Russian mercenaries set to increase in Mali after France exits, US officials say

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LVIV, Ukraine: Conflict raged northwest of Kyiv on Saturday and other towns were surrounded and under heavy shelling, while Ukrainian officials said fighting and threats of Russian air strikes were undermining danger evacuation attempts.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk had said the government planned to use agreed humanitarian corridors out of the beleaguered port city of Mariupol, as well as towns and villages in Kyiv, Sumy and other regions.

But the governor of the Kyiv region said fighting and threats of Russian air attacks continued during evacuation attempts and the governor of the Donetsk region said the constant shelling made it difficult to deliver the help in Mariupol.

An adviser to the Ukrainian presidency said earlier that 79 evacuation buses and two trucks carrying humanitarian cargo left for Sumy on Saturday. Buses and trucks also left Zaporizhzhia for Mariupol, according to a video posted by the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration on social media.

At least 1,582 civilians in Mariupol have been killed as a result of Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade, the city council said in an online statement Friday. It was not possible to verify the number of victims.

Air raid sirens sounded in most Ukrainian cities on Saturday morning, urging people to seek shelter, local media reported.

Russian rocket fire destroyed a Ukrainian airbase and hit an ammunition depot near the town of Vasylkiv in Kyiv region on Saturday morning, Interfax Ukraine quoted Vasylkiv Mayor Natalia Balasynovych as saying.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said a mosque in Mariupol where more than 80 people had taken refuge was also bombed, without saying whether anyone was killed or injured.

Moscow has denied targeting civilians in what it calls a special operation aimed at demilitarizing Ukraine and overthrowing leaders it calls neo-Nazis. He did not respond to Ukrainian challenges to provide evidence.

Ukraine has said it expects a new wave of attacks on areas around the capital Kiev, the country’s second city Kharkiv and Donbass to the east, where Russian-backed separatists have spread their control.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Friday that Russian forces could target the capital Kiev within days. In a Saturday update, he said fighting northwest of the capital continued, with the bulk of Russian ground forces 25 km from the center.

The cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remained surrounded by heavy Russian shelling, he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on February 24 in an operation that has been almost universally condemned around the world and has resulted in severe Western sanctions against Russia.

The bombardment trapped thousands of people in besieged cities and sent 2.5 million Ukrainians to flee to neighboring countries.

Efforts to isolate Russia economically have intensified, with the United States imposing new sanctions on senior Kremlin officials and Russian oligarchs on Friday.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU would suspend Moscow’s privileged trade and economic treatment on Saturday, crack down on its use of crypto-assets and ban the import of steel products from Russia, as well as the export of luxury goods. goods the other way.

Moscow said on Saturday that the European Union would end up paying at least three times as much for oil, gas and electricity.

“I think the European Union would not benefit from this – we have more sustainable supplies and stronger nerves,” Russian Foreign Ministry official Nikolai Kobrinets told Interfax.

As the Russian invasion entered its third week, its forces continued their bombardment of cities across the country on Friday. Satellite images showed them firing artillery as they advanced on Kiev.

As hundreds of people took shelter in Kharkiv’s metro stations, Nastya, a young girl lying on a makeshift bed on the floor of a carriage, said she had been there for more than a week, unable to move around much and sick with a virus.

“I’m scared for my house, for my friends’ houses, very scared for the whole country, and scared for myself of course,” she said.

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