Zelensky says the West lacks courage to help Ukraine fight Russian invasion

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused the West of lacking courage as his country fights to prevent an invasion from Russia, issuing an exasperated plea for fighter jets and tanks to back up a defense in a escalating conflict. is turned into a war of attrition.

Speaking after US President Joe Biden said in a heartbreaking speech that Russian President Vladimir Putin could not stay in power – words the White House later sought to downplay – Zelensky lashed out at “pinging -pong of the West on who and how should hand over the jets” and other weapons while Russian missile attacks kill and trap civilians.

“I spoke to the defenders of Mariupol today. I am in constant contact with them. Their determination, heroism and steadfastness are astonishing,” Zelensky said in a video address early Sunday, referring to the beleaguered southern city. who suffered some of the greatest hardships of the war.

“If only those who have been thinking for 31 days about handing over dozens of jets and tanks had one percent of their courage.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its 32nd day, has stalled in many areas, its aim to quickly encircle the capital, kyiv, and force its surrender wavering in the face of resistance fierce Ukrainian – reinforced with weapons from the United States and other Western allies.

Ukraine says that to defeat Russia it needs fighter jets and not just the missiles and other defensive weapons provided so far by the West. A proposal to transfer Polish planes to Ukraine via the United States was dropped amid NATO fears of being drawn into a military conflict with Russia.

In his pointed remarks, Zelensky accused Western governments of being “afraid to prevent this tragedy. Afraid to just make a decision.”

“So who is in charge of the Euro-Atlantic community? Is it still Moscow, thanks to its scare tactics? he said. “Our partners must step up their aid to Ukraine.

The speech follows a comment Biden made in Warsaw in which he said of Putin, “For the love of God, this man can’t stay in power.”

WATCH | Biden says Putin ‘can’t stay in power’:

Biden says Putin ‘can’t stay in power’ in fiery speech on Ukraine

US President Joe Biden concluded his speech in Warsaw by saying: “For the love of God, this man cannot stay in power”, in reference to Vladimir Putin. A White House official later said Biden was not calling for regime change in Russia. 0:29

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denounced the remark, saying “it is not up to the President of the United States or the Americans to decide who will stay in power in Russia.”

The United States does not seek regime change

US officials were quick to stress that Biden was not calling for an immediate change of government in Moscow.

“We don’t have a regime change strategy in Russia, or anywhere else, for that matter,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday during a visit to Israel. “In this case, as in all cases, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people.”

Moscow says its aim is to wrest the entire eastern region of Donbass from Ukraine, which has been partially controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014. A senior Russian military official said on Friday that troops were being redirected eastward from other parts. from the country.

Push for a referendum in Lugansk

The head of one of the separatist-controlled regions of Donbass said on Sunday that he wanted to hold a vote on joining Russia, remarks that could indicate a change in Russia’s position. Leonid Pasechnik, the leader of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, said he planned to hold a referendum on joining Russia “as soon as possible”.

Russia has backed separatist rebels in Lugansk and neighboring Donetsk since an insurgency erupted there in 2014, shortly after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. So far, in talks with Ukraine, Moscow has urged Kyiv to recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned into a war of attrition in many places, with the civilian toll rising as Moscow seeks to subjugate cities from entrenched positions.

Russian rockets hit the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday, a reminder that Moscow is ready to strike anywhere in Ukraine despite its claim to focus its offensive on the east of the country.

3 rockets in Lviv, according to a witness

Early on Sunday, a chemical smell still lingered in the air as firefighters in Lviv sprayed water on a scorched section of an oil facility hit in the Russian attack.

A security guard at the site, Yaroslav Prokopiv, said he saw three rockets hitting and destroying two oil tanks but no one was injured.

WATCH | Explosions heard in the city of Lviv, western Ukraine:

Explosions heard in the city of Lviv, western Ukraine

Three explosions hit the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday, which has become a hub for fleeing Ukrainians. 2:54

“The third hit knocked me to the ground,” he said.

