By Cara Anna in Lviv
LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces pushed deeper into the beleaguered and battered Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Saturday, where heavy fighting shuttered a major steel mill and local authorities pleaded for more Western aid.
The fall of Mariupol, scene of some of the war’s worst suffering, would mark a major battlefield breakthrough for the Russians, who have been largely bogged down outside major cities for more than three weeks in the biggest ground invasion. in Europe since World War II.
“Children, old people are dying. The city is destroyed and it is wiped off the face of the earth,” Mariupol police officer Michail Vershnin said from a rubble-strewn street in a video addressed to Western leaders and authenticated by The Associated Press.
Russian forces have already cut off the city from the Sea of Azov, and its fall would link Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, to territories controlled by Moscow-backed separatists to the east. It would be a rare breakthrough in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance that has dashed Russia’s hopes of a quick victory and galvanized the West.
Ukrainian and Russian forces fought over the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Vadym Denysenko, adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, said on Saturday. “One of the largest metallurgical plants in Europe is being destroyed,” Denysenko said in televised remarks.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, said the closest forces likely to help Mariupol’s defenders were already battling “the overwhelming force of the enemy” or at least 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.
“There is currently no military solution in Mariupol,” he said on Friday evening. “It’s not just my opinion, it’s the opinion of the military.”
Ukrainian President Volodomir Zelenskyy remained defiant, appearing in a video shot early Saturday on the streets of the capital, Kyiv, to denounce a huge Friday rally in Moscow that Russian President Vladimir Putin attended.
Zelenskyy said Russia was trying to starve Ukrainian cities, but warned that continuing the invasion would come at a heavy price for Russia. He also reiterated his call for Putin to meet him to avoid further bloodshed.
“The time has come to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine. Otherwise, the costs from Russia will be so high that you will not be able to recover for several generations,” he said.
Putin praised his country’s military at the rally, which took place on the anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The event featured patriotic songs such as “Made in the USSR”, with its opening line “Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova, this is all my country”.
“We haven’t had such unity for a long time,” Putin told the cheering crowd.
The rally came as Russia suffered heavier-than-expected battlefield casualties and an increasingly authoritarian regime at home, where Russian police arrested thousands of anti-war protesters.
Estimates of Russian deaths vary widely, but even conservative figures are in the thousands. Russia suffered 64 deaths in five days of fighting in its 2008 war with Georgia. He lost about 15,000 in Afghanistan in 10 years and more than 11,000 during the years of fighting in Chechnya.
The Russian military said on Saturday it used its latest hypersonic missile for the first time in combat. Major General Igor Konashenkov said the Kinzhal missiles destroyed an underground warehouse storing Ukrainian missiles and aviation ammunition in the western Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine.
Russia said the Kinzhal, carried by MiG-31 fighter jets, has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (about 1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said on Saturday the United States could not confirm that the Russians used a hypersonic missile in the attack.
Meanwhile, fighting raged on several fronts in Ukraine. UN bodies have confirmed the death of more than 847 civilians since the start of the war, although they admit the true toll is likely much higher. The UN says more than 3.3 million people have fled Ukraine as refugees.
While waiting to board a bus at a triage center near the Moldova-Ukraine border on Saturday, a Ukrainian woman named Irina said she decided to leave her home in Mykolaiv this week after a loud explosion shook the walls, waking her young daughter.
“Can you imagine the fear I had, not for myself but for my child? said Irina, who did not give her last name. “So we decided to get here, but I don’t know where we are going, where we will stay.”
The northwestern Kyiv suburbs of Bucha, Hostomel, Irpin and Moshchun came under fire on Saturday, the Kyiv regional administration reported. He said Slavutich, located 165 kilometers (103 miles) north of the capital, was “completely isolated”.
kyiv region police said seven people were killed and five injured in a mortar attack on Friday in Makariv, a town about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of the capital. They said the attack destroyed homes and damaged other buildings.
Ukrainian and Russian officials have agreed to establish 10 humanitarian corridors to deliver aid and residents to besieged cities – one from Mariupol and several around Kyiv and in the eastern region of Lugansk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said on Saturday. Iryna Vereshchuk.
It also announced its intention to provide humanitarian aid to the southern city of Kherson, which Russia seized at the start of the war.
Ukraine and Russia have held several rounds of talks aimed at ending the conflict but remain divided on several issues, with Russia pushing for the demilitarization of its neighbor and kyiv demanding security guarantees.
In a call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday, Putin said Ukraine was trying to “draw out the negotiations by making a series of unrealistic new proposals”, according to the Kremlin.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, meanwhile, accused Putin of using the talks as a “smokescreen” while his forces regroup. “We don’t see any serious Russian troop withdrawals or serious proposals on the table,” she told The Times of London.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in its latest intelligence assessment that the Kremlin “was taken aback by the scale and ferocity of Ukrainian resistance” and “is now pursuing a strategy of attrition” likely to involve indiscriminate attacks .
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, during a visit to NATO ally Bulgaria on Saturday, said the Russian invasion had “stuck on multiple fronts”, but the United States did not had yet to see any signs that Putin was deploying additional forces.
Across Ukraine, hospitals, schools and buildings where people were seeking shelter were attacked.
At least 130 people survived Wednesday’s bombing of a Mariupol theater that was being used as a shelter, but another 1,300 are believed to still be inside, Ukrainian parliament human rights commissioner Ludmyla Denisova said on Friday. .
“We pray that they are all alive, but so far there is no information about them,” Denisova told Ukrainian television.
Satellite images from Maxar Technologies showed a long line of cars leaving Mariupol as people tried to evacuate. Zelenskyy said more than 9,000 people were able to leave on Friday along a road that leads 227 kilometers (141 miles) to the town of Zaporizhzhia – which is also under attack.
The governor of Zaporizhzhia region in southern Ukraine, Oleksandr Starukh, announced a 38-hour curfew after two missile strikes on the outskirts of Zaporizhzhia killed nine people on Friday.
Russian forces have fired on eight towns and villages in the eastern region of Donetsk in the past 24 hours, including Mariupol, Ukraine’s national police said on Saturday.
The rocket and heavy artillery attacks killed and injured dozens of civilians and damaged at least 37 residential buildings and facilities, including a school, a museum and a shopping center, he added.
In the western city of Lviv, Ukraine’s cultural capital, which was hit by Russian missiles on Friday, military veterans were training dozens of civilians in the use of firearms and grenades.
“It’s hard, because I have really weak hands, but I can do it,” said trainee Katarina Ishchenko, 22.
Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and other AP reporters from around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine