LVIV — Fighting raged northwest of Kyiv on Saturday, with the bulk of Russian ground forces 25 km (16 miles) from the center of the Ukrainian capital, while several other cities were encircled and under heavy shelling, the UK Defence Ministry said.Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said she hoped that several humanitarian corridors would open on Saturday for thousands of residents in the bombarded cities, including from the besieged port city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia.
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At least 1,582 civilians in the southeastern city of Mariupol have been killed as a result of Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade, the city council said in an online statement on Friday. It was not possible to verify casualty figures.Air raid sirens blared across most Ukrainian cities on Saturday morning urging people to seek shelters, local media reported, after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the war had reached a “strategic turning point.”
“I hope that the day will go well, all the planned routes will be open and Russia will fulfill its obligations to guarantee the ceasefire regime,” Vereshchuk said in a video address after repeated evacuation efforts this week failed.
Russian forces appeared to be regrouping, possibly for a fresh offensive which could target the capital Kyiv in a few days, Britain’s defense ministry said on Friday. In a Saturday update, it said fighting northwest of the capital continued and the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remained encircled under heavy Russian shelling.
With the Russian assault in its third week, Zelenskiy, who has rallied his people with a series of addresses from the capital Kyiv, said Ukraine had “already reached a strategic turning point.”“It is impossible to say how many days we still have (ahead of us) to free Ukrainian land. But we can say we will do it,” he said. “We are already moving towards our goal, our victory.”
Efforts to isolate Russia economically have stepped up, with the United States imposing new sanctions on senior Kremlin officials and Russian oligarchs and the European Union set to strip Russia of its privileged trade status on Saturday.
The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, three family members of President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson and lawmakers in the latest punishment for Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
Russian forces kept up their bombardment of cities across the country on Friday in the biggest assault on a European country since World War Two. Satellite images showed them firing artillery as they advanced on Kyiv.The fighting has created more than 2 million refugees, and thousands of Ukrainians are trapped in besieged cities.
“Treasury continues to hold Russian officials to account for enabling Putin’s unjustified and unprovoked war,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said.
As hundreds sheltered in Kharkiv metro stations, Nastya, a young girl lying on a makeshift bed on the floor of a train carriage, said she had been there for over a week, unable to move around much and ill with a virus.
The governor of the Kharkiv region on the Russian border, said a psychiatric hospital had been hit, and the mayor of the city of Kharkiv said about 50 schools there had been destroyed.
In the southern city of Mariupol, the city council said at least 1,582 civilians had been killed by Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade that has left hundreds of thousands trapped with no food, water, heat or power.
Moscow denies targeting civilians.
Russia’s defense ministry said the Black Sea port was surrounded, while Vereshchuk said Russian shelling prevented people from leaving along a humanitarian corridor on Friday.
Western countries meanwhile took more economic steps to try to force Putin to end his assault.
“The situation is critical,” Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said.
President Joe Biden, who this week banned U.S. imports of Russian oil, said the G7 industrial powers would revoke Russia’s “most favored nation” trade status. He also banned U.S. imports of Russian seafood, alcohol and diamonds.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU would on Saturday suspend Moscow’s privileged trade and economic treatment, crack down on its use of crypto-assets, and ban the import of iron and steel goods from Russia, as well as the export of luxury goods in the other direction.