Russian forces take Chernobyl worker town
Gleb Garanich and Natalia Zinets |
Russian forces have taken control of a town where workers at the defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant live, the governor of Kyiv region says, and fighting has been reported in the streets of the besieged southern port of Mariupol.
After more than four weeks of conflict, Russia has failed to seize any major Ukrainian city and on Friday Moscow signalled it was scaling back its military ambitions to focus on territory claimed by Russian-backed separatists in the east.
However, intense fighting was reported in a number of places on Saturday, suggesting there would be no swift let-up in the conflict, which has killed thousands of people, sent some 3.7 million abroad and driven more than half of Ukraine’s children from their homes, according to the United Nations.
Russian troops seized the town of Slavutych, which is close to the border with Belarus and is where workers at the Chernobyl plant live, the governor of Kyiv region, Oleksandr Pavlyuk, said.
He said the soldiers had occupied the hospital and kidnapped the mayor. Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
Slavutych sits just outside the so-called exclusion zone around Chernobyl, which in 1986 was the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, where Ukrainian staff have continued to work even after the plant itself was seized by Russian forces soon after the start of the February 24 invasion.
On the other side of the country, in Mariupol, Mayor Vadym Boichenko said the situation in the encircled city remained critical, with street fighting taking place in the centre.
The city has been devastated by weeks of Russian fire.
In an address on Saturday to Qatar’s Doha Forum, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy compared the destruction of Mariupol to the destruction inflicted on the Syrian city of Aleppo by combined Syrian and Russian forces in the civil war.
Speaking via video link, he also called on energy-producing countries to increase their output so Russia could not use its massive oil and gas wealth to “blackmail” other nations.
Zelenskiy late on Friday pushed for further talks with Moscow after the Russian defence ministry said a first phase of its operation was mostly complete and it would now focus on the Donbass region bordering Russia, which has pro-Moscow separatist enclaves.
Breakaway Russian-backed forces have been fighting Ukrainian forces in Donbass since 2014.
Reframing Russia’s goals may make it easier for President Vladimir Putin to claim a face-saving victory, analysts said.
Moscow has until now said its goals for what it calls its “special military operation” include demilitarising and “denazifying” its neighbour. Ukraine and its Western allies have called that a baseless pretext for an unprovoked invasion.
The White House said US President Joe Biden on Saturday would use a major address to underscore the West’s commitment to support the people of Ukraine and hold Russia accountable for the conflict.
Biden is visiting Poland, which has taken in many of the refugees streaming out of the country.
The United Nations has confirmed 1081 civilian deaths and 1707 injuries in Ukraine since the invasion. Some 136 children have been killed, Ukraine’s prosecutor-general office said on Saturday.
Russia’s defence ministry said 1351 Russian soldiers had been killed and 3825 wounded. Ukraine says 15,000 Russian soldiers have died.
Footage from Mariupol, home to 400,000 people before the war, shows destroyed buildings, burnt-out vehicles and shell-shocked survivors venturing out for water and provisions. Residents have buried victims in makeshift graves as the ground thaws.
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said an agreement had been reached to set up 10 humanitarian corridors on Saturday to evacuate civilians from frontline hotspots.
More than 100,000 people still needed to be evacuated from the Mariupol, Vereshchuk said.
To the north, battle lines near the capital Kyiv have been frozen for weeks with two main Russian armoured columns stuck northwest and east of the city.
A British intelligence report said Russian forces were relying on indiscriminate air and artillery bombardments rather than risk large-scale ground operations.Reuters