On the third week of the Russian invasion, Ukraine accused Moscow of killing seven civilians in an attack on women and children trying to flee fighting near Kyiv.
Ukrainian intelligence service said on Saturday the seven people, including one child, were killed as they fled the village of Peremoha and that “the occupiers forced the remnants of the column to turn back.”
Ukrainian officials later said the convoy was not travelling along a “green corridor” agreed with Russia when it was struck on Friday, correcting their earlier assertion that it was on such a designated route.
Reuters was unable immediately to verify the report and Russia offered no immediate comment. Moscow denies targeting civilians since invading Ukraine on 24 February. It blames Ukraine for failed attempts to evacuate civilians from encircled cities, an accusation Ukraine and its Western allies strongly reject.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said earlier that Moscow was sending in new troops after Ukrainian forces put 31 of Russia’s battalion tactical groups out of action in what he called Russia’s largest army losses in decades. It was not possible to verify his statements.
Zelensky also said about 1,300 Ukrainian troops had been killed so far and urged the West to get more involved in peace negotiations. The president suggested Russian forces would face a fight to the death if they sought to enter the capital.
“If they decide to carpet bomb (Kyiv), and simply erase the history of this region… and destroy all of us, then they will enter Kyiv. If that’s their goal, let them come in, but they will have to live on this land by themselves,” he said.
Zelensky discussed the war with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Emmanuel Macron, and the German and French leaders then spoke to Putin by phone and urged him to order an immediate ceasefire.
A Kremlin statement on the 75-minute call made no mention of a ceasefire and a French presidency official said: “We did not detect a willingness on Putin’s part to end the war.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused the United States of escalating tensions and said the situation had been complicated by convoys of Western arms shipments to Ukraine that Russian forces considered “legitimate targets”.
In comments reported by the Tass news agency, Ryabkov made no specific threat, but any attack on such convoys before they reached Ukraine would risk widening the war.
Responding to Zelensky’s call for the West to be more involved in peace negotiations, a US State Department spokesman said: “If there are diplomatic steps that we can take that the Ukrainian government believes would be helpful, we’re prepared to take them.”
Crisis talks between Moscow and Kyiv have been continuing via a video link, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by Russia’s RIA news agency. He gave no details but Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv would not surrender or accept any ultimatums.
Zelensky later on Saturday said he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett about the prospects for peace talks. Bennett met with Putin and previously talked by phone to Zelensky, but the diplomatic efforts so far have appeared fruitless.
Air raid sirens blared across most Ukrainian cities on Saturday, local media reported.
Russia’s invasion has been almost universally condemned around the world and Moscow has drawn tough Western sanctions.
The Russian bombardment has trapped thousands of people in besieged cities and sent 2.5 million Ukrainians fleeing to neighbouring countries. Zelensky said the conflict meant some small Ukrainian towns no longer existed.
The US said it would rush up to US$200 million in additional small arms, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine, where officials have pleaded for more military aid.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its neighbour’s military capabilities and “de-Nazify” the country.
Ukrainian officials had planned to use humanitarian corridors from Mariupol as well as towns and villages in the regions of Kyiv, Sumy and some other areas on Saturday.
But Russian shelling threatened attempts to evacuate trapped civilians, they said.
Still, around 13,000 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities on Saturday, said Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.
It was almost twice the number who got out the previous day but far fewer than on the two days prior to that.
A senior Russian defence ministry official said the humanitarian situation in Ukraine continued to decline rapidly and blamed Ukrainian fighters, accusing them of mining neighbourhoods and destroying bridges and roads, the RIA news agency reported.
Russian officials have previously accused Ukrainian forces of shelling their own people and then seeking to blame Moscow, allegations that Kyiv and Western nations dismissed as lies. (Source: The Straits Times)