With the war having entered the 54th day, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky lashed out at Russia for “deliberate terror against ordinary civilians” as Moscow continued shelling in the northeastern cities and escalated aggression in the besieged city of Mariupol. He also accused the Russian troops in southern Ukraine of carrying out torture and kidnappings.
“This is nothing but deliberate terror: mortars, artillery against ordinary residential quarters… against ordinary civilians,” Zelensky said late in his nightly address, according to multiple reports. “Torture chambers are built there. They abduct representatives of local governments and anyone deemed visible to local communities,” he added.
Eighteen people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in shelling in the past four days in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Zelensky said.
The Kremlin has denied targeting civilians and accused Ukraine of “staging the evidence of atrocities in a bid to undermine peace talks”.
Moscow has said its troops had cleared the urban area of Mariupol and only a small contingent of Ukrainian fighters remained inside a steelworks in the besieged southern port. Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov in southeastern Ukraine, has seen the worst fighting of the seven-week-long war.
Russia also issued an ultimatum to Ukraine, giving its troops in Mariupol a deadline to surrender, which was ultimately rejected by Ukraine as it vowed to ‘fight till the end’.
On the streets of Mariupol, small groups of bodies were lined up under colourful blankets, surrounded by shredded trees and scorched buildings, Reuters reported.
Zelensky told Ukrainian media on Saturday that the continuing siege of Mariupol could ruin attempts to negotiate an end to the war. “The destruction of all our guys in Mariupol — what they are doing now — can put an end to any format of negotiations,” he was quoted as saying by news agency AP.
After failing to overcome Ukrainian resistance in the north, the Russian military has refocused its ground offensive on Donbas, while launching long-distance strikes at targets elsewhere, including the capital, Kyiv.
(With inputs from Reuters, AP)