By Reuters, published by Channel NewsAsia plus BBC
Lviv – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Russia’s siege of the port city of Mariupol was “a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come”, while local authorities said that thousands of residents there had been taken by force across the border.
“Over the past week, several thousand Mariupol residents were deported onto Russian territory,” the city council said in a statement on its Telegram channel late on Saturday (Mar. 19).
Russian news agencies have said buses have carried several hundred people Moscow calls refugees from Mariupol to Russia in recent days.
The council also said Russian forces bombed a Mariupol art school on Saturday in which 400 residents had taken shelter, but the number of casualties was not yet known.
Reuters could not independently verify the claims. Russia denies targetting civilians.
Many of Mariupol’s 400,000 residents have been trapped for more than two weeks as Russia seeks to take control of the city, which would help secure a land corridor to the Crimea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
President Vladimir Putin calls the assault on Ukraine, which began on Feb 24, a “special operation” aimed at demilitarising the country and rooting out people he terms dangerous nationalists.Western nations call it an aggressive war of choice and have imposed punishing sanctions on Russia aimed at crippling its economy.
Rescue workers were still searching for survivors in a Mariupol theatre that local authorities say was flattened by Russian air strikes on Wednesday. Russia denies hitting the theatre.
Zelenskyy said the siege of Mariupol would “go down in history of responsibility for war crimes”.
“To do this to a peaceful city … is a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come,” he said in a late night broadcast.
Still, he said, peace talks with Russia were needed although they were “not easy and pleasant”.
Russia struck Ukraine with cruise missiles from ships in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, and launched hypersonic missiles from Crimean airspace, the Russian defence ministry said on Sunday. Air raid sirens sounded across Ukrainian cities.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said seven humanitarian corridors would open on Sunday to enable civilians to leave frontline areas.
Ukraine has so far evacuated a total of 190,000 people from such areas, Vereshchuk said on Saturday.
The UN human rights office said at least 847 civilians had been killed and 1,399 wounded in Ukraine as of Friday.
The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said that 112 children have been killed.
Russian forces have taken heavy losses since the start of the invasion. Long columns of troops that bore down on the capital Kyiv have been halted in the suburbs.
Ukraine’s military said Russian forces did not conduct offensive ground operations on Saturday, focusing instead on replenishing supplies and repairing equipment. It also said Ukrainian air defences shot down three Russian combat helicopters.
Zelenskyy said the Ukrainian front line was “simply littered with the corpses of Russian soldiers”.
Reuters could not independently verify the situation on the ground.
Hypersonic weapons can travel faster than five times the speed of sound, and the Interfax agency said it was the first time Russia had used them in Ukraine.
A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force Command confirmed the attack but said the Ukrainian side had no information on the type of missiles used.
In Syria, some paramilitary fighters say they were ready to deploy to Ukraine to fight in support of their ally Russia but have not yet received instructions to go.
Message to Israel
The Ukrainian president has made frequent appeals for more help from abroad and addressed the Israeli parliament via video link at 4 p.m. GMT (11 p.m. in Thailand).
President Zelensky calls on Israel to give weapons to Ukraine and asks why it hasn’t imposed sanctions on Russia.
He adds that Israel has the best air defence in the world and says “you can definitely help our people, save the lives of Ukrainians”.
“The choice is yours to make, brothers and sisters, and you must then live with your answer, the people of Israel.”
President Zelensky also quoted the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, in his video message, with the words “we want to live, but our neighbours want to see us dead”.
“We remain, we are prepared for compromise,” he added. He was drawing a direct parallel between Ukraine now and Israel’s history, facing Arab hostility.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has held numerous calls with both Putin and Zelenskyy in recent weeks in an attempt to assist efforts to resolve the conflict.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow expected its operation in Ukraine to end with the signing of a comprehensive agreement on security issues, including Ukraine’s neutral status, Interfax reported.
Kyiv and Moscow reported some progress in talks last week towards a political formula that would guarantee Ukraine’s security, while keeping it outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), though each side accused the other of dragging things out.
Zelenskyy has said that Ukraine could accept international security guarantees that stopped short of its long-standing aim to join Nato. That prospect has been one of Russia’s primary stated concerns.
The foreign minister of Turkey, one of several countries that have sought to mediate, said Russia and Ukraine were getting closer to an agreement on “critical” issues and have nearly agreed on some subjects.
Mevlut Cavusoglu also said that he was hopeful for a ceasefire if the sides don’t take a step back from the progress they have made toward an agreement.
Lego-style Zelensky figure raises cash for Ukraine aid
The mini figure – by custom Lego creators Citizen Brick – went on sale with a price tag of $100 and quickly sold out.
Money raised is being donated to the charity Direct Relief, who have sent medical aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began.
Speed of refugees fleeing Ukraine is unprecedented – UNHCR
The speed of refugees fleeing Ukraine is “unprecedented” in recent history, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says.
“My colleagues I speak to, who have worked in crises for decades, say they have never seen this number of people moving so fast,” Matt Saltmarsh, head of news and media for the UNHCR, tells the BBC.
Numbers are not yet on the levels of conflicts such as Syria yet, but “Syria has been at war for many years now”, he adds.
The UNHCR doesn’t have a presence in the besieged city of Mariupol, but the UN and other groups are trying to negotiate a safe passage from the city to ensure that civilians can leave safely, he says.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, earlier said that 10 million people have now fled their homes in Ukraine.
Asked how much aid this could look like, Saltmarsh says it is “hard to quantify”.
“I think the primary need now is for shelter. Making sure people have somewhere to stay, ensuring they have a blanket, food and water,” he says.
Top: A woman reacts while speaking near a block of flats that was destroyed in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on Mar. 17, 2022. File photo: Reuters/Alexander Ermochenko and published by CNA
First insert: A local resident walks past a tank of pro-Russian troops during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine on Mar. 18, 2022. Photo: Reuters /Alexander Ermochenko and published by CNA
Second insert: Russia has housed some Mariupol refugees in a sports hall in Taganrog. Photo: Getty Images and published by BBC
Third insert: Lego-style figurine of Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky. Photo: Reuters and published by BBC
Home Page: Ukrainians fleeing the war in their country. Photo: Getty Images and published by BBC