UKRAINE: Russia seizes relief workers in Mariupol

KYIV: Ukrainian leaders have accused Russia of seizing 15 rescue workers and drivers from a humanitarian convoy trying to get desperately needed food and other supplies into the besieged port city of Mariupol, which also came under naval attack after weeks of air and land strikes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy estimated that 100,000 civilians remained in Mariupol, the setting of some of the war’s worst devastation, as Russia presses a nearly month-old offensive by bombarding cities and towns.

During his nightly video address to his nation on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila), Zelenskyy accused Russian forces of blocking the aid convoy despite agreeing to the route ahead of time.

“We are trying to organize stable humanitarian corridors for Mariupol residents, but almost all of our attempts, unfortunately, are foiled by the Russian occupiers, by shelling or deliberate terror,” he said.

The Red Cross confirmed that a humanitarian aid convoy trying to reach the city had not been able to enter.

The convoy’s attempt to deliver assistance came as Russian navy vessels joined in what have been weeks of Russian air and land strikes into Mariupol, United States officials said.

A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to give the Pentagon’s assessment, said Russian ships in the Sea of Azov added to the shelling of Mariupol. The official put the number of these ships at about seven, including a minesweeper and a couple of landing vessels.

Emergency summit

This came as US President Joe Biden was due to head to Europe for an emergency North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit on Thursday on Russia’s invasion and increasingly hostile stance toward the West, where the military alliance’s members and other European allies are strengthening their defenses.

Biden is traveling to Brussels and Poland, which has received more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees since the February 24 invasion. He is expected to seek continued unity among Western allies and to announce more sanctions on Russia.

Asked on CNN what Russian President Vladimir Putin had achieved in Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Well, first of all, not yet. He hasn’t achieved yet.” But he insisted that the military operation — Moscow’s preferred term for the invasion — was going “strictly in accordance with the plans and purposes that were established beforehand.”

Putin’s aims remain to “get rid of the military potential of Ukraine” and to “ensure that Ukraine changes from an anti-Russian center to a neutral country,” he added.

More attacks

In Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, continued shelling and gunfire shook the city on Wednesday morning, with plumes of black smoke rising from the western outskirts.

Heavy artillery fire was heard on Tuesday too from the northwest, where Russia has sought to encircle and capture several suburbs. Ukraine’s defense ministry said its forces partially lost three suburbs in that area, but recaptured another, Makariv, west of Kyiv.

A video posted by Ukrainian police showed them surveying damage in Makariv, including the town’s police station, which an officer said took a direct hit to its roof. The police drove by destroyed residential buildings and along a road pocked by shelling. The town appeared all but deserted.

The Russian forces bombed and destroyed a bridge in the encircled northern city of Chernihiv that crossed the Desna River and connected the city to Kyiv, regional governor Viacheslav Chaus said on Wednesday. Deliveries of humanitarian aid and evacuations of civilians went through that bridge. Local authorities have warned of a humanitarian disaster in the city, with no water or electricity.

A Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said Ukrainian resistance has brought much of Russia’s advance to a halt but has not sent Moscow’s forces into retreat.

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