Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russian forces of engaging in “deliberate terror” with mortar and artillery strikes on residential neighborhoods in Kharkiv, while Ukrainian forces in the southern city of Mariupol defied a Russian deadline to lay down their arms.
Zelenskyy, in a video address late Sunday, said he expects Russia to launch an offensive in the eastern Donbas region “in the near future.”
Russia’s withdrawal of its forces from areas around Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and other parts of the north in recent weeks prompted assessments from Western military officials that Russia was reinforcing and redeploying those assets to eastern Ukraine.
Capturing the Donbas region, which includes Luhansk and Donetsk, along with the port city of Mariupol to the south, would allow Russia to control a land corridor to the Crimea peninsula, which it seized in 2014.
Zelenskyy, in an interview with CNN taped Friday and aired Sunday, said for Ukraine the battle for Donbas will be critical, and that if Russia captures the area it could once again try to seize Kyiv.
“…It is very important for us to not allow them, to stand our ground, because this battle … can influence the course of the whole war,” Zelenskyy said.
Russia has called on the remaining fighters in Mariupol to surrender, saying it controlled urban areas of the city, while an estimated 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers and 400 mercenaries remaining at the sprawling Azovstal steel mill.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told ABC’s “This Week” Sunday the country’s forces will “fight to the end” in Mariupol.
“The city still has not fallen,” he said, hours after the expiration of Russia’s declared deadline.
Asked about reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin believes Moscow is winning the war, Shmyhal noted that while several cities are under siege, only Kherson in the south has fallen under Russian control.
“More than 900 cities, towns and villages…are freed from Russian occupation,” Shmyhal said, adding Ukraine has no intention of surrendering in the eastern Donbas region.
The prime minister added that Ukraine wants a diplomatic solution “if possible.”
“We won’t leave our country, our families, our land,” he said.
Zelenskyy said in his Sunday night address that Western nations should increase their sanctions against Russia, including actions targeting Russia’s oil and banking sectors.
“Everyone in Europe and America already sees Russia openly using energy to destabilize Western societies,” Zelenskyy said. “All of this requires greater speed from Western countries in preparing a new, powerful package of sanctions.”
Earlier Sunday, the Ukrainian leader tweeted that he had discussed ensuring Ukraine’s financial stability and preparations for post-war reconstruction with International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.
Georgieva tweeted in response, saying that support was “essential to lay the foundations for rebuilding a modern competitive #Ukraine.”
Russia initially described its aims as disarming Ukraine and defeating nationalists there. Kyiv and its Western allies say those are bogus justifications for an unprovoked war of aggression that has driven a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.