Ukraine and its western allies reported mounting evidence that Russia was withdrawing its forces from the Kyiv area and building up troop levels in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian fighters retook several areas near the capital after driving out or following in the footsteps of the Russians, officials said.
The visible shift did not mean that the country faced more than five weeks of respite from war or that the more than 4 million refugees who fled Ukraine will soon return. Zelenskyi said he expected deserted cities to receive airstrikes and shelling from afar and that fighting in the east would be intense.
“It is still not possible to return to normal life as before, even in the areas we are retaking after the fighting,” his nation’s president said in a late night video message. “We have to wait until our country is demined, wait until we can assure you that there will be no more shelling.”
Moscow’s focus on eastern Ukraine also kept the besieged southern city of Mariupol in its crosshairs. The Azoz Sea port city lies in the largely Russian-speaking Donbass region, where Russian-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for eight years and military analysts believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to expand control after his forces failed have to secure themselves Kyiv and other major cities.
The International Committee of the Red Cross planned to try to bring emergency supplies to Mariupol and evacuate residents on Saturday. The Red Cross said it could not perform the operation Friday because it had not received assurances the route was safe. City authorities said the Russians blocked access to the city.
Mariupol, surrounded by Russian forces a month ago, was the scene of some of the worst attacks of the war, including on a maternity hospital and a theater housing civilians. About 100,000 people are believed to still live in the city, compared to a pre-war population of 430,000, and they are facing acute shortages of water, food, fuel and medicines.
The capture of the city would give Moscow an uninterrupted land bridge from Russia to Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014 but has also acquired symbolic importance during the Russian invasion, said Volodymyr Fesenko, head of Ukrainian think tank Penta.
“Mariupol has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, and without capturing it, Putin cannot sit down at the negotiating table,” Fesenko said.
The Mariupol City Council said on Saturday that 10 empty buses went to Berdyansk, a town 84 kilometers west of Mariupol, to pick up people who can get there on their own. Around 2,000 people made it out of Mariupol on Friday, some on buses and some in their own vehicles, city officials said.
An adviser to Zelenskyi, Oleksiy Arestovych, in an interview with a Russian lawyer and activist, Mark Feygin, said that Russia and Ukraine had reached an agreement to let 45 buses go to Mariupol to allow residents “in the coming days”. evacuate.
Such agreements have been made before, only to be broken. On Thursday, Russian forces blocked a 45-bus convoy trying to evacuate people from Mariupol and seized 14 tons of food and medical supplies destined for the city, Ukrainian authorities said.
Zelenskyi said he discussed the humanitarian disaster in Mariupol by phone with French President Emmanuel Macron and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola during their visit to Kyiv on Friday.
“Europe has no right to remain silent about what is happening in our Mariupol,” said Zelenskyy. “The whole world should respond to this humanitarian catastrophe.”
Signs of bitter fighting were everywhere on the outskirts of Kyiv after the Russian transfer. Destroyed armored vehicles from both armies, abandoned on roads and fields, and scattered military equipment littered the ground next to an abandoned Russian tank.
Ukrainian forces have recaptured the town of Brovary, 20 kilometers east of the capital, Mayor Ihor Sapozhko said in a televised address Friday night. Businesses reopened and residents returned, but “still stand ready to defend their city,” he added.
“The Russian occupiers have now left practically the entire Brovary district,” Sapozhko said. “Tonight, the (Ukrainian) armed forces will work to clear settlements of (remaining) residents, military equipment and possibly mines.”
Elsewhere, at least three Russian ballistic missiles were fired at the Black Sea region of Odessa late Friday, regional leader Maksim Marchenko said. Ukraine’s military said the Iskander missiles failed to hit the critical infrastructure they were targeting.
Odessa is Ukraine’s largest port and the headquarters of its Navy.
As the war dragged on, the US Department of Defense said Friday night it was making an additional $300 million in weapons available to Ukraine’s armed forces.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that the equipment in the new package includes laser-guided missile systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, armored vehicles, night vision goggles and munitions. Also includes medical supplies, field gear and spare parts.
There was no immediate word on Saturday about the latest round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, which took place via video on Friday. During a round of talks earlier in the week, Ukraine said it was willing to forgo a bid to join NATO and declare itself neutral – Moscow’s main demand – in exchange for security guarantees from several other countries.
On Friday, the Kremlin accused Ukraine of launching a helicopter attack on a fuel depot on Russian soil.
Ukraine has denied responsibility for the fire blast at the civilian oil storage facility on the outskirts of the city of Belgorod, some 25 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. If confirmed, Moscow’s claim would be the first known attack of the war in which Ukrainian aircraft entered Russian airspace.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security Council of Ukraine, said on Ukrainian TV: “For some reason they say that we did it, but in fact it doesn’t correspond to reality.”
Later, in an interview with Fox News, Zelenskyy refused to say whether Ukraine was behind the attack.
Karmanau reported from Lemberg, Ukraine. Andrea Rosa in Irpin, Ukraine, and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
https://abc7.com/russia-ukraine-kyiv-volodymyr-zelenskyy-ukrainian-refugees/11702893/ Volodymyr Zelenskyy says mines are plaguing Kyiv as Ukraine denies responsibility for attack on Russian fuel terminal