By The Associated Press
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Saturday that Ukrainian statehood is in jeopardy, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a “desperate plea” for more planes as Russian forces continued to batter strategic locations with missiles and artillery.
More than 1.4 million people have left Ukraine, many carrying little more than the clothing they wore, while charities worked to get humanitarian aid to those in need. Associated Press reporters have seen doctors try in vain to save wounded children, and parents overcome with grief.
Here’s a look at key things to know about the conflict Saturday:
RUSSIA WARNS UKRAINE COULD LOSE STATEHOOD
Putin continued to blame Russia’s war against Ukraine on Ukrainian leaders, saying if they “continue to do what they are doing, they are calling into question the future of Ukrainian statehood.”
But Zelenskyy urged resistance, saying Ukranians kept control of key cities in central and southeastern Ukraine. In a video address to the nation, he urged Ukrainians in cities taken over by Russian forces to fight back.
“It is a special kind of heroism — to protest when your city is occupied,” Zelenskyy said. “Ukrainians in all of our cities that the enemy has entered — go on the offensive! You should take to the streets! You should fight!”
Thousands of Ukrainians protested in cities held by Russian forces. Some climbed Russia’s military vehicles and waved Ukraine’s yellow and blue flag.
UKRAINE MAKES ‘DESPERATE PLEA’
In a private call with U.S. lawmakers, Zelenskyy asked the United States to help get more warplanes to his military.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said in a statement that Zelenskyy made a “desperate plea” and wants the U.S. to facilitate the transfer of planes from Eastern European allies.
The U.S. is considering sending American-made F-16s to former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe that are now members of NATO. In turn, they would send their own Soviet-era MiGs to Ukraine. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba at the Poland-Ukraine border, said “we are talking about and working on everything.”
A temporary cease-fire in two key Ukrainian cities failed — and both sides blamed each other.
Ukrainian officials said Russian artillery fire and airstrikes prevented residents from evacuating the eastern city of Volnovakha and the southeast port city of Mariupol. Putin accused Ukraine of sabotaging the effort.
In Mariupol, a city of about 430,000, shelling from Russian forces intensified. Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko told Ukrainian TV that thousands of children, women and the elderly came under fire as they prepared for a possible evacuation.
“The city is in a very, very difficult state of siege,” he said. “Relentless shelling of residential blocks is ongoing, airplanes have been dropping bombs on residential areas.”
DIRECTLY WITNESSED OR CONFIRMED BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Russia’s days-long assault has caused growing misery in Mariupol, where AP journalists witnessed doctors make unsuccessful attempts to save the lives of wounded children, pharmacies ran bare and hundreds of thousands of people faced food and water shortages in freezing weather.
In Irpin, near Kyiv, a sea of people on foot and even in wheelbarrows trudged over the remains of a destroyed bridge to cross a river and leave the city. Assisted by Ukrainian soldiers, they lugged pets, infants, purses and flimsy bags stuffed with minimal possessions. Some of the weak and elderly were carried along the path in blankets and carts.
Kyiv’s central train station remained crowded with people desperate to leave, and frequent shelling could be heard from the center of the capital city.
In stories and videos posted online, Russian state outlets are falsely claiming that Zelenskyy fled Kyiv. Photos and videos show the Ukrainian president leading his country’s defense.
WHAT’S HAPPENING ON THE GROUND?
Putin’s military launched hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks across the country. But a mileslong Russian armored column threatening Ukraine’s capital remained stalled outside Kyiv.
Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces were holding key cities in the central and southeastern part of the country Saturday, while the Russians were trying to block and keep encircled Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Chernihiv and Sumy.
Ukrainian forces were defending Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest port city, from Russian ships, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said.
Video released Saturday by the Ukrainian government showed a Russian military plane falling from the sky and crashing, as onlookers on the ground cheered. Firefighters sprayed water on flames and smoke at a structure next to the debris of the plane, which bore a red star and the number 24.
A third round of talks between Ukraine and Russia will be held Monday, said Davyd Arakhamia, head of the parliamentary faction of Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party and a member of Ukraine’s delegation at the talks.
He didn’t give further details.
DEEPENING HUMANITARIAN NEED
The U.N. World Food Program says millions of people inside Ukraine, a major global wheat supplier, will need food aid “immediately” and Ukrainian refugees continued to pour into neighboring countries, including Poland, Romania and Moldova.
The number of people who have left Ukraine since fighting began has now reached 1.45 million.
In Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, hundreds of families took refuge in a sports venue. The refugees milled about or tried to relax on cots while lamenting what they left behind.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said no Ukrainian would be denied entry to his country, and he pledged food, clothing, transportation and help with personal documents.
The U.S. is considering a request for $10 billion in emergency funding for humanitarian aid and security needs.
HOW MANY CASUALTIES?
Russia has acknowledged that nearly 500 Russian troops have been killed and around 1,600 wounded. Ukraine has not released casualty figures for its armed forces.
The U.N. human rights office says at least 351 civilians have been killed and 707 wounded in Ukraine since the start of the invasion. The rights office uses strict methodology and only reports casualties it has confirmed. It said Saturday it believes the real figures are considerably higher.
Ukraine’s State Emergency Service has said more than 2,000 civilians have died, though it’s impossible to verify the claim. More than 840 children have been wounded, and 28 have been killed, according to Ukraine’s government.
SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA
Putin said Western sanctions that have crippled Russia’s economy “are akin to declaring war.” He added: “But thank God, we haven’t got there yet.”
Singapore became one of the few governments in Southeast Asia to also sanction Russia. The tiny city-state imposed controls on exports or transshipments of military-related or dual-use items considered “strategic goods.”
Meanwhile, more companies are suspending operations in Russia, including Mastercard and Visa.
Aeroflot, Russia’s flagship carrier, announced it will halt all international flights except to Belarus starting March 8. That follows a warning by Russia’s aviation agency that airlines with foreign-leased planes risk their aircraft being impounded as part of Western sanctions.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war between Russia and Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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