A Russian missile strike on the Odesa airport Saturday damaged the runway, rendering it useless, the Ukrainian military reported.
One witness told CNN News that she saw at least one combat plane over the southern city; the blasts were heard soon after air raid sirens sounded across the city.
Meanwhile, Russian forces pounded Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region Saturday but failed to capture three target areas, Ukraine’s military said. The taregt areas were Lyman in Donetsk and Sievierodonetsk and Popasna in Luhansk, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in its daily update.
“Not succeeding – the fighting continues,” it noted.
Regional police said Saturday that Russian forces had shelled 12 settlements in the Donetsk Oblast over the past 24 hours, destroying at least 36 civilian infrastructure sites, among them a school and a hospital, according to the Kyiv Independent newspaper. Police said at least four civilians were killed, including one child, and another eight civilians injured, also including children.
Elsewhere, Ukrainian police said they had found the bodies of three civilian men in the Bucha district, north of Kyiv. Police said the bodies were in a pit and the victims’ hands were bound, their eyes were covered and two were gagged.
“There are traces of torture on the corpses, as well as gunshot wounds to various parts of the body,” Kyiv’s regional police chief Andriy Nebytov said in a statement. “The victims were tortured for a long period of time; bullet wounds were found on the extremities. Finally, each of the men was shot in the ear.”
Kyiv says more than 1,000 bodies have been discovered in or around Bucha, where it alleges systematic abuse by Russian soldiers occupying the area.
The governor of Russia’s western Kursk region said several shells were fired Saturday at a checkpoint near its border from the direction of Ukraine. Speaking in a video posted on his Telegram channel, Governor Roman Starovoit said there were no casualties or damage. Reuters said it could not immediately verify the report, and there was no immediate comment from Ukraine.
Evacuations, prisoner exchanges
Evacuations began Saturday in the besieged city of Mariupol, CNN News reported, citing an officer of the Ukrainian Azov Regiment, whose soldiers are trapped at the plant.
Capt. Svyatoslav Palamar said the cease-fire started at 11 a.m. local time, five hours late.
“As of now, it’s the truth, both sides follow the cease-fire regime,” he said.
The evacuation convoy also arrived late, at 6:25 p.m. local time, when it was due at 6 a.m., he said.
“We have brought 20 civilians to the agreed meeting point, whom we’ve managed to rescue from under the rubble. These are women and children. We hope these people will go the agreed destination, which is Zaporizhzhia, the territory controlled by Ukraine,” Palamar said.
Russia’s TASS news agency reported that a group of 25 civilians, including six children younger than 14, had come out.
CNN reported that satellite images taken Friday show that nearly every building on the sprawling steel plant had been destroyed by intense shelling by artillery, ships and airstrikes.
“There are cellars and bunkers that we cannot reach because they are under rubble,” Palamar said. “We do not know whether the people there are alive or not. There are children aged four months to 16 years. But there are people trapped in places that you can’t get to.”
To the north, Ukraine evacuated more people Saturday in the eastern town of Lyman in the fiercely fought-over region of Donetsk, where at least half the residents have fled Russian shelling since the start of the war.
About 20 mostly elderly people boarded a minivan amid the sounds of outgoing artillery and explosions in the distance. All the shops in the almost-empty town were closed and those who decided to remain said they were either too old, didn’t know where to go or didn’t want to leave their homes unattended. They take shelter in their basements when shelling starts and rely on aid distributed by groups including the Ukrainian Red Cross.
Ukraine carried out a prisoner exchange with Russia on Saturday, with seven soldiers and seven civilians coming home, deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in an online posting. One of the soldiers was a woman who is five months pregnant, she added. She did not say how many Russians had been transferred.
The British defense ministry said Russia has had to redeploy “depleted and disparate units from failed advances in northeast Ukraine.”
The British military intelligence report, released on Twitter early Saturday, says that Russia hopes to reverse previous constraints to its invasion by concentrating combat power geographically, shortening supply lines and simplifying command and control.
But, the British say Russia still faces some big challenges in Ukraine: It has been forced to merge and redeploy depleted and disparate units from the failed advances in northeast Ukraine, many of whom are likely suffering from weakened morale.
“Shortcomings in Russian tactical coordination remain. A lack of unit-level skills and inconsistent air support have left Russia unable to fully leverage its combat mass, despite localized improvements,” the report read.
In other developments, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made a number of assertions in two interviews Saturday.
Early in the day, he told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya Television there was no need for anybody to provide help to open up humanitarian corridors out of Ukraine’s besieged cities.
“We appreciate the interest of the secretary-general to be helpful,” he added. “(We have) explained … what is the mechanism for them to monitor how the humanitarian corridors are announced.”
He also accused the West of being “Russia phobic” and complained that his country never lived a day without being subject to sanctions by the West.
“So … to believe that this latest wave of sanctions is going to make Russia cry ‘Uncle’ and to beg for being pardoned, those planners are lousy and, of course, they don’t know anything about [the] foreign policy of Russia and they don’t know anything about how to deal with Russia.”
Later, in an interview with China’s official Xinhua news agency, Lavrov said the lifting of sanctions imposed on Russia is part of peace talks with Ukraine.
“At present, the Russian and Ukrainian delegations are actually discussing on a daily basis via video-conferencing a draft of a possible treaty,” Lavrov said in comments published on the Russian foreign ministry’s website on Saturday.
“The talks’ agenda … includes, among other things, the issues of denazification, the recognition of new geopolitical realities, the lifting of sanctions, the status of the Russian language,” Lavrov said.
But Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak denied this was the case, saying, “the issue of global international sanctions against the Russian Federation is not discussed at all” in negotiations.
Further, Podolyak added, Lavrov had not attended a single negotiating round and Ukraine did not need lessons in “denazification” or use of the Russian language from those who had attacked and occupied Ukrainian towns and cities.
“It is for all our partners, together with Ukraine, to decide what decisions should be taken on sanctions, and when,” he said.