Russian forces stepped up scattered attacks on kyiv, western Ukraine and beyond on Saturday, an explosive reminder to Ukrainians and their Western supporters that the whole country remains under threat, despite Russia’s pivot towards a new offensive in the east.
Stung by the loss of its flagship in the Black Sea and outraged by the alleged Ukrainian aggression on Russian territory, the Russian military command had warned of new missile strikes on the Ukrainian capital. Officials in Moscow said they were targeting military sites, a claim repeated – and refuted by witnesses – throughout the 52-day war.
But the toll goes much deeper. Every day brings new discoveries of civilian casualties from an invasion that shattered European security. As Russia prepared for the planned offensive, a mother cried over the body of her 15-year-old son after rockets hit a residential area in the northeastern city of Kharkiv. A baby and at least eight other people died in the attack, officials said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has told Ukrainian media that the continued siege of Mariupol could frustrate any attempt to find a negotiated end to the war.
“The destruction of all our guys in Mariupol – what they are doing now – can end any format of negotiations,” Zelensky said in an interview.
The president’s office said the southern port city was holding up but the situation was critical. The Battle of Mariupol cost the trapped and starving civilians dearly.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces had been driven out of most of the city and remained only in the huge Azovstal steelworks. Russia also said all remaining Ukrainian forces could lay down their arms at 6 a.m. Moscow time on Sunday and their lives would be spared, according to a report by Russian news agency TASS.
If Moscow captures Mariupol, it would be the first major city to fall since Russian forces began their invasion on February 24. The capture of Mariupol would allow Russian forces in the south, which crossed the annexed Crimean peninsula, to fully link up with the troops. in the Donbass region, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine.
Also on Saturday, the mayor of Kyiv said one person was killed and several injured in missile fire.
Vitali Klitschko said medics were at the scene of the reported attacks, treating the injured. “kyiv was and remains a target of the aggressor,” he said.
Smoke billowed early Saturday in eastern Kyiv as the mayor signaled a strike in the city’s Darnytskyi district. He advised residents who had fled the city at the start of the war not to return for their own safety.
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“We do not rule out further strikes on the capital,” Klitschko said. “You can’t ban, you can only recommend. If you have the opportunity to stay a little longer in cities where it’s safer, do it.”
Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said Russian forces targeted an armored vehicle factory in kyiv. He did not specify where exactly the kyiv plant is, but there is one in the Darnytskyi district.
Konashenkov said the plant was among several Ukrainian military sites hit by “high-precision air-launched long-range weapons”. As the United States and Europe send new weapons to Ukraine, the strategy could be aimed at hampering Ukrainian defenses ahead of what is expected to be a full-scale Russian assault in the east.
This was the second strike in the Kyiv region in two days. Another hit a missile factory on Friday as tentative signs of pre-war life began to resurface in the capital after Russian troops failed to capture the city and retreated to concentrate in eastern Ukraine.
In the Kyiv region alone, Ukrainian authorities reported finding the bodies of more than 900 civilians, most of them shot, after Russian troops withdrew two weeks ago.
Kyiv was one of many targets on Saturday. The Ukrainian president’s office reported missile strikes and shelling over the past 24 hours in eight regions stretching across the country.
In eastern Ukraine, Kharkiv was hit by an explosion, said to have been caused by a missile, according to firefighters and journalists present at the scene.
The strike near an open-air market and residential and industrial buildings left one dead and at least 18 injured, according to emergency workers who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
“Upon arrival, it was found that the administrative industrial building was on fire,” Ukrainian state emergency service spokesman Yevshen Vasilenko said.
“The area of the fire was approximately 1,500 square meters. The shock wave partially damaged nearby buildings, including multi-storey residential buildings.”
“All the windows, all the furniture – all destroyed. And the door too,” said stunned resident Valentina Ulianova.
Elsewhere, long-range missiles were used to destroy a military repair facility at the Mykolaiv shipbuilding center in the Black Sea, the Interfax news agency reported, citing the Russian Defense Ministry.
The continuation of the offensive follows Russia’s announcement on Friday that it would step up its long-range strikes in retaliation for unspecified acts of “sabotage” and “terrorism”, hours after confirming the sinking of its Black Sea flagship, the Moskva, in the Black Sea.
kyiv and Washington say the ship was hit by Ukrainian missiles in a stark display of Ukraine’s military success against a much better-armed enemy. Moscow said the ship sank after a fire.
Belarusian planes carry out strikes in Lviv
Explosions were heard Saturday morning in the western city of Lviv, local media reported.
The governor of the Lviv region – far from the Russian border and an area long considered a relatively safe zone – on Saturday reported airstrikes on the region by Russian Su-35 jets that took off from neighboring Belarus. Maksym Kozytskyy did not provide any details of any casualties or damage.
Ukraine’s air defense system shot down four cruise missiles, Kozytskyy said.
Officials estimate that 2,500 to 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers died during the war, Zelensky told CNN in an interview Friday. He said around 10,000 people were injured and it is “difficult to say how many will survive”.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said on Saturday that at least 200 children had been killed and more than 360 injured.
The United Nations human rights office said it confirmed the death of 1,982 civilians, but warned that the figure does not include those killed in blocked towns like Mariupol and that the true number is almost certain to be considerably higher.
Russia’s warning about escalating attacks on the capital came after Russian authorities on Thursday accused Ukraine of injuring seven people and damaging around 100 residential buildings in airstrikes in Bryansk, a region Ukrainian border.
Ukrainian officials have not confirmed any striking targets in Russia, and the reports could not be independently verified.
Russian Major General Vladimir Frolov, whose troops were among those besieging Mariupol, was buried in St Petersburg on Saturday after dying in action, Governor Alexander Beglov said. Ukraine said several Russian generals and dozens of other high-ranking officers were killed during the war.
The diplomatic chasm between Russia and the West widened further on Saturday, as Moscow banned British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and a dozen other senior British officials from entering the country in response to sanctions imposed by the country.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis on Saturday invoked “gestures of peace in these days marked by the horror of war” in an Easter Vigil homily in St. Peter’s Basilica in the presence of the mayor of the occupied Ukrainian city of Melitopol and three Ukrainian parliamentarians. Francis did not refer directly to the invasion of Russia but called, apparently in vain, for an Easter truce to reach a negotiated peace.