Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned against the formation of a ‘pseudo-republic’ in the south of his country on Sunday.
Zelensky said Russians were using blackmail and bribery in an attempt to force local officials to form a break-away region in the south, much like those in Donetsk and Luhansk – which Putin declared as ‘independent’ at the start of the war.
Protection for the two eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists began fighting Ukrainian forces in 2014 was used as a pretext by Russia to start the invasion.
Kherson, a vital Black Sea port of 290,000 residents, was the first major city to fall earlier this month.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky address the nation on March 12 after Russian air strikes killed 35 people at a military base outside Ukraine’s western city of Lviv
In this handout video grab taken from a footage released by the Ukrainian Presidency, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks face camera in a street of Kyiv on March 11
Ukrainian officials on Sunday also accused Russia of organizing a ‘fake referendum’ in the south of the country now partially under control by Russian forces.
‘Following 2014 playbook, Russians now desperately try to organize a sham “referendum” for a fake “people’s republic” in Kherson,’ said Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs.
‘Given zero popular support, it will be fully staged. Severe sanctions against Russia must follow if they proceed. Kherson is & will always be Ukraine.’
Russia bombarded cities across Ukraine on Saturday, pounding Mariupol in the south, shelling the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, and thwarting the efforts of people trying to flee the violence.
Moscow expanded its offensive closer to Ukraine’s western border with Poland early on Sunday.
The Russian military fired eight rockets at the Yaroviv military range 19 miles north-west of Lviv, the Lviv regional administration said, without offering any details about possible casualties.
The range, also known as the Yaroviv International Peacekeeping and Security Center, has hosted Nato drills and is located just 22 miles from Ukraine’s border with Poland.
Ukraine Army troops dig in at frontline trench positions to continue repelling Russian attacks, in sub-zero temperatures, east of the strategic port city of Mykolaiv,
Footage released by Russia Ministry of Defense on Saturday March 5 shows Russian soldiers took control of a military base near the village of Radensk, Kherson region
In Mariupol, which has endured some of the worst punishment since Russia invaded, efforts to bring food, water and medicine into the port city of 430,000 and to evacuate civilians, were prevented by unceasing attacks.
More than 1,500 people have died in the city during the siege, according to the mayor’s office, and the shelling has even interrupted efforts to bury the dead in mass graves.
‘They are bombing [Mariupol] 24 hours a day, launching missiles. It is hatred. They kill children,’ Zelensky said during a video address.
Later on Saturday, he reported that 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers have died in fighting since the February 24 start of the Russian invasion.
Meanwhile, French and German leaders spoke on Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a failed attempt to reach a ceasefire.
According to the Kremlin, Putin laid out terms for ending the war, including Ukraine’s demilitarization and its ceding of territory, among other demands.
Ukraine’s military said on Saturday that Russian forces captured Mariupol’s eastern outskirts, tightening the armed squeeze on the strategic port.
Taking Mariupol and other ports on the Azov Sea could allow Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Zelensky encouraged his people to keep up their resistance, which many analysts said has prevented the rapid offensive and military victory the Kremlin likely expected while planning to invade Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbor.
‘The fact that the whole Ukrainian people resist these invaders has already gone down in history, but we do not have the right to let up our defense, no matter how difficult it may be for us,’ he said.
Zelensky again deplored Nato’s refusal to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine and said Ukraine has sought ways to procure air defense assets, though he did not elaborate.
The president also accused Russia of employing ‘a new stage of terror’ with the alleged kidnapping of the mayor of Melitopol, a city 119 miles west of Mariupol.
After residents of the occupied city demonstrated for the mayor’s release on Saturday, the Ukrainian leader called on Russian forces to heed the calls.
‘Please hear in Moscow!’ Mr Zelensky said. ‘Another protest against Russian troops, against attempts to bring the city to its knees.’
In multiple areas around the capital, artillery barrages sent residents scurrying for shelter as air raid sirens wailed.
A picture shows damages after the shelling by Russian forces of Constitution Square in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, on March 2
Russia claimed control of the southern port city as street battles raged
Britain’s Defence Ministry said Russian ground forces that had been massed north of Kyiv for most of the war had edged to within 15 miles of the city center and spread out, likely to support an attempted encirclement.
As artillery pounded Kyiv’s north-western outskirts, black and white columns of smoke rose south-west of the capital after a strike on an ammunition depot in the town of Vasylkiv caused hundreds of small explosions.
Thousands of soldiers on both sides are believed to have been killed along with many civilians.
At least 2.5 million people have fled the country, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
The Ukrainian chief prosecutor’s office said on Saturday at least 79 children have been killed and nearly 100 have been wounded.
Most of the victims were in the Kyiv, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Sumy, Kherson and Zhytomyr regions, the office said, noting that the numbers are not final because active fighting continues.
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