Consecutive Russian airstrikes rocked the city which became a haven for around 200,000 people who had to flee their hometown. Lviv had been largely spared since the start of the invasion, although missiles hit an aircraft repair factory near the main airport a week ago.

In the dark and crowded bomb shelter under a building a few steps from the first explosion site, Olana Ukrainets, a 34-year-old IT professional, said she could not believe she had to hiding again after fleeing the northeastern city of Kharkiv, one of the most heavily bombed cities of the war.

People took refuge underground following explosions in Lviv, western Ukraine, on Saturday. (Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press)

“We were on one side of the street and we saw it from the other side,” she said. “We saw fire. I said to my friend, ‘What is this?’ Then we heard the sound of an explosion and glass breaking. We tried to hide between the buildings. I don’t know what the target was.

Chernihiv surrounded

Two cities on opposite ends of the country are currently experiencing some of the worst suffering, Chernihiv to the north – strategically located on the road from the Belarusian border to the capital, Kyiv – and Mariupol to the south, a key port city on the Sea of ​​Azov.

Both are surrounded by Russian forces, but still hold their ground.

Chernihiv has been under attack since the early days of the invasion and in the past week Russia has destroyed the main road bridge leading out of town and rendered a nearby pedestrian bridge impassable, cutting off the last road for civilians to flee or feed. and medications to bring.

The remaining residents of Chernihiv are terrified that every explosion, bomb and unrecovered body on the streets traps them in the same gruesome trap of inescapable murder and destruction.

“In the basements, at night, everyone talks about one thing: Chernihiv becomes [the] next Mariupol,” said 38-year-old resident Ihar Kazmerchak, a linguistics specialist.

He spoke to The Associated Press by cellphone, amid incessant beeps that his battery was dying. The city is without electricity, without running water and without heating. In pharmacies, the list of drugs that are no longer available is growing day by day.

Rationed drinking water

Kazmerchak begins his day in long queues for drinking water, rationed at 10 liters per person. People come with empty bottles and buckets to fill when the water delivery trucks make their rounds.

“The food is running out, and the shelling and shelling doesn’t stop,” he said.

More than half of the city’s 280,000 residents have already fled and hundreds of those who remained have been killed, Mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko said.

People stand in front of a Ukrainian national flag as they watch black smoke and flames rise from an airstrike in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday. (Aleksey Filippov/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian forces shelled low-lying residential areas in “absolutely clear weather” and “deliberately destroy civilian infrastructure: schools, kindergartens, churches, residential buildings and even the local football stadium”, Atroshenko told the Ukrainian television.

Chernihiv refugees who fled the encirclement and arrived in Poland this week spoke of widespread and terrible destruction, with bombs leveling at least two schools in the city center and strikes also hitting the stadium, museums and many houses.

They said with the utilities cut, people are drawing water from the Desna to drink and the strikes are killing people as they queue for food. Volodymyr Fedorovych, 77, said he narrowly escaped a bomb that fell on a bread line he was standing in moments earlier. He said the blast killed 16 people and injured dozens, ripping off arms and legs.

Tired of being afraid

The siege is so intense that some of those trapped can’t even muster the strength to be afraid, Kazmerchak said.

“The ravaged houses, the fires, the corpses in the street, the huge aerial bombs that did not explode in the courtyards no longer surprise anyone,” he said. “People are just tired of being scared and don’t even always go down to basements.”

Igor, 47, is one of the last inhabitants of Mariupol who lives in a basement of the besieged city. He is seen here on March 25 sitting in a courtyard. (Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters)

Previous bombings of hospitals and other non-military sites, including a theater in Mariupol where Ukrainian authorities said a Russian airstrike killed 300 people last week, have already sparked war crimes allegations .

The invasion drove more than 10 million people from their homes, nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s population. Of these, more than 3.7 million have fled the country completely, according to the United Nations. Thousands of civilians are said to have died.