KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Residents on Ukraine’s besieged southeast coast were awaiting a possible evacuation Sunday as the country’s president said Russia’s occupation of capturing a major port city had weakened it and created opportunities for his military.
Two loud explosions were heard in Odesa on the Black Sea early Sunday, and black smoke was seen rising over the city, Ukraine’s largest port, where its fleet is headquartered.
“Odesa was attacked from the air. Some missiles were shot down by the air force,” the city council said in a brief statement on the Telegram messaging app. It said fires had been reported in some areas, but it gave no indication of what was hit. in the attack.
With Mariupol east of Odesa right at Russia’s crossroads, Ukraine insists it has gained a foothold elsewhere in the country, leading to troops recapturing territory north of Kiev’s capital as Russian forces set off.
“Ukraine has gained invaluable time, time that allows us to thwart enemy tactics and weaken its capabilities,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Saturday.
But inside Mariupol, surrounded by Russian forces for more than a month and brutalized by some of the worst attacks of the war, conditions are still poor and the prospects for escape uncertain.
About 100,000 people are believed to remain in the city of the Azov Sea, less than a quarter of its pre-war population of 430,000, and the severe shortage of water, food, fuel and medicine continues.
Many still in Mariupol are awaiting fulfillment of promises to help them get to safety. Among those trying to get the residents out was the International Committee of the Red Cross, which had still not reached the city on Saturday, a day after local authorities said it had been blocked by Russian forces.
Some residents escaped on their own, including Tamila Mazurenko, who reached Zaporizhzhia, a city still under Ukrainian control that has served as a hub for other evacuations.
“I have only one question: Why?” she said of the ordeal of her city. “Our normal lives were ruined. And we lost everything. I have no job, I can not find my son.”
Mariupol is in the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops for eight years. Its conquest would create an unbroken land corridor from Russia to Crimea, which Moscow conquered from Ukraine in 2014.
As Ukrainian troops moved cautiously to recapture territory north of Kiev, the country and its western allies said Russia was building strength in eastern Ukraine. Where Russian troops are retreating, Ukraine said it would continue its attacks, shelling and attacking them as they withdraw.
“Peace will not be the result of any decisions the enemy makes somewhere in Moscow. There is no reason to harbor empty hopes that they will simply leave our country. We can only have peace by fighting,” Zelenskyy said.
Although the geography of the battlefield changed, not much changed for many Ukrainians more than five weeks into a war that has sent more than 4 million people fleeing the country as refugees.
Zelenskyy claimed that as Russian troops moved, they left mines around the homes., left equipment and even the bodies of the dead. These allegations could not be independently verified, but Ukrainian troops were seen following the warning.
In Bucha, northwest of Kiev, Associated Press reporters watched as Ukrainian soldiers, backed up by a column of tanks and other armored vehicles, used cables to pull corpses away from a street at a distance for fear they might be been captured. Locals said the dead – the AP counted at least six – were civilians killed without provocation by departing Russian soldiers.
In cities around Kiev, there were signs of fierce fighting everywhere in the wake of the Russian redistribution. Destroyed armored vehicles from both armies lay in streets and fields along with scattered military equipment.
Ukrainian troops were stationed at the entrance to Antonov Airport in the suburb of Hostomel and demonstrated control of the runway that Russia was trying to storm in the early days of the war.
Inside the building, Mriya, one of the largest planes ever built, lay destroyed under a hangar with holes from the February attack.
“The Russians could not make one like it, so they destroyed it,” said Oleksandr Merkushev, mayor of nearby Irpin.
The head of Ukraine’s delegation in negotiations with Russia said that Moscow’s negotiators informally agreed to most of a draft proposal that was discussed during face-to-face talks in Istanbul this week, but no written statement has been made. confirm. However, Davyd Arakhamia said on Ukrainian television that he hopes the draft is developed enough for the presidents of the two countries to meet to discuss it.
Even when hopes emerged for Ukraine in some places, Zelenskyy said he expects cities where Russian forces are leaving to withstand missile and rocket attacks from afar, and that the fighting in the east will be intense. In his evening speech on Saturday, he urged his people to do everything they can to ensure the country’s survival, even acting as simple as showing each other kindness.
“When a nation defends itself in a war of annihilation, when it is a matter of life or death for millions, there are no insignificant things. … And everyone can contribute to a victory for everyone, ”said the president. “Some with weapons in their hands. Some know how to work. And some with a warm word and help at the right moment. Do everything you can so that we stand together in this war for our freedom, for our independence. ”
Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Andrea Rosa of Irpin, Ukraine, and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine