MYKOLAIV, Ukraine — President Vladimir V. Putin warned on Saturday that crippling financial sanctions imposed by the West had been “akin to a declaration of struggle,” because the Russian army pummeled civilian targets and continued shelling close to the primary protected routes supposed to permit besieged Ukrainians to flee, apparently violating a cease-fire that had been agreed to solely hours earlier.
The Russian assault close to the “humanitarian corridors,” reported by Ukrainian officers, got here hours after each international locations had agreed to open protected routes for residents to flee Mariupol, a serious port metropolis on the Sea of Azov the place tens of 1000’s of individuals have been with out warmth, electrical energy or water for 3 days, and Volnovakha, one other beleaguered city 40 miles to the north.
Ten days into the Russian invasion, the shelling across the corridors made clear that Mr. Putin had settled on a plan to hammer civilian infrastructure and pulverize fundamental companies and neighborhoods in a sustained assault that has set off what the United Nations calls the fastest-moving exodus of European refugees since World Warfare II.
In a information convention within the capital, Kyiv, the Ukrainian authorities introduced a dozen stoned-faced Russian prisoners of struggle, who spoke of chaotic firefights that had led to their seize and condemned Russian leaders.
It was unattainable to determine whether or not the troopers had been talking beneath duress. The Geneva Conference prohibits militaries from parading prisoners.
Mr. Putin, in his first prolonged remarks because the begin of the struggle, threatened to totally take in Ukraine, the previous Soviet republic of practically 44 million folks that declared its independence from Moscow 30 years in the past.
“The present management wants to know that in the event that they proceed doing what they’re doing, they danger the way forward for Ukrainian statehood,” Mr. Putin mentioned. “If that occurs, they should be blamed for that.”
Along with his warning on sanctions, which have been crushing Russia’s economic system, Mr. Putin mentioned that imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine — which Ukrainian officers have been demanding, however NATO has up to now rejected — “will probably be seen by us as participation within the armed battle.”
Mr. Putin’s threats got here as residents within the first main metropolis to fall to Russian troops, Kherson, in southern Ukraine, took to the streets to protest, chanting and waving Ukrainian flags. The demonstrations had been essentially the most seen instance but of resistance to Russian occupation and a direct rebuke to Mr. Putin’s declare that the Russian army has been liberating Ukrainian cities.
Round 10 a.m. lots of of individuals began gathering in Liberty Sq., within the heart of Kherson, in response to movies of the scene. In a single video, a person stood atop a Russian armored personnel provider, waving a Ukrainian flag because it drove down the road, prompting cheers from onlookers.
Town’s mayor, Ihor Kolykhaev, mentioned Russian forces had fired into the air to disperse the group, although protesters initially stayed within the space. There have been no experiences of casualties, he mentioned, estimating the group’s measurement at about 2,000 folks.
The protests underscored the challenges dealing with the Russian army as its strikes to seize and maintain Ukrainian territory. Mr. Putin insists that Ukrainians and Russians are “one folks,” and has described resistance to Russia’s incursion because the product of brainwashing by nefarious Western operators and “neo-Nazis” within the Kyiv authorities.
However Mr. Kolykhaev mentioned it was ludicrous for Russian forces to destroy metropolis companies and provide traces for medicines and different important items after which current themselves as “form liberators.” Russian troops seized Kherson on Wednesday after a vicious battle that killed 300 folks, together with dozens of civilians, he mentioned.
“First they create a crucial scenario,” Mr. Kolykhaev mentioned in a textual content message, “then heroically they save us.”
The Russian assault has additionally deepened the desperation in Mariupol, a serious metropolis of practically half one million folks in southern Ukraine the place residents described kids trapped in bomb shelters with out meals, water or heat. It has been largely unattainable to usher in medical provides and different reduction to town, the place the native authorities has refused to give up, regardless of every day bombing by Russian forces, which have surrounded town.
“The shelling is fixed and at random,” Diana Berg, a Mariupol resident, mentioned in an interview on Thursday. “All the pieces I ever regarded as a nightmare is nothing in comparison with what I’m witnessing.”
Mariupol was minimize off from telecommunications, she mentioned, that means there was no web, cellphone service, electrical energy or sizzling water. Residents, she mentioned, had been constructing fires within the streets to remain heat. “And once you’re on the road, at any second, a rocket can land subsequent to you,” Ms. Berg mentioned.
In an effort to alleviate the struggling, Russia’s Protection Ministry mentioned on Saturday that it had agreed to a cease-fire and protected routes for residents of Mariupol and Volnovakha, a close-by metropolis in equally dire straits, starting at 10 a.m. Moscow time.
