Russia resumed its assault on the last Ukrainian defenders holed up in a giant steel works in Mariupol on Saturday, days after Moscow declared victory in the southern city and said its forces did not need to take the plant.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the country’s army was not ready to try to break through the siege of the port city. But he said America’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin would visit Kyiv on Sunday and discuss the types of weapons Ukraine needs to battle the Russian invasion.
“As soon as we have (more weapons), as soon as there are enough of them, believe me, we will immediately retake this or that territory, which is temporarily occupied,” Zelenskyy told an evening news conference in the Kyiv metro.
U.S. President Joe Biden‘s administration has not confirmed any travel plans for Blinken and Austin. The State Department and Pentagon declined comment.
The attack on Mariupol, the biggest battle of the conflict, has raged for weeks as Russia seeks to capture a city seen as vital to its attempts to link the eastern Donbas region with Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Moscow seized in 2014.
Moscow-backed separatists have held territory in the Donbas region for years.
In the Black Sea port city of Odesa, at least eight people were killed, Zelenskyy said. Two missiles struck a military facility and two residential buildings and two more were destroyed on Saturday, the Ukrainian armed forces said.
The death toll could not be independently verified. The last big strike on or near Odesa was in early April.
Zelenskyy said Russia had already fired most of its missile arsenal at Ukraine.
“Of course, they still have missiles left. Of course, they can still continue the missile terror against our people,” he said in a video address later on Saturday.
“But what they have already done is a powerful enough argument for the world to finally recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism and the Russian army as a terrorist organization,” he said.
Russia has denied targeting civilians in its “special military operation” that began on Feb. 24.
The Russian defense ministry said it used high-precision missiles to destroy a logistics terminal in Odesa containing weapons supplied by the United States and European nations.
It also said Russian forces had killed up to 200 Ukrainian troops and destroyed more than 30 vehicles on Saturday.
Russian General Rustam Minnekayev on Friday said Moscow wanted control of the whole of southern Ukraine, comments Ukraine said indicated Russia had wider goals than its declared aim of demilitarizing and “denazifying” the country. Kyiv and the West call the invasion an unjustified war of aggression.
Russian forces have besieged and bombarded Mariupol for weeks, leaving in ruins a city usually home to more than 400,000 people. A new attempt to evacuate civilians failed on Saturday, an aide to Mariupol’s mayor said.
Russia’s defense ministry on Friday said Mariupol’s last fighters had been “securely blockaded” at the steel plant. On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin had declared the city “liberated,” declaring that troops would not storm Azovstal.
Oleksiy Arestovych, a political adviser to Zelenskiy, said Ukrainian troops in the steel complex were holding out and attempting counterattacks. More than 1,000 civilians are also in the plant, according to Ukrainian authorities.
'I WANT TO SEE THE SUN'
The Azov battalion, a nationalist militia prominent in the defense of Mariupol, released a video it said showed women and children sheltering in the complex. Reuters could not independently verify where or when the video was shot.
One woman holding a young child said food was running out, while an unnamed boy in the video said he was desperate to get out after two months in the bunker.
“I want to see the sun because in here it’s dim, not like outside. When our houses are rebuilt we can live in peace. Let Ukraine win because Ukraine is our native home,” he said.
Ukraine estimates tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in Mariupol and says 100,000 civilians are still there. The United Nations and Red Cross say the civilian toll is at least in the thousands.
Russia’s current offensive is focused on the Donbas, which includes the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said Ukrainian forces were pulling back to preserve their units in the face of an intensifying barrage on all cities in the region.
Ukrainian forces fighting in Luhansk and Donetsk said in a Facebook post they had repelled 12 Russian attacks on Saturday, destroying four tanks and 16 other armored vehicles as well as five artillery systems.
Reuters could not independently verify that statement.
Three people were killed and seven were wounded by Russian shelling in the eastern region of Kharkiv on Saturday, the region’s governor said.
The governor of a Russian border region said on Saturday that Ukraine had shelled a crossing point on Russia’s territory, causing a fire but no casualties. It was not immediately possible to confirm details or assess responsibility.
Russia said it had shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet and destroyed three Ukrainian helicopters at an airfield in Kharkiv.
There was no immediate comment from Ukraine on the Russian assertion. The Ukrainian military said on Saturday it had destroyed 177 Russian aircraft and 154 helicopters since the start of the war. Reuters could not verify the figures.
(Additional reporting by Maria Starkova, Natalia Zinets, Alessandra Prentice and other Reuters journalists; Writing by Angus McDowall, Emma Thomasson and Patricia Zengerle, Editing by William Mallard, Frances Kerry, Timothy Heritage, Paul Simao and Daniel Wallis)