Zelenskiy from Ukraine presses Israel for help with missile defense, fighting rages in Mariupol

Volunteer knits camouflage for Ukraine’s army, at church, while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine March 19, 2022. REUTERS / Yuriy Rylchuk

March 20, 2022

(Updates with Zelenskiy appeal to Israel)

by Pavel Polityuk

LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russian and Ukrainian forces fought for control of the port city of Mariupol on Sunday, local authorities said, but President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to Israel for help in repelling Russia’s invasion.

Addressing a video link to the Israeli parliament, Zelenskiy questioned Israel’s reluctance to sell its Iron Dome missile defense system to Ukraine. This was the latest in a series of calls he has asked for help from abroad.

“Everyone knows that your missile defense systems are the best … and that you can definitely help our people, save the lives of Ukrainians, Ukrainian Jews,” said Zelenskiy, a Jew.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has made numerous calls to both Russian President Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent weeks to try to end the conflict.

In Mariupol, which has been hit by one of the heaviest bombings since Russia’s invasion on February 24, many of its 400,000 residents are still trapped in the city with little to no food, water or energy.

Fighting continued inside the city on Sunday, said Regional Director Pavlo Kyrylenko, without elaborating.

The capture of Mariupol would help Russian troops secure access to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The city council said on its Telegram channel late on Saturday that several thousand residents had been “deported” to Russia in the past week. Russian news agencies have said that buses carrying hundreds of people whom Moscow calls refugees from Mariupol to Russia have taken off in recent days.

Russian troops bombed an art school on Saturday, killing at least 400 people, but did not say how many people were killed, Mariupol said.

Reuters could not independently confirm the allegations.

Russia denies firing on civilians.

Zelenskiy said the siege of Mariupol was a war crime.

“Doing this in a peaceful city … is a horror that will be remembered for a long time to come,” he said in a speech late Saturday.

Putin says Russia’s “special operation” is aimed at disarming Ukraine and eradicating people he calls dangerous nationalists. Western nations call this an aggressive electoral war and have imposed sanctions aimed at paralyzing Russia’s economy.

Ukraine and its Western supporters say Russian troops have made little progress in the past week, concentrating their efforts instead on artillery and missile strikes.

Zelenskiy’s adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, said it had been relatively calm during the past 24 hours, with “almost no missile strikes on (Ukrainian) cities”. He said the front lines were “almost frozen”.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said 10 million people had been displaced across Ukraine, including some 3.4 million who had fled to neighboring countries such as Poland. Officials in the area said they were gaining the ability to comfortably accommodate refugees.


The United Nations Office for Human Rights said at least 902 civilians had been killed in the war by midnight on Saturday, though it said the actual toll was likely to be much higher. Ukrainian prosecutors say 112 children were killed.

“I want the war to end, I want them (Russian troops) to leave Ukraine in peace,” said Margarita Morozova, 87, who survived the German Nazi siege of Leningrad during World War II and has lived in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, recently. 60 years.

“Ukraine is an independent country. What are they doing here? ”

Russia’s Defense Ministry said missiles were fired from ships in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, as well as high-profile missiles from the Crimean airspace.

The high-noise missiles travel faster than five times their speed, and their speed, maneuverability and altitude make it difficult to track and stop them.

They were sent by Russia for the first time in Ukraine on Saturday, according to the Russian Interfax news agency, in a strike that Moscow said had destroyed a large underground depot for missiles and aircraft ammunition.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force confirmed the attack in the western part of the Ivano-Frankivsk region, but said the Ukrainian side had no information on the type of missile used.

In the southern city of Kherson, a video clip captured by Reuters showed dozens of protesters, some waving the blue and yellow national flags of Ukraine, singing “Go home” in Russian with two Russian-branded military vehicles. The cars then turned around and left the area.


Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who, like Israel, has tried to mediate in the conflict, said Russia and Ukraine were reaching an agreement on “important” issues.

Kyiv and Moscow reported some progress in talks last week towards a political formula that would ensure Ukraine’s security, but keep it out of NATO – Russia’s key demand – even though each side has accused the other of dragging things out for a long time.

Russian troops have also suffered heavy casualties during the war, and long-range forces in the capital, Kyiv, have been halted in the suburbs. The Ukrainian military said on Sunday that Moscow had lost 14,700 people and 476 tanks.

Russia last acknowledged on March 2 that nearly 500 of its troops had been killed. Reuters has not been able to confirm the death toll independently.

Zelenskiy’s office said Ukraine believed there was a risk of an attack by Belarus on the western part of the Volyn region, which lies north of the city of Lviv. It was not clear whether Ukraine saw such an attack coming from Russian or Belarusian forces.

Although Belarus is a close ally of Putin and has served as a staging ground for Russian forces, they have so far not publicly committed troops to support Russia.

(Reports from Reuters offices; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones; Editing by William Mallard and Frances Kerry)

Zelenskiy from Ukraine presses Israel for help with missile defense, fighting rages in Mariupol

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