However Ukrainian officers mentioned that Russian troops had shortly violated the settlement, they usually warned residents who had been planning to go away the cities to show again and take shelter. “The Russian aspect is just not upholding the cease-fire and is constant to shell Mariupol and the encircling areas,” Mariupol’s administration mentioned on Saturday afternoon.
Because the struggle started, no less than 1.2 million folks in Ukraine have fled to neighboring international locations, the top of the United Nations refugee company mentioned on Saturday. The motion, principally of ladies and kids, is coming at a quicker price than through the top of the Balkan wars within the Nineteen Nineties and much quicker than through the Hungarian refugee disaster of 1956, when Soviet troops crushed an rebellion in that nation, mentioned Filippo Grandi, the U.N. Excessive Commissioner for Refugees.
“That is the fastest-moving refugee disaster — let’s name it a refugee disaster, please, it’s a refugee disaster — since World Warfare II,” Mr. Grandi mentioned in an interview after getting back from a go to to the border between Ukraine and Moldova.
He mentioned he had been notably struck by the jarring suddenness with which the refugees crossing there had been wrested from comfy lives in what had till not too long ago been calm, practical cities.
“It’s an avalanche of individuals with vehicles, with pets,” Mr. Grandi mentioned. “It’s complete cities being emptied, and crossing the border.”
Poland has taken within the largest variety of Ukrainians, however Mr. Grandi was notably involved about Moldova, which has acquired extra refugees per capita than any of Ukraine’s different neighbors. Since Feb. 24, greater than 200,000 folks coming from Ukraine have entered Moldova, which is dwelling to 2.6 million and is one in all Europe’s poorest international locations.
In contrast to its neighbors to the west, Moldova is just not a member of the European Union, and due to this fact lacks important institutional assist from the bloc.
As the US and its NATO allies have moved to resupply the outgunned and outmanned Ukrainian army with Javelin and Stinger missiles and different weapons, Western officers mentioned the Russian offensive was encountering cussed resistance.
Outdoors Kyiv, there have been fierce assaults and counterattacks as Ukrainian forces battled to maintain the Russians from encircling town. A 40-mile-long convoy of army autos approaching Kyiv from the north appears to be largely stalled, in response to Western analysts, and the Ukrainian army mentioned its forces have been attacking it the place they’ll.
The information convention with Russian prisoners of struggle on Saturday was unexpectedly organized by the Ukrainian authorities to bolster their declare that the Ukrainian army is efficiently defending itself towards Russian forces beset with logistical issues and low morale.
The Russian troopers, studying from ready statements and answering questions as masked and closely armed safety officers appeared on, described being captured after their armored columns had been ambushed.
“The entire column burned,” mentioned one soldier, who recognized himself as Lt. Dmitri Kovalensky. He mentioned his tank unit was attacked by what he believed was a mixture of projectiles from an armed drone and shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles close to Sumy, in northeastern Ukraine. He mentioned he ran right into a forest and later surrendered.
There was one trace the captives had been frightened about their look on the information convention. “Now, after this press convention, I’m afraid not just for myself but in addition for my household” again in Russia, Sgt. Mikhail Kulikov mentioned.
In its newest evaluation of the Russian assault, the British Ministry of Protection mentioned Ukraine continued to carry three key cities — Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol — in addition to Sumy, though it was “extremely probably” that Russian forces had encircled all 4.
Western analysts mentioned Russia gave the impression to be advancing on the southern port metropolis of Mykolaiv, the place residents and the army have braced for an imminent assault. However these troops would possibly bypass town to hurry their advance on Odessa, a serious port on the Black Sea and the headquarters of the Ukrainian Navy.
Ukraine’s protection minister mentioned on Saturday that his nation’s forces and its cities had been most susceptible to air assault. “Plane of every kind are bombing cities, cities and civilian infrastructure, together with crucial and harmful nuclear and hydropower crops,” the minister, Oleksii Reznikov, mentioned in an announcement.
He mentioned that Russian forces had hit residential neighborhoods, colleges, hospitals and church buildings, and had shelled transportation hubs as folks tried to flee.
The Russian forces’ main goal is to encircle Kyiv, Mr. Reznikov mentioned, and to weaken resistance in cities that Russian troops have surrounded or are urgent to seize.
Michael Schwirtz reported from Mykolaiv, Ukraine; Andrew E. Kramer from Kyiv, Ukraine; and Michael Levenson from New York. Reporting was contributed by Marc Santora in Lviv, Ukraine; Patrick Kingsley in Chisinau, Moldova; and Masha Froliak in Kyiv.