Kyiv, Ukraine (AFP) – Residents of Ukraine’s beleaguered southeast coast awaited a possible evacuation Sunday, with the country’s president saying Russia’s obsession with capturing a key port city has made it weaker and created opportunities for his army.
Two explosions were heard in Odessa on the Black Sea at dawn Sunday, and black smoke was seen billowing over the city, Ukraine’s largest port where its naval fleet is based.
“Odessa was attacked from the air. The city council said in a brief statement on the messaging application Telegram that some of the missiles were shot down by the air defense. It added that there were reports of fires in some areas, but it did not give any indication of what was injured in the attack.”
With Mariupol just east of Odessa in Russia’s crosshairs, Ukraine insists it has gained foothold elsewhere in the country, resulting in troops retaking territory. North of the capital Kyiv, where the Russian troops left.
“Ukraine has acquired invaluable time, time that allows us to thwart the enemy’s tactics and weaken its capabilities,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Saturday.
However, inside Mariupol, besieged by Russian forces for over a month and brutally exposed by some of the worst attacks of the war, conditions remain dire and prospects for escape are uncertain.
It is believed that about 100,000 people remain in the city of the Sea of Azov, less than a quarter of its pre-war population of 430,000, and severe shortages of water, food, fuel and medicine persist.
Many in Mariupol are still waiting for promises to help them get to safety. Among those who have tried to drive the residents out is the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has yet to reach the city on Saturday, a day after local authorities announced its ban by Russian forces.
Some residents fled on their own, including Tamila Mazurenko, who reached Zaporizhzhya, a city still under Ukrainian control that served as a hub for other evacuations.
“I only have one question: Why?” She said about the plight of her city. “Our normal lives are destroyed. And we lose everything. I don’t have any job, and I can’t find my son.”
Mariupol is located in the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years. Its capture will create an unbroken land corridor from Russia to Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
As Ukrainian forces cautiously move to retake territory north of Kyiv, the country and its Western allies have said Russia is consolidating its power in eastern Ukraine. As Russian forces recede, Ukraine has said it will continue its attacks, bombings and targeting when it withdraws.
Peace will not be the result of any decisions made by the enemy somewhere in Moscow. There is no need to entertain the vain hopes that they will simply leave our land. “We can only achieve peace by fighting,” Zelensky said.
Although the geography of the battlefield has changed, not much has changed for many Ukrainians after more than five weeks of war that killed more than 4 million people. Flee the country as refugees.
Zelensky claimed that as the Russian forces turned, they left mines around the housesAbandoned equipment and even dead bodies. These allegations could not be independently verified, but Ukrainian forces were seen heeding the warning.
In Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, AP journalists watched Ukrainian soldiers, backed by a column of tanks and other armored vehicles, use cables to pull bodies off the street from a distance, fearing they might be exposed to booby traps. Local residents said the dead – the Associated Press counted at least six – were civilians killed without provocation by departing Russian soldiers.
In the towns and cities around Kiev, signs of intense fighting appeared everywhere in the wake of the Russian redeployment. Destroyed armored vehicles from both armies were scattered in the streets and fields along with the scattered military equipment.
Ukrainian troops were stationed at the entrance to Antonov Airport in the suburb of Hostomel, which indicates their control of the runway that Russia tried to storm in the early days of the war.
Inside the compound, the Almeria, one of the largest ever built, smashed under a hole-ridden hangar from the February attack.
“The Russians could not make one like it, so they destroyed it,” said Oleksandr Mirkushev, the mayor of nearby Irbin.
The head of the Ukrainian delegation in talks with Russia said Moscow’s negotiators had informally agreed to most of the draft proposal discussed during direct talks in Istanbul this week, but no written confirmation was provided. However, David Arachhamiya said on Ukrainian TV that he hoped the draft would be developed enough so that the two countries’ heads of state could meet to discuss it.
Even with a glimmer of hope for Ukraine in some places, Zelensky said he expects the towns where Russian forces are leaving will come under missile and missile strikes from afar and that the battle in the east will be intense. In his Saturday evening address, he called on his people to do everything in their power to ensure the country’s survival, even simply acting like showing kindness to one another.
When a nation defends itself in a war of annihilation, when it comes to the lives or deaths of millions, there are no unimportant things. The president said… Everyone can contribute to the victory of all. “Some of them hold weapons in their hands. Some by action. And some by a warm word and help at the right moment. Do everything you can so that we stand together in this war for our freedom and independence.”
Karmanau reports from Lviv, Ukraine. Andrea Rosa of Irbin, Ukraine, and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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