Kyiv, March 31 (AP): The Ukrainian president said his country’s defence against the Russian invasion is at a “turning point” and again pressed the United States for more help in the hours after the Kremlin’s forces reneged on a pledge to scale back some of their operations.
Russian forces bombarded areas around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv and intensified attacks in other parts of the country Wednesday, adding to already deep doubts about any progress toward ending the punishing war. Talks between Ukraine and Russia were set to resume Friday by video, according to the head of the Ukrainian delegation, David Arakhamia.
Meanwhile, a delegation of lawmakers from Ukraine’s parliament visited Washington to push the U.S. for increased assistance, saying their nation needs more military equipment, more financial help and tougher sanctions against Russia.
“We need to kick Russian soldiers off our land, and for that we need all, all possible weapons,” Ukrainian parliament member Anastasia Radina said at a news conference at the Ukrainian Embassy.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made the case directly to U.S. President Joe Biden.
“If we really are fighting for freedom and in defense of democracy together, then we have a right to demand help in this difficult turning point. Tanks, aircraft, artillery systems. Freedom should be armed no worse than tyranny,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation, which he delivered standing in the dark outside the dimly lit presidential offices in Kyiv. He thanked the U.S. for an additional $500 million in aid that was announced Wednesday.
There seemed to be little faith that a resolution would emerge anytime soon between Russia and Ukraine, particularly after the Russian military’s about-face and its most recent attacks.
Russia said Tuesday that it would de-escalate operations near Kyiv and Chernihiv in order to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.” The announcement was met with suspicion from Zelenskyy and the West. And soon after, Ukrainian officials reported that Russian shelling hit homes, stores, libraries and other civilian sites in or near those areas.
Russian troops also stepped up their attacks on the Donbas region in the east and around the city of Izyum, which lies on a key route to the Donbas, after redeploying units from other areas, the Ukrainian side said.
Olexander Lomako, secretary of the Chernihiv city council, said the Russian announcement turned out to be “a complete lie.”
“At night they didn’t decrease, but vice versa increased the intensity of military action,” Lomako said.
Five weeks into the invasion that has left thousands dead on both sides, the number of Ukrainians fleeing the country topped a staggering 4 million, half of them children, according to the United Nations.
“I do not know if we can still believe the Russians,” Nikolay Nazarov, a refugee from Ukraine, said as he pushed his father’s wheelchair at a border crossing into Poland. “I think more escalation will occur in eastern Ukraine. That is why we cannot go back to Kharkiv.” Zelenskyy said the continuing negotiations with Russia were only “words without specifics.”
“We know that this is not a withdrawal but the consequences of being driven out,” Zelenskyy said of Russia’s pledge. “But we also are seeing that Russia is now concentrating its forces for new strikes on Donbas, and we are preparing for this.”
Zelenskyy also said he had recalled Ukraine’s ambassadors to Georgia and Morocco, suggesting they had not done enough to persuade those countries to support Ukraine and punish Russia for the invasion.
“With all due respect, if there won’t be weapons, won’t be sanctions, won’t be restrictions for Russian business, then please look for other work,” he said.