Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a “desperate plea” Saturday to U.S. senators to send more planes to help the country fight the Russian invasion, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Zelenskyy met virtually with more than 300 people, included senators, some House lawmakers and aides, during which Schumer vowed to do all he can “to help the administration to facilitate their transfer.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken conferred Saturday with Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau in Rzeszow, on the border with Ukraine.
Blinken crossed the border, briefly touching Ukrainian soil, to meet Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba, who asked for more military assistance to defeat Russia.
After the meeting with his Polish counterpart, Blinken reiterated at a news conference that the U.S. “will defend every inch of NATO territory” and announced the Biden administration is preparing to allocate an additional $2.75 billion in humanitarian aid for Ukrainian refugees.
Blinken also praised Poland for assisting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who have fled their home country, saying “The people of Poland know how important it is to defend freedom.”
Polish Foreign Minister Rau said, “Poland will never recognize territorial changes brought about by unprovoked, unlawful aggression.”
While Zelenskyy has criticized NATO for not imposing a no-fly zone, Putin said during a meeting Saturday with Aeroflot workers that doing so would have “colossal and catastrophic consequences not only for Europe but also for the whole world.”
Additionally, Putin said he currently has no plans to declare martial law in Russia because “martial law should be only introduced in cases where there is external aggression,” adding, “we are not experiencing that at the moment, and I hope we won’t.”
On the ground
Ukraine says Russian forces are shelling evacuation routes from Mariupol, as well as the city itself, breaking a cease-fire that was to have gone into effect Saturday at 7 a.m. UTC, as the southern coastal city continued to endure days of relentless aerial attacks.
“We are simply being destroyed,” Mayor Vadym Boichenko said of his city of nearly 450,000 people on his Telegram channel.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a broadcast video that, “Today, March the fifth, from 10 a.m. Moscow time (0700 GMT), the Russian side declares a cease-fire and the opening of humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to leave Mariupol and Volnovakha. Humanitarian corridors and exit routes have been agreed upon with the Ukrainian side.”
Mariupol officials said they are delaying the evacuation plans that called for routes to be open to vehicular traffic for five hours, and they urged residents to take shelter.
Volnovakha, a southern city of about 21,000, also was targeted with Russian “heavy artillery” attacks during the temporary cease-fire, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Saturday in a broadcast video.
Russia’s defense ministry, however, accused Ukrainian “nationalists” of preventing civilians from fleeing Mariupol, according to RIA, Russia’s state-owned news agency. They cited no evidence to substantiate these claims.
Despite its heavy shelling of Mariupol and Volnovakha, there were fewer Russian aerial and artillery attacks in Ukraine over the past 24 hours compared with previous days, the British defense ministry tweeted Saturday on the 10th day of Russia’s attack on its western neighbor.
The ministry said Ukraine continued to control the northern cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv, as well as Mariupol in the southeast. The ministry cited reports of street fighting in the northeastern city of Sumy and said “it is highly likely that all four cities are encircled by Russian forces” as they advance toward the southwestern city of Odesa.
Possibility of more sanctions
Blinken said Friday the United States was considering additional sanctions against Russia.
“Nothing is off the table. We are evaluating the sanctions every day,” he said.
The number of Ukrainians seeking refuge in other countries could reach 1.5 million by the end of the weekend, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said Saturday, an increase from the 1.3 million who have fled.
Amin Awad, U.N. crisis coordinator for Ukraine, who is meeting in Ukraine with local and international officials, said in a statement Saturday that efforts are underway “to urgently find operational modalities to scale up operations across lines and from outside into areas impacted by the conflict.”
VOA State Department Bureau chief Nike Ching, National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin, Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb, Istanbul foreign correspondent Heather Murdock, White House correspondent Anita Powell, and senior diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine contributed to this report.