inhumane conditions, under complete blockade, without food, without water, without drugs and under constant shelling, under constant bombing,” he said.
Before the war, 430,000 people lived in Mariupol.
Located on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol is an important port for Ukraine and is located along a section of territory between Russia and Crimea. The siege cut the city off from the sea and allowed Russia to create a land corridor to Crimea.
It is unclear what part of the city Russia owns, with fleeing residents saying the fighting continues street by street.
Beyond the horrific casualties, the war has shaken the global consensus on post-Cold War security, jeopardized global supplies of key crops and raised concerns that it could cause a nuclear accident.
Anna reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press writer Juras Karmanau of Lviv and other PA journalists around the world contributed to the report.
Follow the coverage of the war by the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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Ukraine says Russia has captured aid workers in a convoy in Mariupol
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