World

Ukraine Silences Air Strikes In Russia, Mariupol Rescue Operation Fails

It was the first attack by the Ukrainians on Russian soil since the war began. (File)

Kiev:

Ukraine refused Friday to deny it had carried out airstrikes on Russian soil, as hopes of scaling faded in President Vladimir Putin’s war and evacuation operations for besieged Mariupol failed.

Peace talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials resumed via video, but the Kremlin warned a helicopter attack on a fuel depot in the city of Belgorod would hinder negotiations.

Kyiv would not be interested in whether it was behind the attack, with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba saying he “does not have all the military information”.

With the prospect of widespread war across Ukraine’s borders, little progress has been reported in one of the country’s most pressing humanitarian disasters, in the devastated southern city of Mariupol.

The international Red Cross said the team heading to the city had to turn back on Friday after “rules and conditions made it impossible to proceed”.

It was the latest among several crumbling missions to create safe corridors for civilians to escape Russia’s violent attacks in Mariupol, though the Red Cross said its team would try again Saturday.

After five weeks of a military campaign that has reduced parts of Ukraine to rubble, Moscow said this week it would reduce attacks on the capital Kyiv and the city of Chernigiv.

– Russia regroup? –
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia was consolidating and preparing a “strong offensive” in the east and south, joining a chorus of Western assessments that Moscow’s troops were regrouping, not retreating.

Zelensky on Friday hosted European Parliament President Roberta Metsola in Kyiv, praising her “heroism” for visiting the war zone.

“We’re happy that you’re on the bright and kind side,” Zelensky told Metsola.

“Courage, strength, determination,” Metsola said on Twitter, posting pictures of him and Zelensky shaking hands.

The airstrikes in Russia hit a fuel storage facility belonging to energy giant Rosneft in the western city of Belgorod, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the border with Ukraine.

Oleksiy Arestovych, Ukraine’s presidential aide, said in a Twitter video that “for what is happening on Russian territory, the responsibility lies with Russia, and it is up to them to deal with.”

But the consequences of the peace talks were quickly explained by Moscow.

“This is not something that can be considered as creating comfortable conditions for continuing negotiations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Russia launched its invasion on February 24, expecting to quickly capture Kyiv and overthrow the Zelensky government.

Ukraine’s violent resistance and Russia’s logistical and tactical problems thwarted such plans, with Russia also struggling with unprecedented Western sanctions that have caused multinational companies to leave the country en masse.

U.S. officials on Friday gave a gloomy assessment of the Russian economy, warning it would fall into a “deep” recession and shrink by 10 percent.

On the ground, the Ukrainian army began to reaffirm control including around the capital Kyiv and in the southern region of Kherson-the only important city successfully occupied by Russia.

– ‘Ordinary grave’ –
Russian troops “continued their partial withdrawal” from northern Kyiv toward the Belarusian border, Ukraine’s defense ministry said.

Civilians were evacuated from the devastated area as Ukrainian troops liberated areas around Kyiv and Chernigiv.

Three -year -old Karolina Tkachenko and her family had been walking for an hour through a field strewn with burning Russian armored vehicles to leave their village outside Kyiv.

“The shops were closed, there was no delivery of supplies. The bridge was also blown up, we couldn’t go to buy stuff through there,” said Karolina’s mother, Karina Tkachenko.

“I hope all this will end soon, and I will get back to work,” he told AFP.

In Mariupol, Viktoria Dubovytskaya, who took refuge in a theater where 300 people were feared killed in the Russian bombing, said she only understood the level of destruction when she fled.

Bodies were lying in the rubble, and small wooden crosses were planted in the ground, he told AFP.

“When people find someone they love, they just plant it wherever they can. Sometimes that’s where roses once bloomed,” he said. “The city is now an ordinary graveyard.”

An estimated 160,000 people are still trapped in Mariupol with little water, food and electricity.

– Radiation risk –
The UN cultural agency said on Friday it had confirmed at least 53 Ukrainian historic sites, religious buildings and museums suffered damage during the invasion.

Ukraine also warned that Russian troops leaving the Chernobyl nuclear plant – the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, in 1986 – after weeks of occupation may have been exposed to radiation.

“Russia behaved irresponsibly at Chernobyl” by digging ditches in contaminated areas and preventing plant personnel from performing their duties, Foreign Minister Kuleba said.

With its economy crippled by unprecedented international sanctions, Putin has sought to capitalize on Russia’s status as an energy power.

Warning that EU members will have to prepare ruble accounts starting Friday to pay for their country’s gas, he said existing contracts would be terminated if payments were not made.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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