LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces pounding the port city of Mariupol shelled a mosque housing more than 80 people, including children, the Ukrainian government said on Saturday as fighting also raged on the outskirts of the capital, kyiv.
The bombardment of the elegant mosque in the city center did not report any immediate casualties. Mariupol has suffered the greatest misery of Russia’s war in Ukraine, with relentless barrages thwarting repeated attempts to bring in food and water, evacuate trapped civilians and bury all the dead .
The Ukrainian embassy in Turkey said 86 Turkish nationals, including 34 children, were among those who sought refuge in the mosque of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Roksolana. Opened in 2007 and modeled after a mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, the white-walled mosque and its towering minaret were proudly advertised as a popular tourist attraction by city authorities before Mariupol became the target of Russian blockades .
Around kyiv, artillery barrages in several areas sent residents rushing to safety as air raid sirens sounded in the capital region. The British Ministry of Defense said Russian ground forces massed north of kyiv for most of the war had drifted within 25 kilometers (15 miles) of the city centre.
The massive column of Russian fighters also deployed, likely to support an attempt to encircle kyiv, the British ministry said.
Ukrainian military and volunteer forces are preparing for a feared all-out assault. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said around 2 million people, or half the metropolitan area’s population, have left and “every street, every house…is being fortified” .
As artillery pounded the northwestern outskirts of kyiv, two columns of smoke – one black and one white – rose southwest of the capital after a strike on an ammunition depot in the town of Vaslkyiv caused hundreds of small explosions. A frozen food warehouse just outside the capital was also hit in an apparent effort to target Kyiv’s food supply.
Russia’s slow and crushing tightening of a noose around kyiv and the bombardment of other population centers with artillery and airstrikes reflect tactics Russian forces have employed in other campaigns, especially in Syria and Chechnya, to crush armed resistance.
Mariupol, with its strategic port on the Black Sea, has seen some of the greatest suffering. On Friday, the death toll in Mariupol exceeded 1,500 during the 12 days of the attack, the mayor’s office said. A strike against a maternity hospital in the city of 446,000 this week that killed three people has sparked international outrage and allegations of war crimes.
Ongoing shelling has forced crews to stop digging trenches for mass graves, so “the dead aren’t even buried”, the mayor said. An Associated Press photographer captured the moment a tank appeared to fire directly at a building, wrapping one side in a puffy orange ball of fire.
Russian forces have struck at least two dozen hospitals and medical facilities since invading Ukraine on February 24, according to the World Health Organization. Ukrainian officials reported Saturday that heavy artillery damaged a cancer hospital and several residential buildings in Mykolaiv, a town 489 kilometers (304 miles) west of Mariupol.
The hospital’s chief medical officer, Maksim Beznosenko, said several hundred patients were at the facility during the attack, but no one was killed.
The invading Russian forces struggled far more than expected against determined Ukrainian fighters. But the stronger Russian military threatens to overwhelm the defense forces, despite a steady stream of weapons and other aid from the West to Ukraine’s democratically elected, west-facing government.
A senior Russian diplomat has warned that Moscow may target foreign shipments of military equipment to Ukraine. Speaking on Saturday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow had warned the United States “that the pumping of weapons from a number of countries which it is orchestrating is not just a dangerous move , it is an action that makes these convoys legitimate targets”.
Russian troops should soon see their ranks reinforced from abroad. Denis Pushilin, the leader of a Russian-backed separatist region in eastern Ukraine, said on Saturday he expects “several thousand” fighters from the Middle East to join the rebels and are fighting “neck to neck” against the Ukrainian army.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday that Russian authorities had received requests from more than 16,000 people from the Middle East to join Russian military action in Ukraine. He added that many of these people had previously fought with Russia against the Islamic State group.
Thousands of soldiers on both sides of the war in Ukraine are believed to have been killed along with many civilians. At least 2.5 million people have fled the country, according to the UN refugee agency.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said on Saturday that at least 79 children had been killed and nearly 100 injured since the start of the war. most of the casualties were in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Sumy, Kherson and Zhytomyr regions, the office said, noting that the figures are not final as active fighting continues.
On the ground, Kremlin forces appeared to be trying to regroup and regain momentum after encountering fierce resistance and racking up heavy casualties over the past two weeks.
“It’s already ugly, but it’s going to get worse,” said Nick Reynolds, a war analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank.
Russian forces blockaded Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, even as efforts were made to create new humanitarian corridors around it and other urban centers so that aid could enter and residents can go out.
Ukrainian emergency services reported on Saturday that the bodies of five people – two women, a man and two children – had been removed from an apartment building that had been bombed in Kharkiv,
The Russians have also stepped up their attacks on Mykolaiv, located 470 kilometers (292 miles) south of kyiv, in an attempt to encircle the city.
New commercial satellite images have emerged capturing artillery fire on residential areas that lay between the Russians and the capital. Images from Maxar Technologies showed muzzle flashes and smoke from large guns, as well as impact craters and burning houses in the town of Moschun, 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) from kyiv, it said. the society.
On the economic and political front, the United States and its allies decided to isolate and further sanction the Kremlin. President Joe Biden has announced that the United States will drastically reduce its trading status with Russia and ban imports of Russian seafood, alcohol and diamonds.
The decision to revoke Russia’s most favored nation status was taken in coordination with the European Union and the Group of Seven countries.
“The free world is coming together to take on Putin,” Biden said.
As the invasion enters its 16th day, Putin said on Friday that there had been “some positive developments” in the ongoing talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators. He gave no details.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared on video to encourage his people to keep fighting.
“It is impossible to say how many more days we will need to liberate our land, but it is possible to say that we will,” he said from Kyiv.
Zelenskyy also accused Russia of kidnapping the mayor of a city, Melitopol, calling the kidnapping “a new stage of terror”. The Biden administration had warned ahead of the invasion of Russian plans to detain and kill targeted people in Ukraine. Zelenskyy himself is likely a priority target.
US defense officials said Russian pilots flew an average of 200 sorties a day, compared to 5-10 for Ukrainian forces, which focus more on surface-to-air missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and drones to eliminate Russian planes.
The United States also said Russia launched nearly 810 missiles at Ukraine.
Until recently, Russian troops had made their greatest advances on eastern and southern cities while struggling in the north and around kyiv. They have also started targeting areas in western Ukraine, where large numbers of refugees have fled.
Russia said Friday it used high-precision long-range weapons to disable military airfields in the western cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk. The Lutsk attack killed four Ukrainian servicemen, the mayor said.
Russian airstrikes also first targeted Dnipro, a major industrial hub in the east and Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, with around 1 million people. One person was killed, Ukrainian officials said.
In footage of the aftermath released by Ukraine’s emergency agency, firefighters extinguished a burning building and ash fell on bloody rubble. Smoke billowed from the broken concrete where the buildings once stood.
The United Nations political chief said the international organization had received credible reports that Russian forces were using cluster bombs in populated areas. International law prohibits the use of bombs, which disperse smaller explosives over a wide area, in cities and towns.
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