Explosions heard in Ukrainian capital, as Russia claims to have taken Mariupol

KYIV – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has threatened to break off talks with Moscow if Russian forces exterminate the remaining Ukrainian soldiers trapped in Mariupol as Moscow claims it has taken control of the beleaguered and battered port city after a week-long battle.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on April 16 that it had emptied the Mariupol urban area of ​​Ukrainian troops and trapped some remaining fighters in the Azovstal steelworks, according to Russian state media.

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A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, quoted by Russian news agency RIA Novosti, said Ukrainian forces had lost a total of 4,000 troops in the long fight for the city – a battle that drew world’s attention for his brutality.

Casualty figures on both sides proved impossible to independently confirm during the conflict, which began with the unprovoked invasion of Russia on February 24.

Ukraine has not commented on the latest Russian claims, but in recent days it has indicated that the situation in Mariupol is desperate, with deaths rising among the trapped civilian population and many experts predicting that the city will soon fall to the hands of the Russians.

In an interview published earlier on April 16 with Ukrayinska Pravda, Zelenskiy warned Russia against atrocities committed against Ukrainian soldiers in the city.

“The elimination of our troops, of our men [in Mariupol] will end all negotiations,” he said.

“It will lead to a stalemate because we are not negotiating over our territories or our people,” he added.

Peace talks have taken place between the two sides since the beginning of the Russian invasion, with little or no progress.

According to Ukraine, tens of thousands of people were killed in Mariupol, a strategic city that saw some of the worst fighting of the war.

Reports early April 16 said heavy fighting was continuing in several parts of Mariupol as Ukrainian troops tried to push back Russian soldiers who had been reinforced with reinforcements in recent days.

“The situation is very difficult [in Mariupol]“, Zelenskiy said earlier in the day. “Our soldiers are blocked, the wounded are blocked. There is a humanitarian crisis… Yet the guys are fighting back.”

As the battle for the ruins of Mariupol appeared to be drawing to a bloody end, air raid sirens could be heard in many other parts of Ukraine on April 16, including in kyiv, after Russia said that ‘She would seek revenge on the capital for her claim, without evidence, that Ukraine was targeting Russian border towns.

Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko said at least one person was killed and several others injured in early morning attacks.

“For Kyivites who have left and are already considering returning to the capital, I ask you to refrain from doing so and stay in safer places,” Klitschko said. in a message on his Telegram channel.

Russian troops have faced tougher resistance than expected – both from the Ukrainian military and ordinary citizens – forcing them to withdraw from northern areas and concentrate on eastern regions and of southern Ukraine, including Mariupol.

In his late night address to the nation, Zelenskiy said the success of the Ukrainian army and the success of international sanctions against Russia will determine the duration of the war.

“The success of our military on the battlefield has been really significant. Historically significant. But it’s still not enough to rid our territory of invading forces,” he said.

“Sanctions against Russia are very serious, economically painful. But this is not enough to starve the Russian military machine. We must promote stronger and more destructive sanctions. This will determine the duration of this war,” he said. added.

Russia’s warning to inflict more damage on Ukraine came a day after it suffered a symbolic defeat with the loss of its flagship Black Sea Fleet Moskva, which sank while being towed to port on April 14 after sustaining heavy damage in circumstances that remain in dispute. .

“The number and scale of missile attacks against objects in Kyiv will be intensified in response to the nationalist regime in Kyiv committing terrorist attacks or hijackings on Russian territory,” the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said. , Major General Igor Konashenkov.

The National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (RNBO) dismissed Russia’s accusations over the attacks on Russian cities, calling them “an attempt to trigger anti-Ukrainian hysteria in Russia”.

kyiv, however, claimed to have hit the Moskva with Neptune anti-ship missiles early on April 14, while Russia said a fire broke out on the ship, causing an explosion.

The US military agreed with the Ukrainian version.

“We estimate they hit it with two Neptunes,” a senior Pentagon official said in a briefing with reporters on April 15, calling it a “crushing blow” for Moscow.

The strikes reportedly caused casualties, but it was difficult to assess the number, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official added that the United States had observed survivors picked up by other Russian ships in the area. Russia said the crew of the Moskva had been evacuated to nearby ships.

Meanwhile, the United States and its Western allies continued to pressure Moscow during its campaign.

The German government said on April 15 that it planned to release more than one billion euros in military aid to Ukraine.

The move comes amid criticism from Ukraine and some EU partners such as Poland and the Baltic states that Germany has not done enough to send armaments to kyiv.

On April 16, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it was banning British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and several other cabinet ministers for British moves to isolate Moscow and cripple the economy. from the country.

WATCH: A Ukrainian woman has given RFE/RL a detailed account of how she was raped by a Russian army soldier. To protect his privacy, we have pixelated his face and are not disclosing his name. The Ukrainian police have been informed of the case.

In Russia, the Federal Security Service (FSB) has asked the government to increase funding for funeral services for troops and headstones.

The FSB has asked for a 17% increase for funeral services, according to documents recently published on a government website.

The UN refugee agency said as of April 16 that 4,836,445 million Ukrainians had left the country since the Russian invasion, 40,200 more than the previous day’s total.

With reports from AP and Reuters

Christi C. Elwood