Russia said its troops were “tightening the noose” around the beleaguered Ukrainian port of Mariupol on Friday and concerns grew over mass civilian casualties as the United States again warned China against aiding Moscow in its invasion.
Russia’s advance into Ukraine has largely stalled and its troops, frustrated by fierce Ukrainian resistance, have blown residential areas to rubble. On Friday, rockets landed near Lviv, a western city where thousands of people have fled.
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In Mariupol, the scene of heavy bombing, officials estimate that 80% of the city’s homes were damaged and 1,000 people are still trapped in makeshift air raid shelters beneath a destroyed theater.
Nearly 5,000 Ukrainians were evacuated from Mariupol on Friday, officials said, and residents reported seeing corpses along the road as they fled the city.
“We were careful not to let the children see the bodies, so we tried to protect their eyes,” said Nick Osychenko, the CEO of a Mariupol TV station that fled the city with six members of his family.
“We were nervous the whole trip. It was scary, just scary.”
Ukraine said it had rescued 130 people from the basement of a Mariupol theater flattened by Russian attacks two days ago. Russia denied hitting the theater and says it is not targeting civilians.
China is the only major power yet to condemn the Russian attack, and Washington fears Beijing is considering granting Moscow financial and military aid, something both Russia and China deny.
In a video call that lasted about two hours, US President Joe Biden warned Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday of “implications and consequences if China gives material aid to Russia” in Ukraine, the White House said.
The White House later said sanctions against Beijing, the world’s largest exporter, was an option, although it did not detail what material support was.
Chinese state media quoted Xi as saying “The crisis in Ukraine is something we don’t want to see,” adding that the call was requested by the US.
NATO should talk to Russia to resolve the factors behind the conflict, Chinese state media quoted Xi as saying, without blaming Russia for the invasion.
The mayor of Mariupol confirmed to the BBC that fighting had reached the center of the city, where some 400,000 people have been trapped for more than two weeks, sheltered from bombing that has cut electricity, heating and water supplies.
Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said about 35,000 people had escaped the city in recent days, many on foot or in convoys of private cars, but near-constant shelling prevented humanitarian aid from entering.
Oksana Zalavska, 42, fled Mariupol two days ago after staying in an overcrowded bomb shelter where adults ate a small meal a day because rations were low.
“Now I know all about famine in 2022,” she said.
French President Emmanuel Macron told Putin he was extremely concerned about the situation in Mariupol, while the Kremlin said it was doing everything possible to protect the civilians.
Jakob Kern, emergency coordinator for the crisis at the UN World Food Program (WFP), said Ukraine’s “food supply chain is collapsing” amid insecurity and fears of attacks hampering goods traffic.
The WFP buys nearly half of its wheat from Ukraine to feed people in global crisis zones, and Kern said the war could cause “additional hunger” in poor countries around the world.
As the fourth week of Putin’s attempt to subjugate what he calls an artificial state that does not deserve a nation, Ukraine’s elected government is still standing and Russian troops have not taken a single major city.
As Russia sought to retake the initiative, three missiles landed at an airport near Lviv, a western city where hundreds of thousands believed they had found refuge far from Ukraine’s battlefields.
Putin promised tens of thousands of people waving Russian flags at a Moscow football stadium that the “special operation” would succeed.
“We know what to do, how to do it and at what cost. And we will absolutely realize all our plans,” Putin said, adding that, when necessary, Russian soldiers “protect each other from bullets with their bodies as brothers.” “.
Russian troops have suffered heavy casualties while attacking urban areas, forcing more than 3 million refugees to flee across Ukraine’s western border.
Ukraine said its troops had prevented Russia from making further progress on Friday and that the Russians were having problems with food, fuel and communications. Britain said Russian forces had made minimal progress this week.
Russia has been shelling eastern Ukrainian cities intensively, notably Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and Mariupol, and there have been deadly nighttime rocket attacks on Kiev, where Ukrainian forces have stopped troop units outside the city.
Debris from a rocket blew a large crater into the ground in the center of a residential block that also housed a school in northern Kiev, shattering hundreds of windows and scattering debris across the complex.
At least one person was killed, the emergency services said. The mayor of Kiev said 19 people were injured, including four children.
“This is Putin’s war crime,” said Lyudmila Nikolaenko, who visited her son, who lived in one of the affected apartments. “They say they don’t hit ordinary people, they say we shoot ourselves.”
Kiev and Moscow reported progress this week in talks on a political formula that would guarantee Ukraine’s security outside the NATO alliance.
But Ukraine said the need for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops remained unchanged, and both sides accused each other on Friday of delaying negotiations.
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