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Russia renews attack on Mariupol and missiles hit Odesa, Ukraine says

'And who will come next?' warns Zelenskiy after Russian general eyes southern Ukraine
'And who will come next?' warns Zelenskiy after Russian general eyes southern Ukraine Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022
By Reuters
Published on Updated
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By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets

KYIV -Russia resumed its assault on the last Ukrainian defenders holed up in a giant steel works in Mariupol on Saturday, days after Moscow declared victory in the southern city and said its forces did not need to take the plant.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the country's army was not ready to try break through the siege of the port city by force. But he told an evening news conference that Kyiv had every right to do so.

Zelenskiy also announced that the top American diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin would visit Kyiv on Sunday and that he planned to discuss the types of weapons Ukraine needs to battle the Russian invasion and he expected concrete results.

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has not yet confirmed any travel plans for Blinken and Austin. The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the matter. The Pentagon also declined comment.

The attack on Mariupol, the biggest battle of the conflict, has raged for weeks as Russia seeks to capture a city seen as vital to its attempts to link the eastern Donbas region with Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Moscow seized in 2014.

Moscow-backed separatists have held territory in the Donbas region for years.

In the Black Sea port city of Odesa, at least eight people were killed, Zelenskiy said. Two missiles struck a military facility and two residential buildings and two more were destroyed on Saturday, the Ukrainian armed forces said.

The death toll could not be independently verified. The last big strike on or near Odesa was in early April.

"The only aim of Russian missile strikes on Odesa is terror," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter. Russia has denied targeting civilians in its "special military operation" that began on Feb. 24.

The Russian defence ministry said it used high-precision missiles on Saturday to destroy a logistics terminal in Odesa where a large number of weapons supplied by the United States and European nations were being stored.

It also said Russian forces had killed up to 200 Ukrainian troops and destroyed more than 30 vehicles on Saturday.

Russian General Rustam Minnekayev on Friday said Moscow wanted control of the whole of southern Ukraine, comments Ukraine said indicated Russia had wider goals than its declared aim of demilitarising and "denazifying" the country. Kyiv and the West call the invasion an unjustified war of aggression.

Russian forces have besieged and bombarded Mariupol since the early days of the war, leaving in ruins a city usually home to more than 400,000 people. A new attempt to evacuate civilians failed on Saturday, an aide to Mariupol's mayor said.

Russia's defence ministry on Friday said Mariupol's last fighters had been "securely blockaded" at the steel plant. On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin had declared the city "liberated", declaring that troops would not storm Azovstal.

Oleksiy Arestovych, a political adviser to Zelenskiy, said Ukrainian troops in the steel complex were holding out and attempting counterattacks. More than 1,000 civilians are also in the plant, according to Ukrainian authorities.

'I WANT TO SEE THE SUN'

The Azov battalion, a nationalist militia prominent in the defence of Mariupol, released a video it said showed women and children sheltering in the complex. Reuters could not independently verify where or when the video was shot.

One woman holding a young child said food was running out, while an unnamed boy in the video said he was desperate to get out after two months in the bunker.

"I want to see the sun because in here it's dim, not like outside. When our houses are rebuilt we can live in peace. Let Ukraine win because Ukraine is our native home," he said.

Ukraine estimates tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in Mariupol and says 100,000 civilians are still there. The United Nations and Red Cross say the civilian toll is at least in the thousands.

Russia's current offensive is focused on the Donbas, which includes the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of Luhansk, on Saturday said Ukrainian forces were pulling back from some settlements to new defensive lines to preserve their units in the face of an intensifying barrage on all cities in the region.

Three people were killed and seven were wounded by Russian shelling in the eastern region of Kharkiv on Saturday, the region's governor said.

The governor of a Russian border region said on Saturday that Ukraine had shelled a crossing point on Russia's territory, causing a fire but no casualties. It was not immediately possible to confirm details of the incident or determine who was responsible.

Russia said it had shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet and destroyed three Ukrainian helicopters at an airfield in Kharkiv.

There was no immediate comment from Ukraine on the Russian assertion. The Ukrainian military said on Saturday it had destroyed 177 Russian aircraft and 154 helicopters since the start of the war. Reuters could not verify the figures.

Russian forces made no big gains in the last 24 hours, British military intelligence said early on Saturday.

Zelenskiy said Ukraine's allies were finally delivering weapons which Kyiv has asked for. The United States, Canada and Britain have all recently announced plans for new weapons deliveries.

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