Ukrainian Zelenskyy warns of devastation if Russia tries to take Kyiv

People are fleeing the town of Irpin outside of Kyiv
Ukrainian soldiers walk near a destroyed bridge as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in the town of Irpin outside Kyiv, Ukraine March 12, 2022. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

March 13, 2022

By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets

LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned Russian forces face a life-or-death struggle if they try to seize the capital Kyiv, as air raid sirens woke residents again on Sunday morning.

“If they decide to carpet bomb and just wipe out the history of this region… and destroy us all, then they will invade Kyiv. If that’s their goal, let them come in, but they have to live alone on this land,” Zelenskyy said on Saturday.

The president, who has repeatedly appeared on social media from the capital, said some small towns had ceased to exist in the third week of Russian attacks, the biggest attack on a European country since World War II.

Russian shelling trapped thousands of people in besieged cities and 2.5 million Ukrainians fled to neighboring countries.

Ukraine on Saturday accused Russian forces of killing seven civilians in an attack on women and children trying to flee fighting near Kyiv. France said Russian President Vladimir Putin had shown no willingness to make peace.

Ukrainian intelligence said the seven, including a child, were killed escaping the village of Peremoha and “the occupiers forced what was left of the column to turn back”.

Reuters was unable to immediately verify the report and Russia did not immediately comment.

Moscow denies attacking civilians since invading Ukraine on February 24. It blames Ukraine for failed attempts to evacuate civilians from encircled towns, an accusation Ukraine and its Western allies firmly deny.

Zelenskyi said Moscow is sending in fresh troops after Ukrainian forces disabled 31 of Russia’s tactical battalion groups in what he described as Russia’s biggest army losses in decades. Reuters could not verify his statements.

“We still have to hold on. We still have to fight,” Zelenskiy said in a video address late Saturday, his second of the day. He said about 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and called on the West to get more involved in peace negotiations.

The United States said it would rush up to $200 million in additional small arms, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine, where officials have asked for more military aid.

The Kremlin describes its actions as a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and overthrow leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and Western allies call it an unfounded pretext for a war of choice, which has raised fears of a wider conflict in Europe.

Zelenskyj discussed the war with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, who called on Putin to order an immediate ceasefire.

A Kremlin statement on their 75-minute phone call made no mention of a ceasefire. A French Presidency official said: “We have seen no willingness on the part of Putin to end the war.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused the United States of allowing tensions to escalate and said the situation was complicated by convoys of Western arms shipments to Ukraine, which Russian forces saw as “legitimate targets”.

In comments to the Tass news agency, Ryabkov made no specific threat. Any attack on such convoys before they reached Ukraine would risk escalating the war.

Crisis talks between Moscow and Kyiv continued via video link, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Russian news agency RIA. He gave no details, but Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv will not surrender or accept ultimatums.


Russian missile strikes destroyed a Ukrainian airbase and hit a munitions depot near Vasylkiv in the Kyiv region, Interfax Ukraine quoted its mayor as saying.

The exhausted-looking governor of Chernihiv, some 150 kilometers northeast of Kyiv, gave a video update in front of the ruins of the city’s Ukraine Hotel.

“There is no longer such a hotel,” said Viacheslav Chaus, wiping the tears from his eyes. “But Ukraine itself still exists, and it will prevail.”

Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russian ground forces had been massed 25 km (15 miles) from central Kyiv, while Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and the main Black Sea port of Mariupol remained encircled under heavy Russian fire.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said Russia had slowed its offensive and halted its forces in many places. The military’s Facebook post did not provide details.

Ukrainian officials had planned to use humanitarian corridors from Mariupol in the south and towns and villages in the Kyiv, Sumy regions and some other areas on Saturday.

Around 13,000 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities on Saturday, said Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.

The governor of Donetsk region said the constant shelling made it difficult to bring aid to Mariupol. Fires were burning in the western part of the city and dozens of apartment buildings were badly damaged, according to images taken by private US satellite company Maxar on Saturday.

At least 1,582 civilians in Mariupol were killed as a result of Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade, the city council said on Friday. Reuters could not verify the number of victims.

“There have been reports of looting and violent clashes among civilians over the few basic necessities that remain in the city,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

People boiled groundwater for drinking, used wood to cook food and buried their dead near where they lay, said a staffer at Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in Mariupol.

(Reporting by Reuters offices; Writing by Philippa Fletcher, Timothy Heritage, Matt Spetalnick and Michael Perry; Editing by William Mallard) Ukrainian Zelenskyy warns of devastation if Russia tries to take Kyiv

Bobby Allyn

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