LVIV, Ukraine – Russian forces have stepped up their campaign of devastation targeting towns and villages across Ukraine, attacking Kiev and a strategic port on Saturday and arresting the defiant mayor of a captured town, an act that prompted hundreds outraged Ukrainians pouring into the streets in protest.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Moscow of terrorizing the nation with the aim of breaking the will of the people. “A war of annihilation,” he called.
He denounced what he called the kidnapping of the mayor of Melitopol, who had refused to cooperate with Russian troops after seizing the southeastern city in the early days of the invasion, as “a new stage of terror, as they try to physically eliminate representatives of the legitimate local Ukrainian authorities.
Russian forces have not won a major military victory since the first days of the invasion more than two weeks ago, and Saturday’s assaults reinforced Moscow’s strategic shift towards increasingly indiscriminate bombardment of targets civil.
Unable to stage a rapid takeover of the country by air, land and sea, Russian troops deployed missiles, rockets and bombs to destroy apartment buildings, schools, factories and hospitals, increasing the carnage and civilian suffering, and leading more than 2.5 million people to flee the country.
In response to US efforts to supply the Ukrainian army with anti-tank weapons and other equipment, Russia issued a new, more direct threat on Saturday, warning the United States that arms convoys sent to Ukraine would be “targets legitimate” for the Russian army.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov told Russian television that Moscow had warned Washington that “the reckless transfer of such types of weapons as man-portable anti-aircraft and anti-tank missile systems” to Ukraine could have serious consequences.
Heavy shelling and lack of food, water and medicine for thousands of residents in the besieged city of Mariupol have already led to what Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called “the worst disaster humanitarianism of the planet”.
At least 1,582 civilians have died since the Russian siege of Mariupol began 12 days ago, he said, and residents are struggling to survive and have been forced to bury the dead in mass graves.
“There is no clean water or medicine for more than a week, maybe even 10 days,” a staff member of Doctors Without Borders in Mariupol said on Saturday in an audio recording broadcast by the organization.
“We have seen people who have died due to lack of medicine, and there are a lot of them in Mariupol,” the staff member said.
During a 90-minute call with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron urged Mr. Putin to agree to an immediate ceasefire, according to the French government, which has described the talks as “frank” and “difficult”.
France said Mr Putin had shown no willingness to stop the war, and said he “placed the blame for the conflict on Ukraine” and appeared “determined to achieve her goals”.
In its summary of the call, the Kremlin said Putin had discussed “several issues relating to agreements being drafted to meet well-known Russian demands,” but did not elaborate on those demands.
In the coming weeks, NATO, which is committed to defending allied countries against any incursion by Russian forces, plans to bring together 30,000 troops from 25 countries in Europe and North America in Norway to carry out live fire and other cold weather military exercises.
The drills, which Norway hosts every two years, were announced more than eight months ago, NATO said, and are unrelated to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which the NATO said it was responding with “preventive, proportionate and non-escalating measures”.
But the training has taken on greater importance as Russia steps up its bombardment of Ukrainian population centers.
Around Kiev, the capital, Russian forces advanced into the suburbs but were slowed down by Ukrainian troops who counterattacked with ambushes on armored columns. On Saturday, artillery fire intensified around Kiev, with a low rumble heard in most parts of the city.
On Saturday, there was no indication of new efforts by the Russian army to bring the armored columns closer to the capital. Instead, the soldiers appeared to be fighting for control of towns along the highways surrounding it.
In Irpin, a leafy dormitory community northwest of Kiev, troops were fighting street by street, said Vitaly, a Ukrainian soldier who asked that his surname not be released for security reasons. He spoke outside a gas station convenience store, whose windows were blown out by bombing, on the western outskirts of the city.
“We try to push them back but we don’t control the city,” he said.
In the southern city of Mykolaiv, residents awoke Saturday morning to the sound of a fierce battle hours after Russian shells hit several civilian areas, damaging a cancer hospital and forcing residents to flee into bomb shelters. bombs.
The morning fighting was concentrated in the north of the city, said Colonel Sviatoslav Stetsenko of the Ukrainian army’s 59th brigade, which was stationed near the front lines.
“They are changing tactics,” said Vitaliy Kim, the governor of the Mykolaiv region. “They deploy in the villages and lodge in the schools and the houses of the villages. We cannot retaliate. There are no more rules now. We will have to be more brutal with them.
For nearly two weeks, Russian forces have been trying to encircle Mykolaiv and cross south of the Buh River, which runs through the city and is a natural defense against a Russian push westward and Odessa, the Black Sea port. which seems to be a first Russian objective.
Russian forces had not crossed the river on Saturday morning, Colonel Stetsenko said, but “they continue to shell Mykolaiv”.
In Melitopol, hundreds of residents protested in the streets, a day after Russian troops forced a balaclava over the mayor’s head and dragged him from a government building, according to Ukrainian officials.
“Fire the mayor!” shouted the protesters, according to witnesses and videos. “Free the mayor!”
But almost as soon as the protesters gathered, Russian military personnel decided to shut them down, arresting a woman they believed had organized the protest, according to two witnesses and the woman’s Facebook account.
The episode was part of what Ukrainian officials called an escalation in intimidation and repression. It also illustrated a problem that Russia is likely to face even if it manages to subjugate towns and villages: in at least some of the few towns and villages that Russia has managed to seize – mainly in the south and l are they facing popular unrest and revolt.
Mr. Zelensky sought to tap into public anger in an overnight address to the nation.
“The whole country saw that Melitopol did not surrender to the invaders,” he said. “Just like Kherson, Berdyansk and other cities where Russian troops managed to enter did not.” He said popular resistance “will not be changed by pressuring mayors or removing mayors.”
Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fyodorov remained stubbornly defiant even after Russian soldiers took control of the city after a fierce assault on the first day of the invasion. “We are not cooperating with the Russians in any way,” he said.
Last weekend, with Mr. Fyodorov’s encouragement, people waving Ukrainian flags took to the streets of Melitopol and other occupied towns. For the most part, Russian soldiers stood aside, even as protesters commandeered a Russian armored vehicle in a city and drove it through the streets.
As protests in Melitopol were quickly put down, the Ukrainian government renewed efforts to bring aid to Mariupol, sending dozens of buses with food and medicine, Ukrainian officials said.
Similar relief efforts had failed in recent days as fighting raged around the town and landmines blocked roads in the area. In an overnight address, Mr Zelensky said the failure to deliver aid to the city showed that Russian troops “continue to torture our people, our residents of Mariupol”.
Still, he said, “We’ll try again.”
Marc Santora reported from Lviv, Ukraine, Michael Schwirtz from Mykolaiv, Ukraine, and Michael Levenson from New York. The report was provided by Andrew E. Kramer in Kyiv, Ukraine, Ivan Nechepurenko in Istanbul and Norimitsu Onishi in Paris.