Russia amplifies attack on Ukraine, warns against sending weapons

Russian forces continued their bombardment of towns across Ukraine on Saturday, capturing the eastern outskirts of a key southern port and waging an increasingly violent campaign in a bid to encircle the capital even as they sought to give a political veneer to their occupation of the cities they have captured.

Moscow has also signaled that it may soon expand the war to confuse Kiev’s allies, warning the United States that it will consider convoys carrying weapons to Ukraine as “legitimate targets”. A few hours later, the White House announced that it would send an additional $200 million in arms and equipment to Ukraine.

As large-scale Russian bombing campaigns intensified in cities such as Mariupol, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv and Chernihiv, Russian forces planned to hold a referendum that would transform the city of Kherson – the first major city captured by Russian forces. earlier this month – into a breakaway vassal republic, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

“Since there is no popular support, it will be entirely staged,” he wrote on Twitterwarning it was a repeat of Russia’s playbook in 2014, when Russian-backed separatists staged a referendum that led to the creation of the so-called people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in the eastern Ukraine.

“Severe sanctions against Russia must follow if they continue. Kherson is and always will be Ukraine.

Sergey Khlan, a deputy of the Kherson Regional Council, said in a Facebook post on Saturday that Russian authorities were contacting the deputies and asking for their cooperation in organizing the referendum to create a putative People’s Republic of Kherson.

“The establishment of the People’s Republic of Kherson will turn our region into a hole without hope, without life or future,” Khlan wrote.

“Don’t give them one vote!” Give them no opportunity to legitimize [the Kherson People’s Republic]. … Enter the history of Ukraine not as traitors whom no one wants, but truly as citizens whose names will be remembered by future generations.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Saturday that Western arms shipments to Ukraine could be attacked by Russian forces, according to Russian news agency Tass. Western nations’ “rash transfer” of man-portable air defense and anti-tank missile systems to Kiev, Ryabkov said, demonstrated “the escalation component of Washington’s policy.”

The White House announced on Saturday that it had approved an additional $200 million in weapons and equipment for Ukraine, on top of the $350 million approved by President Biden last month.

“We have warned the United States that the US-orchestrated flooding of Ukraine with weapons from certain countries is not only a dangerous decision, but also an action that makes these convoys legitimate targets” , said Ryabkov. The Russian diplomat did not say whether Russian forces would target such convoys in Poland or Romania, NATO countries that border Ukraine.

Ukrainian soldiers march in formation towards battle with Russian forces at Irpin.

(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

The contentious talks came on a day when Russian forces suffered “heavy manpower and equipment losses” in areas northeast of Kiev and were prevented from regaining a foothold on previously captured borders, according to the Ukrainian army.

Northwest of the capital, the bulk of the Russian ground forces gathered on Saturday about 24 km from the city center, according to the British agency Department of Defense. Parts of the large Russian column north of Kiev had dispersed, the ministry said, either in a bid to encircle the city or limit its risk of Ukrainian counterattacks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said more than 12,700 people evacuated on Saturday, taking advantage of the humanitarian corridors. But not everyone was allowed to pass safely.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Russian troops fired on a group of women and children trying to evacuate the small village of Peremoga, 29 km northeast of Kiev, along a river on Friday. previously agreed “green” corridor.

“The result of this brutal act was seven deaths,” the ministry wrote in a statement. Tweeter. “One of them is a child.”

A house caught fire after being damaged by a Russian bombardment on Saturday in Irpin.

A house caught fire after being damaged by a Russian bombardment on Saturday in Irpin.

(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

Early in the morning, strong explosions reverberated near the capital. Rumblings – louder and closer than the booms of previous days – could be heard throughout the day and well into the night in Kyiv. They served as a calling card for the Russian pincers extending towards the capital from its northeast and northwest flanks.

Although they repelled enemy forces from the capital, Ukrainian officials conceded bitter defeat, acknowledging that Russia had seized the eastern suburban fringes of Mariupol, a strategic town in the southeastern Donetsk region that could allow him to build a land corridor from the pro-Moscow enclaves. in the east to Crimea annexed by Russia in the south.

The Russian bombardment of the city hit a mosque housing more than 80 people, including children, according to the Ukrainian government, and repeated efforts to evacuate 430,000 residents failed as their convoys came under artillery fire. Dozens of buses loaded with humanitarian supplies reportedly attempted to reach the town.

