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Russia continues assault on Ukrainian cities as it moves to surround Kyiv

Russian forces continued the assault on the southern port town of Mariupol, where at least 1,500 people had been killed, according to officials, and those who are trying to flee in freezing temperatures have no water, heating, and very little food.

Russian forces inched towards Kyiv Saturday and pounded civilian areas in other Ukrainian cities as concerns grew over the besieged southern port of Mariupol, where officials said more than 1,500 people had been killed.

“Hundreds of thousands of people… are for all intents and purposes besieged,” said Doctors Without Borders’ Stephen Cornish, one of the heads of the medical charity’s Ukraine operation.

“Sieges are a medieval practice that have been outlawed by the modern rules of war for good reason,” he said.

The United Nations stated that Russia could be committing war crimes in Mariupol and other cities.

Civilians braced for more attacks, including Odessa, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Kyiv, as Ukrainian media reported air raid sirens going off in each of these cities.

Evacuations have been thwarted by Russian forces according to Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky.

“Mariupol remains blocked by the enemy. Russian troops did not let our aid into the city and continue to torture our people, our Mariupol residents,” Zelensky said in a video address late Friday.

He said the Ukrainian government would attempt evacuation efforts again on Saturday.

“Once again, send food, water and medicine for our city,” he added.

One Mariupol resident, Yulia, 29, who fled the city, said her mother-in-law is still there and the attacks on the city don’t stop.

“There are many corpses on the street and nobody buries them,” she told Agence France Presse newswire.

Pleas for international intervention
As Russia continues to expand its scope of bombardments throughout the country, Zelensky has continued to plead for NATO to intervene.

The US indicated it would not directly act against Russia, warning that it would lead to “World War III.”

“We will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine,” he said, adding that Russia will “pay a severe price” if it used chemical weapons.

US President Joe Biden has elected to hit Russia with even more economic sanctions, ending normal trade between the two countries, as well as announcing a ban on Russian vodka, seafood, and diamonds.

The United States and the European Union suspended all exports of luxury goods to Russia.

“Putin must pay the price. He cannot pursue a war that threatens the very foundation of international peace and stability and then ask for help from the international community,” said Biden.

‘Humanitarian catastrophe’
Russian troops are slowly surrounding Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. The Ukrainian military said that the Russians are trying to take out the defences in the north and the west, where suburbs such as Irpin and Bucha have been repeatedly bombarded.

Russian tanks are also advancing on the northeastern part of the capital.

Areas in Kyiv’s northwest, eastern city Izyum, and the northeastern city of Sumy have seen 100,000 people leaving over the past two days, according to Ukrainian officials.

“In the Sumy, Kyiv and Donetsk regions, there is no more electricity. Yes, there are problems with heating. There is no gas, no water,” Zelensky warned.

In the industrial hub of Dnipro, with a population of one million, three missiles hit civilian buildings on Friday, as images of kindergarten with its windows blown out emerged in the media.

Foreign fighters
A number of fighters have volunteered on both sides of the conflict, as the Kremlin have pushed to beef up reinforcements, zoning in on Syria for recruits.

Zelensky accused Russia of hiring “murderers from Syria, a country where everything has been destroyed… like they are doing here to us”.

He appealed to Russian mothers in his video address that was released early Saturday, asking them to prevent their sons from being sent to war.

“I want to say this once again to Russian mothers, especially mothers of conscripts. Do not send your children to war in a foreign country,” he said.

Effects of conflict felt elsewhere, too
Russia’s last-minute demands related to its invasion of Ukraine nearly thwarted the almost-complete process of reviving the Iranian nuclear deal on Friday.

The EU described the invasion as a wake-up call.
“There’s no denying the fact that two weeks ago we woke up in a different Europe, in a different world,” European Council chief Charles Michel said.

Russia is trying to wield its power on the social media front, too, as it launched a criminal case against Meta, the owner of Instagram. It said that Instagram was allowing posts calling for violence against Russian forces, and is trying to block the platform in the country.

Amidst the number of conferences, phone calls, and talks, no progress has been made towards ending the fighting.

Putin maintains that discussions are being held almost daily, while US Vice President Kamala Harris said Putin shows “no sign of engaging in serious diplomacy”.

The numbers of Russian troops killed is also under dispute.

Zelensky said that 12,000 troops had been killed, while the US believes the numbers are between 2,000 and 4,000 fatalities. Russia estimates 498 troops have been killed, in a number given last week.

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