(Adds civilian casualties, Ukrainian military commentary, Syrian fighters)
LVIV/ODESA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the Russian siege of the port city of Mariupol was “a terror that will be remembered for centuries,” while local authorities said thousands of residents there had forcibly crossed the border. .
“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 on Saturday.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the claim.
Russian news agencies have said buses carried hundreds of people whom Moscow has called refugees from the strategic port on the Sea of Azov to Russia in recent days.
Air raid sirens sounded over major Ukrainian cities early on Sunday, but there were no immediate reports of new attacks.
According to local authorities, some 400,000 people have been trapped in Mariupol for more than two weeks, sheltered from heavy bombing that cut off central electricity, heating and water supplies.
Rescuers were still searching for survivors at a theater in Mariupol that local authorities said was flattened by Russian airstrikes on Wednesday. Russia denies hitting the theater or targeting civilians.
On Friday, Russia’s defense ministry said its troops were “tightening the noose around Mariupol” and fighting had reached the city center.
On a nightly broadcast, Zelenskiy said the siege of Mariupol would “enter the history of responsibility for war crimes”.
“Doing this to a peaceful city…is a horror that will be remembered for centuries to come.”
Still, he said peace talks with Russia were needed, although they were “not easy and pleasant”.
The UN human rights agency said at least 847 civilians were killed and 1,399 injured in Ukraine on Friday. The Ukrainian Attorney General’s office said 112 children had been killed.
Russian forces have suffered heavy losses since Feb. 24, when President Vladimir Putin launched a “special operation” aimed at demilitarizing Ukraine and purging what he considers dangerous nationalists. Ukraine and the West say Putin has launched an aggressive war of his choice.
Long columns of troops attacking the capital Kiev have stopped in the suburbs.
The Ukrainian army said Russian forces did not conduct offensive operations on Saturday, focusing instead on replenishing supplies and repairing equipment. It also said that Ukrainian air defenses shot down three Russian attack helicopters.
Zelenskiy said the Ukrainian front line was “simply littered with the corpses of Russian soldiers”.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the situation on the ground.
In Syria, some paramilitary fighters say they were ready to go to Ukraine to fight in support of their ally Russia, but have not yet been instructed to leave.
Russia said on Saturday that its hypersonic missiles had destroyed a large underground depot for missiles and aircraft munitions in the western region of Ivano-Frankivsk. Hypersonic weapons can travel faster than five times the speed of sound, and the Interfax agency said it was the first time Russia had used them in Ukraine.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force Command confirmed the attack, but said the Ukrainian side had no information about the type of missiles used.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow expected its operation in Ukraine to end with the signing of a comprehensive agreement on security issues, including Ukraine’s neutral status, Interfax reported.
Kiev and Moscow last week reported some progress in talks toward a political formula that would guarantee Ukraine’s security while keeping it outside NATO, though both sides accused the other of getting things out of the way.
Zelenskiy has said Ukraine could accept international security guarantees that fell short of its longstanding goal of joining NATO. That prospect has been one of Russia’s main concerns.
The Ukrainian president, who regularly appeals passionately to foreign publics for help, told an anti-war protest in Bern on Saturday that Swiss banks were where the “money of the people who started this war” lay and their accounts should be frozen.
Ukrainian cities “are being destroyed on the orders of people living in European, in beautiful Swiss cities, who enjoy property in your cities. It would be really good to deprive them of this privilege,” he said in an audio address.
Neutral Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union, has fully approved EU sanctions against Russian individuals and entities, including orders to freeze their assets in Swiss banks.
The EU measures are part of a wider sanctions effort by Western countries that aims to put pressure on Russia’s economy and starve its war machine.
US President Joe Biden on Friday warned his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, of “consequences” if Beijing provided material support to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Saturday that China is on the right side of history amid the crisis in Ukraine.
“China’s position is objective and fair, and corresponds to the wishes of most countries. Time will prove that China’s claims are on the right side of history,” Wang told reporters, according to a statement released by his ministry on Sunday. has published.
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