DOBROPILIA / KIEV, Ukraine – Ukraine’s shelling has killed and injured its own civilians in the southern Kherson region, Russia said Sunday, after a series of missile strikes in the south and east, when some civilians went off a steel plane from the besieged Mariupol.
After failing to capture the capital Kyiv in a nine-week offensive, Moscow has focused on southern and eastern Ukraine, which has flattened cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 5 million to flee abroad.
Its forces have occupied the town of Kherson, giving them a foothold just 100 km (60 miles) north of Russia-occupied Crimea, and have largely occupied the strategic eastern port city of Mariupol in the Azov Sea.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has accused Ukrainian forces of shelling a school, kindergarten and cemetery in the villages of Kislyevka and Shiroka Balka in the Kherson region, the Russian RIA Novosti news agency reported on Sunday.
The ministry did not provide further details. The report did not immediately return a request for comment, but could not immediately be reached for comment.
On April 21, Russia declared victory in Mariupol, and hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians took refuge in the Azvastal Steel project.
The United Nations has called for an eviction treaty. A Ukrainian fighter inside Saturday said about 20 women and children had rescued him.
“We’re pulling civilians out of the rubble with ropes – old people, women and children,” said the fighter, Sviatoslav Palamar, referring to the 4 square kilometers (1.5 square miles) wide plant debris.
Mr Palamar said Russia and Ukraine respected the local ceasefire and hoped the evacuated civilians would be relocated to the northwestern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhia.
Russia and the United Nations have not commented on the evictions. Ukrainian officials say hundreds of Ukrainians remain inside the steelworks.
A Russian missile fired from Crimea destroyed the runway of the main airport in the western city of Odessa, regional governor Maxim Marchenko said, but no one was injured.
The Ukrainian military says the airport can no longer be used. President Volodymyr Zelensky promised to rebuild it, saying in a late-night video speech that “Russia’s treatment of Odessa will never be forgotten.”
Moscow has not commented on the strike, whose forces have sporadically targeted Ukraine’s third-largest city, where eight people have been killed in recent Russian attacks, Ukrainian officials say.
Moscow’s attack on the south is aimed at annexing the region to Crimea as it pushes for full control of the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists already controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces before Moscow’s February 24 invasion.
In his speech, Mr Zelensky said Russia was “gathering additional forces for new attacks against our military forces before the country” and was “trying to increase pressure on the Donbass”.
Moscow has called its move a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and free it from anti-Russian nationalism instigated by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia has launched an unprovoked aggression.
Despite weeks of peace talks, on Saturday both sides were as far apart as ever.
Ukraine has accused Russian troops of carrying out atrocities in areas near Kiev in early April, a claim Moscow has denied. The negotiators last met face-to-face on March 29 and have since spoken via video link
The United States and its European allies have imposed extensive sanctions on Russia’s economy and provided arms and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday that Britain would “continue to provide the Ukrainians with the tools they need to defend themselves.”
US President Joseph R. Biden is seeking a $ 33 billion weapons aid package, including 20 billion for Kiev.
Mr Biden praised the courage of journalists covering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in remarks at a White House Correspondents Association dinner in Washington.
“A poison is running through our democracy … growing with widespread confusion,” Mr Biden said Saturday night. “You, the free press, are more important than what you have done in the last century.”
Britain’s Foreign Office warned on Sunday that Russia was using a troll factory to spread confusion on social media about the war in Ukraine.
“We cannot allow the Kremlin and its shady troll firms to invade our online spaces with their lies about Putin’s illegal war,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement. – Reuters