As the UN documented dozens of civilians killed in a city, Russia said it was planning a full-scale attack to carve out much of Ukraine. kyiv has sworn to fight to save the country.
The Ukrainian government said its beleaguered forces were still holding out inside a huge steelworks in the ravaged port city of Mariupol, backed by an influx of Western equipment.
The Kremlin has demanded the “liberation” of Mariupol, control of which is key to its war plans nearly two months after President Vladimir Putin ordered a shock invasion of Western-leaning neighbor Russia.
“Since the beginning of the second phase of the special operation…one of the tasks of the Russian army has been to establish full control over Donbass and southern Ukraine,” General de Rustam Minnekaev division.
“It will provide a land corridor to Crimea,” he added, referring to the peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Minnekaev’s comments were the clearest articulation yet of Russia’s goals in the “second phase” of the invasion, which was imposed on the Kremlin after Ukrainian-backed resistance around the capital kyiv.
“It only confirms what I have said many times before: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was just the beginning,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his usual evening speech.
“We will defend ourselves as long as possible…but all nations who, like us, believe in the victory of life over death must fight with us.”
Seeking a way to end the bloodshed, UN chief Antonio Guterres will meet Putin in Moscow next week, and may also visit Zelensky in kyiv, the UN said.
Talks between Russia and Ukraine have again stalled, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday.
In a phone call to Putin, EU chief Charles Michel called for humanitarian access to Mariupol during the Orthodox Christian Easter this weekend.
But Zelensky said Russia had rejected a proposed truce over the holidays, while Putin accused kyiv of refusing to allow its troops into Mariupol.
Ukrainian officials had hoped to evacuate more civilians out of the city on Friday, but called off the operation due to “insecurity” on the roads.
On Thursday, three school buses carrying evacuees arrived in the city of Zaporizhzhia after leaving Mariupol and crossing into Russian-held territory.
“I don’t want to hear any more shelling,” said Tatiana Dorash, 34, who arrived with her six-year-old son Maxim.
She said all they wanted now was a quiet night and “a bed to sleep in”.
Russia’s shift in strategic focus towards southern and eastern Ukraine has seen invading forces leave behind a trail of indiscriminate destruction and civilian bodies around Kyiv, including the suburban city from Bucha.
A United Nations mission in Bucha documented “the unlawful killing, including summary execution, of approximately 50 civilians”, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said.
His spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said Russian forces had “indiscriminately shelled and bombed populated areas, killing civilians and destroying hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure, actions that may constitute war crimes”.
The UN mission was sent on April 9, a week after an AFP team discovered the bodies of people in civilian clothes lining the streets of Bucha, when the town had been under Russian occupation for more than a month. a month.
According to Ukrainian officials, the bodies of more than 1,000 civilians were found in the vicinity of kyiv.
Forensic experts are currently examining the bodies, said Oleksandr Pavliuk, head of Kyiv’s regional military administration.
“But what we saw were the hands tied behind the back, the legs tied and a bullet through the limbs and the back of the head,” he told reporters.
US satellite imagery company Maxar released photos it assessed showing a mass grave on the northwest edge of Mangush, west of Mariupol.
Zelensky also accused Moscow of laying the groundwork for a referendum aimed at cementing control over separatist areas in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region, urging residents to avoid giving personal data to forces Russians.
“It aims to falsify the so-called referendum on your land,” he warned.
The Ukrainian leader also welcomed the latest pledges of Western military aid, including howitzers, armored vehicles and tactical drones from the United States.
After the latest US pledge of $800 million in equipment, including heavy weapons, French President Emmanuel Macron said he had ordered anti-tank missiles and self-propelled howitzers for Ukraine.
The British government said Ukrainian soldiers had traveled to Britain to train in the use of armored vehicles supplied by the United Kingdom.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced Britain is joining other European countries in reopening its embassy in Kyiv, but he has warned the dispute could drag on until the end of next year.
Russia said on Friday that one crew member was dead and 27 were missing after the sinking of the guided-missile cruiser Moskva last week – Moscow’s first admission of losses in the incident which it attributes to a fire .
The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was hit by Ukrainian cruise missiles, according to Ukraine and the United States, and the death toll is unknown.