A 3-month-old baby was among six people killed on Saturday when Russia fired cruise missiles at the Black Sea port city of Odesa.said officials. Andriy Yermak, chief of staff of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in a Telegram report that two missile attacks by Russian troops hit a residential area of the city
“Nothing is sacred,” Yermak wrote. “Evil will be punished.”
Meanwhile, Russian forces in Ukraine on Saturday tried to storm a steelworks housing soldiers and civilians in the southern city of Mariupol as they tried to crush the last corner of resistance in a place of deep symbolic and strategic value to Moscow, Ukrainian officials said.
The reported attack on the eve of the Orthodox Easter came after the Kremlin claimed that its military had conquered the entire crushed city except the Azovstal factory, and when Russian forces defeated other cities and towns in southern and eastern Ukraine.
The fate of the Ukrainians in the vast steelworks by the sea was not immediately clear; Earlier Saturday, a Ukrainian military unit released a video allegedly taken two days earlier, in which women and children kept holes underground, some for as long as two months, saying they longed to see the sun.
“We will see peaceful skies, we will breathe in the fresh air,” a woman said in the video. “You simply have no idea what it means for us to just eat, drink sweetened tea. For us, it’s already happiness.”
While the battle for the port began, Russia claimed it had taken control of several villages elsewhere in the eastern Donbas region and destroyed 11 Ukrainian military targets overnight, including three artillery depots. Russian attacks also hit populated areas of Ukraine.
Associated Press journalists also observed shelling in residential areas of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city; The regional governor reported that Oleh Sinehubov said three people were killed. In the Luhansk region of Donbas, Governor Serhiy Haidai said six people died during the shelling of a village, Gorskoi
In Sloviansk, a town in northern Donbas. The AP saw two soldiers arrive at the city hospital, one of them fatally wounded. Nearby, a small group of people gathered outside a church, where a priest blessed them with water on Holy Saturday.
While British officials said the Russians had not gained significant new ground, Ukrainian officials announced a nationwide curfew ahead of Easter Sunday, a sign of war disruption and threat to the entire country.
Mariupol, part of the industrial region of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbas, has been a central Russian target since the invasion on February 24 began and has gained great importance in the war. Completing its conquest would give Russia the biggest victory yet, after a nearly two-month-long siege reduced much of the city to a smoking ruin.
Occupying Mariupol would deprive the Ukrainians of a vital port, release Russian troops to fight elsewhere and allow Russia to create a land corridor with the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow conquered from Ukraine in 2014. Russia-backed separatists control parts of the Donbas.
Russian forces have claimed victory in the city. But Russia’s recent defeats in and around Kiev reveal unresolved weaknesses, starting with Russia’s armored vehicles. To date,– but only half in battle.
“It’s not good military leadership if you lose so many men and so much equipment,” Ukrainian military expert Yuri Zbanatski told CBS News’ Chris Livesay.
“Have not seen either the sky or the sun” since 27 Feb.
An adviser to Ukraine’s presidential office, Oleksiy Arestovich, said during a Saturday briefing that Russian forces had resumed airstrikes on the Azovstal plant and were trying to storm it. A direct attempt to take the plant would represent a turnaround from an order given by Russian President Vladimir Putin two days earlier.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin on Thursday that all of Mariupol, with the exception of Azovstal, had been “liberated” by the Russians. At the time, Putin ordered him not to send Russian troops into the facility, but instead to block the facility, an apparent attempt to starve the Ukrainians and force them to surrender.
Ukrainian officials have estimated that about 2,000 of their troops are inside the facility along with the civilians housed in the facility’s underground tunnels. Arestovic said Ukrainian forces were trying to counter the new attacks.
Earlier Saturday, the Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s National Guard, which has members in the facility, released footage of about two dozen women and children. The content could not be independently verified.
If authentic, it would be the first video evidence of what life has been like for civilians still trapped in Mariupol’s underground bunkers. The video showed soldiers giving candy to children who respond with fist blows.
A young girl says she and her relatives “have not seen either the sky or the sun” since they left home on February 27th.
The regiment’s deputy commander, Sviatoslav Palamar, told the AP that the video was recorded on Thursday. The Azov regiment has its roots in the Azov Battalion, which was formed in 2014 by right-wing extremist activists at the start of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine and sparked criticism for some of its tactics.
More than 100,000 people – down from a pre-war population of about 430,000 – are believed to have been trapped in Mariupol with little food, water or heat, according to Ukrainian authorities, who estimate that over 20,000 civilians have been killed in the city during the Russian blockade.
Satellite images released this week showed what appeared to be another mass grave near Mariupol, and local officials accused Russia of burying thousands of civilians to hide the massacre that took place there.
The Kremlin has not responded to the satellite images.
Ukrainian officials had said they would try again on Saturday to evacuate women, children and elderly adults from Mariupol. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told Telegram that the effort should start at noon.
Like previous plans to get civilians out of the city, this one failed. Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor, said Russian forces did not allow Ukrainian-organized buses to take residents to Zaporizhzhia, a city 227 kilometers (141 miles) northwest.
“At 11 a.m., at least 200 Mariupol residents gathered near the Port City shopping center waiting for evacuation,” Andryushchenko wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “The Russian military drove up to the Mariupol residents and ordered them to stand out, because now there will be shelling.”
At the same time, he said, Russian buses gathered about 200 meters away. Residents who came on board were told they were being taken to separatist-occupied territory and were not allowed to disembark, Andryushchenko said. His account could not be verified independently.
During the attack on Odesa, the Russians fired at least six missiles, Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister. Defense forces repelled some of the rockets, but at least one landed and exploded, he said.
“Residents of the city heard explosions in various areas,” Gerashchenko wrote in a Telegram post. “Residential buildings were hit. A victim is already known. He burned in his car in a courtyard of one of the buildings.”
The chief of staff of the Ukrainian president, Andriy Yermak, later reported that the 3-month-old baby was among the five people killed in the missile attack.
In his nightly video speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned all the victims of the war, noting that the Easter holiday commemorates the resurrection of Christ after his death by crucifixion.
“We believe in victory, life over death,” he said. “No matter how hard the fights are, there is no chance that death can defeat life. Everyone knows that. Every Christian knows that.”