Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Russian forces are blocking his country’s largest cities to deplete the population, but he warned on Saturday that the strategy would fail and Moscow would lose in the long run if it did not end its war.

Zelensky accused the Kremlin of deliberately creating a “humanitarian catastrophe” and called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet with him, using a huge rally at Moscow’s stadium where Putin praised Russian forces on Friday to illustrate what was at stake.

“Imagine that there are 14,000 dead and tens of thousands injured and maimed at this stadium in Moscow. These are Russian expenses during the whole invasion, ”Zelensky said in a night video address to the people recorded near the president’s office. in Kiev.

The rally and concert in Moscow took place in honor of the anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which she seized from Ukraine in 2014. The event featured patriotic songs such as “Made in the USSR” with the first lines “Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova are all my country.”

“We haven’t had that kind of unity in a long time,” Putin told the crowd.

The rally came at a time when Russia was facing heavier-than-expected losses on the battlefield and increasingly authoritarian rule at home. The event aroused suspicion that it was a Kremlin display of patriotism. Russian police have detained thousands of people in protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Fighting continued on various fronts in Ukraine. In the besieged port city of Mariupol, the site of the worst-hit war, Ukrainian and Russian forces have been fighting for the Azovstal metallurgical plant, one of Europe’s largest, Ukrainian Interior Minister Vadim Denisenko said on Saturday.

“I can say that we have lost this economic giant,” Denisenko said in a televised speech. “In fact, one of the largest metallurgical plants in Europe is actually being destroyed.”

The Russian military said on Saturday it had used its latest hypersonic missile in combat for the first time. A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Major General Igor Kanashenko, said that the Dagger missiles destroyed the underground storage of Ukrainian missiles and aircraft ammunition in the western Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine.

Kanashenko said that Russian troops also used the anti-ship missile system “Bastion” to strike at Ukrainian military facilities near the Black Sea port of Odessa. Russia first used weapons during a military campaign in Syria in 2016.

Ukrainian and Russian officials have agreed to create 10 humanitarian corridors to import aid and evacuate residents – one from the port of Mariupol, several in Kyiv region and several in Luhansk region, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Verashchuk said on Saturday.

She also announced plans to deliver humanitarian aid to the city of Kherson, which is now under Russian control.

In his night video, Zelensky said that Russian forces were blocking the largest cities in order to create such deplorable conditions in which Ukrainians would cooperate. He said the Russians were preventing supplies from reaching the besieged cities of central and south-eastern Ukraine.

He said that a rally in Moscow on Friday in honor of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 had gathered about 200,000 people, or as many Russian servicemen, who had participated in the current invasion of Ukraine.

“It is time to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia’s costs will be so high that you will not be able to rise for several generations, ”Zelensky said.

Putin’s appearance at Friday’s rally marked a change from his relative isolation in recent weeks, when he was shown a meeting with world leaders and his staff either at extremely long tables or via video conference.

Seeking to make the war fair, Putin paraphrased the Bible and said of Russian troops: “There is no greater love than to give one’s soul for one’s friends.”

Entering the stage with the caption “For a world without Nazism”, he spoke out against his enemies in Ukraine with unfounded claims that they were “neo-Nazis” and insisted that his actions were necessary to prevent “genocide” – an idea categorically rejected by leaders of all over the world.

Putin’s citation of the Bible and the 18th-century Russian admiral reflects his growing attention in recent years to history and religion as a must for Russia’s post-Soviet society. His stigma on his enemies as Nazis was caused by what many Russians consider the best time of their country, the defense of the Motherland from Germany during World War II.

After the invasion, the Kremlin tightened its grip on dissent, arresting thousands of anti-war protesters, banning sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and imposing harsh prison sentences for what is considered a false report of what Moscow calls a “special military operation.”

High above the conflict, three Russian astronauts arrived at the International Space Station on Friday in bright yellow flight suits with blue accents in the color of the Ukrainian flag.

Since the beginning of the war, many people have used the Ukrainian flag and its colors to show solidarity with the country.

But astronaut Oleg Artemyev said that each crew chooses their costumes, and they had a lot of yellow material to use, “so we had to wear yellow.”

Vladimir Medinsky, who led Russian negotiators in several rounds of talks with Ukraine, said the parties were close to an agreement on Ukraine’s refusal to apply for NATO and accept neutral status. In a statement to the Russian media, he said that the parties are now “halfway” on the demilitarization of Ukraine.

However, Zelensky’s adviser Mikhail Podalak said that the assessment was intended “to provoke tensions in the media.” He tweeted: “Our positions are unchanged. A ceasefire, a withdrawal of troops and strong security guarantees with specific formulas. “

The head of British intelligence, Lieutenant General Jim Hockenhall, warned that after Russian troops failed to capture major Ukrainian cities, they were moving to a “depletion strategy” that would entail “reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower”, leading to greater losses. civilian population and the escalation of the humanitarian crisis.

Hospitals, schools and buildings where people sought safety were attacked throughout Ukraine. Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Lyudmila Denisova said at least 130 people survived the bombing on Wednesday at the Mariupol Theater, which was used as a shelter.

“But according to our data, in these basements, in this bomb shelter, there are still more than 1,300 people,” Denisova told Ukrainian television. “We pray that they are all alive, but so far there is no information about them.”

Satellite imagery taken Friday by Maxar Technologies showed a long line of cars leaving Mariupol as people tried to evacuate. Zelensky said that more than 9,000 people had been able to leave the city over the past 24 hours.

One person was reported killed in a rocket attack near Lviv, the closest strike to the city center. Satellite photos show that the impact destroyed the repair hangar and appears to have damaged two other buildings. Ukraine said it shot down two of the six missiles in one volley from the Black Sea.

Lviv has become a crossroads for people fleeing other parts of Ukraine, and for others entering to deliver aid or join the fight, its population has increased by about 200,000.

At least one person was killed in the early shelling of a house in the Kyiv district of Podil. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said 19 people were injured.

Ukrainian officials said the firefighter also died during a shelling by Russian forces in an area where firefighters were trying to put out a fire in the village of Natayevka in the Zaporozhye region. Two more died as a result of attacks on residential and office buildings in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, said the governor of the region Pavel Kirilenko.

Major General Oleksandr Pavliuk, who heads the region’s defense around the Ukrainian capital, said his forces were well deployed to defend the city and promised: “We will never give up. We will fight to the end. To the last breath and to the last bullet.”


Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanov of Lviv (Ukraine) and other AP journalists around the world contributed to the report.

Copyright © 2022, Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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