Russia’s military pounded Ukraine with artillery and airstrikes Saturday amid fierce fighting northwest of the capital of Kyiv and in several other cities as Russian troops mass 25 kilometers from the capital.
A Russian missile attack destroyed a Ukrainian air base in the city of Vasylkiv early Saturday, according to Mayor Natalia Balasynovych. She said an oil depot also was destroyed, while Russia’s Interfax News Agency quoted Balasynovych as saying Russian rockets destroyed an ammunition depot near Vasylkiv.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry tweeted Saturday that Russian forces shelled a mosque in Mariupol where 80 people were sheltering. The ministry did not disclose the timing of the attack, but it said some of those in the mosque were from Turkey.
A member of the local Suleiman Mosque Association in Mariupol who was sheltering at the mosque, Ismail Hacioglu, said the mosque was not hit directly but had caught fire, according to Agence France-Presse.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at a news conference Saturday that Russia was sending in more troops after Ukrainian forces disabled 31 of Russia’s battalion tactical groups in what he described as Russia’s largest army losses in decades. Zelenskyy did not elaborate, and his claim was not verified.
Zelenskyy also said about 1,300 Ukrainian troops had been killed since Russia first invaded Ukraine February 24 and suggested more Ukrainians would be willing to die to protect the capital of Kyiv from the Russians.
“If they decide to carpet bomb [Kyiv], and simply erase the history of this region, the history of the Kyivan Rus, the history of Europe, and destroy all of us, then they will enter Kyiv. If that’s their goal, let them come in, but they will have to live on this land by themselves,” Zelenskyy declared.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military reportedly said Saturday Russian forces have captured the city’s eastern outskirts, and Ukrainian authorities have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in the besieged southern port city.Ukrainian officials in Mariupol said Friday more than 1,500 people have been killed since Russia began its assault on the city, a figure that has not been independently confirmed.
Several humanitarian corridors will open Saturday, providing residents with a safe passage from the violence in Kyiv, Sumy, Mariupol and other cities, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a video message. She also expressed hope that Russia would observe the cease-fire to allow for safe evacuations.
“I hope that the day will go well, all the planned routes will be open, and Russia will fulfill its obligations to guarantee the cease-fire regime,” Vereshchuk said.
The governor of the of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba, told local reporters Saturday that civilian evacuations from embattled towns in the region were proceeding Saturday and are planned to continue Sunday, despite the fighting and threats of Russian air attacks.
“We will try to get people out every day, as long as it’s possible to observe a cease-fire,” Kuleba said
In other developments, negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have been continuing by video conference, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday, according to Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba offered no details on the latest round of talks but reiterated Kyiv would not surrender or agree to any demands.
On Friday, a senior U.S. defense official said Russia had widened its war in Ukraine by targeting areas in the west of the country and appears to be regrouping troops near the capital, Kyiv, as the United States and its allies increase sanctions on Moscow.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence, confirmed Russia had begun targeting sites in western Ukraine, hitting airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk, part of a salvo of more than 800 missiles launched since the start of the invasion.
Ukrainian forces were continuing to mount “an adaptive and nimble” defense that was frustrating Russian forces, the U.S. defense official said.
National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine contributed to this report.