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Zelenskyy says Russia is waging “terror,” Mariupol says thousands have been deported

Russia's invasion of Ukraine at Ivano-Frankivsk
A volunteer knits camouflage nets for Ukrainian forces at a church as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues March 19, 2022 in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine. REUTERS/Yuriy Rylchuk

March 20, 2022

LVIV/ODESA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia’s siege of the port city of Mariupol was “a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come,” while local authorities said thousands of residents were forcibly taken there been Russia.

“Over the past week, several thousand residents of Mariupol have been deported to Russian territory,” the city council said in a statement on its Telegram channel late Saturday.

Reuters could not independently verify the claim.

Russian news agencies said buses have carried several hundred people summoned to Russia from the strategic port on the Sea of ​​Azov in recent days.

About 400,000 people have been trapped in Mariupol for more than two weeks and, according to local authorities, have found shelter from heavy bombing raids that cut off the central supply of electricity, heating and water.

Rescuers were still searching for survivors at a Mariupol theater that local authorities said was leveled by Russian airstrikes on Wednesday. Russia denies hitting the theater or attacking civilians.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that its forces were “tightening the noose around Mariupol” and that fighting had reached the city center.

In a late-night broadcast, Zelenskyy said the siege of Mariupol “will go down in history of responsibility for war crimes.”

“To do that to a peaceful city…is a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come.”

Nevertheless, peace talks with Russia are necessary, although they are “not easy and pleasant”.

Russian forces have suffered heavy casualties since February 24, when President Vladimir Putin launched what he called a “special operation” aimed at demilitarizing Ukraine and purging what he sees as dangerous nationalists . Ukraine and the West say Putin campaigned aggressively.

Long columns of troops rushing toward the capital, Kyiv, were stopped in the suburbs.

British intelligence believes Russia has been stunned by Ukraine’s resistance to its invasion and is now “pursuing a strategy of attrition,” Britain’s defense attache to the United States said.

On Saturday, Russia said its hypersonic missiles had destroyed a large underground depot for missiles and aircraft ammunition in the western Ivano-Frankivsk region. Hypersonic weapons can travel faster than five times the speed of sound, and the Interfax agency said Russia first used them in Ukraine.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Force Command confirmed the attack but said the Ukrainian side had no information on the type of missiles used.

NEUTRAL STATUS

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow expects its operation in Ukraine to end with the signing of a comprehensive agreement on security issues, including Ukraine’s neutral status, Interfax reported.

Kyiv and Moscow last week reported some progress in talks on a political formula that would guarantee Ukraine’s security while keeping it outside NATO, though each side accused the other of dragging things out.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine could accept international security guarantees that would miss its long-standing goal of joining NATO. This prospect was one of the main concerns of Russia.

The Ukrainian president, who often fervently pleads for help from foreign audiences, said at an anti-war protest in Bern on Saturday that Swiss banks are where the “money of the people who unleashed this war” is and their accounts are being frozen should.

Ukrainian cities “are being destroyed by order of people living in European cities, in beautiful Swiss cities, enjoying property in your cities. It would be really good to take that privilege away from them,” he said in an audio address.

Neutral Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union, has fully adopted EU sanctions against Russian individuals and entities, including orders to freeze their assets in Swiss banks.

The EU measures are part of a broader sanctions effort by Western nations aimed at weakening Russia’s economy and starving out its war machine.

(Reporting by Reuters offices; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by William Mallard)

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Bobby Allyn

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