“Let’s see if this one comes or not,” Mariupol deputy mayor Sergei Orlov said in a BBC interview, noting that six previous attempts to bring food, water and medicine to his city besieged had failed.

Residents of Irpin on the outskirts of town, near the frontline, gather outside and prepare a communal meal on Saturday.

Residents of Irpin on the outskirts of town, near the front line, gather outside and cook a joint meal on Saturday as Ukrainian and Russian forces battle.

(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

“The convoys were not let through,” he said. “They were shelled, the road was mined, there was shelling in the city.”

“I think we can say that we are now in the disaster phase,” Alex Wade, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, told CNN, noting that residents had gone a week without access to drinking water and were using snow and rainwater and shattered. in heating systems to extract the water inside.

“The next phase we will see people who could potentially die of dehydration and starvation or…flee the city trying to find food and water and die from the violence outside the city” , did he declare.

Some residents, he said, had already taken the bodies of their neighbors and buried them in their yards to ensure they would not languish on the streets.

In Mykolaiv, another major Black Sea port and shipbuilding center about 300 miles west of Mariupol, Mayor Olexandr Senkevich said in a video posted to Instagram on Saturday that eight civilians were injured and more than 160 homes, three hospitals and 11 educational institutions were damaged overnight.

Ukrainian soldiers arrested a man they say is a criminal at a checkpoint in Irpin on Saturday.

Ukrainian soldiers arrested a man they say is a criminal at a checkpoint in Irpin on Saturday.

(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

“We will definitely fix everything and restore everything,” he said. “We heal the wounded. And defeat those pesky orcs,” referring to the Ukrainian nickname for Russian forces.

With these forces assembled about 15 miles outside Kiev, Zelensky knocked a confident tone from inside the capital, where citizen militias are armed with missiles, machine guns and Molotov cocktails.

“We know 100% that there will be a victory,” he told a press conference.

Since the start of the Russian invasion, Zelensky said, about 1,300 Ukrainian Armed Forces soldiers have died – a fraction of the 12,000 Russians he says have died. The figures could not be independently verified.

When asked if Russian troops could enter Kiev, Zelensky replied that it was theoretically possible.

“If they commit a carpet bombing and just decide to erase the historical memory of the whole region, the history of Kyivan Rus, the history of Europe, they will enter Kyiv,” he added. . “If they destroy us all, they will enter Kiev. If that is the goal, they will come in and have to live on this earth alone, without us. They will find no friends among us here.

Zelensky urged the Ukrainians to keep fighting.

“The resistance of the entire Ukrainian people against these invaders has already gone down in history,” Zelensky said. “But we don’t have the right to reduce the intensity of the defense. No matter how hard it is. We have no right to reduce the energy of resistance.

In Melitopol, 200 km west of Mariupol, hundreds of people gathered in the streets on Saturday to demand the release of the southern city’s mayor, Ivan Fedorov, who the Ukrainian government says was kidnapped on Friday of a government office by Russian forces.

“Fyodorov! chanted the crowd. “Free the mayor!”

After accusing Russia on Saturday of “moving to a new stage of terror” by attempting to “physically eliminate” elected officials, Zelensky praised protesters for their open resistance.

“The invaders must see that they are foreigners in our land, in all our land of Ukraine, and they will never be accepted,” he said in a video broadcast.

In phone conversations with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, Zelensky said he urged them to push for Fedorov’s release.

“The request is simple: release him immediately from his captivity,” he said. “We expect them, the world leaders, to show how they can influence the situation. How they can do a simple thing: free a person.

Russia’s intensified assault on Ukrainian towns and villages came as the United States continued to insist that diplomacy still had a role to play in the conflict.

But the prospects for a resolution looked bleak after Scholz and Macron tried unsuccessfully in a lengthy phone call on Saturday to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to agree to an immediate ceasefire or diplomatic talks.

Meanwhile, in the disputed Donbass region, the self-proclaimed leader of the Luhansk People’s Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, issued a decree on Saturday declaring that the state borders would match those declared in May 2014. (Ukrainian forces had recovered two-thirds of Donbass before a ceasefire later in 2014.)

The move aims to formalize gains in recent days after Russian forces – backed by separatists – advanced into government-held areas of Lugansk province.

Bulos reported from Kyiv and Jarvie from Atlanta.

Martin E. Berry