After more than four weeks of conflict, Russia has failed to seize any major cities in Ukraine and Moscow signaled on Friday that it will reduce its military targets to focus on territory claimed by separatists in the east, whom it backs.
However, heavy fighting was reported in several places on Saturday, suggesting there will be no quick end to the conflict, which has killed thousands of people, sent some 3.7 million abroad and expelled more of half of Ukraine’s children from their homes, according to the United Nations.
Russian troops seized the town of Slavutych, which is close to the border with Belarus and is where workers at the Chernobyl plant live, kyiv region governor Oleksandr Pavlyuk said.
He added that the military occupied the hospital and kidnapped the mayor. Reuters was unable to independently verify the reports.
Slavutych sits just outside the so-called exclusion zone around Chernobyl, which in 1986 was the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, where Ukrainian personnel have continued to work even after Russian forces nearly seized the plant. at the start of the invasion on February 24.
On the other side of the country, in Mariupol, Mayor Vadym Boichenko said the situation in the city remains critical, with serious clashes in the center.
The city has been devastated by weeks of Russian fire.
In a speech to Qatar’s Doha Forum on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy compared the destruction of Mariupol to the tragedy of the Syrian city of Aleppo, which was bombed by Syrian and Russian forces in the civil war.
“They are destroying our ports,” Zelenskiy said, warning of dire consequences if his country, one of the world’s top grain producers, is unable to export its food. “The absence of exports from Ukraine will be a severe blow to countries around the world.”
Speaking via video link, he also called on energy-producing countries to increase their production so that Russia cannot use its vast oil and gas wealth to “blackmail” other nations.
Zelenskiy pressed Friday night for more talks with Moscow, after the Russian Defense Ministry said the first phase of his operation was nearly complete and would now focus on the Donbass region that borders Russia. which has pro-Moscow separatist enclaves.
Russian-backed dissident forces have been fighting Ukrainian forces in Donbass since 2014.
Recasting Russia’s goals may make it easier for President Vladimir Putin to claim a face-saving victory, analysts said.
Moscow has so far said its goals for what it calls its “special military operation” include the demilitarization and “denazification” of its neighbor. Ukraine and its Western allies have called it a pretext for an unprovoked invasion.
In what officials billed as a major speech, US President Joe Biden will on Saturday underscore the West’s commitment to stand with the people of Ukraine and hold Russia accountable for the conflict, the White House said.
Biden is visiting Poland, which has taken in many of the refugees leaving the country.
The United Nations has confirmed 1,081 civilian deaths and 1,707 injuries in Ukraine since the invasion, but says the true figure is likely to be higher. Some 136 children have been killed so far during the war, Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said on Saturday.
The Russian Defense Ministry said 1,351 Russian soldiers were killed and 3,825 wounded, the Interfax news agency reported on Friday. Ukraine says 15,000 Russian soldiers have died. Reuters was unable to independently verify the claims.