Hopes for an evacuation of civilians holed up the besieged port city of Mariupol faded on April 29, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy indicated there also was little hope for broader peace talks with Moscow.
Zelenskiy’s office had said that an operation was planned to get civilians out of the huge Azovstal steel plant, where some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are holed up together with about 1,000 civilians.
But there was no sign of an evacuation by day’s end, and Zelenskiy later expressed pessimism over the prospect of continued peace talks with Russia, blaming public anger over alleged atrocities by Russian troops.
“People (Ukrainians) want to kill them. When that kind of attitude exists, it’s hard to talk about things,” Interfax quoted him as telling Polish journalists.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Kyiv of changing its position under what he said were orders from the United States and Britain.
Hopes for an evacuation rose on April 28 when UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said during a visit to Kyiv that intense discussions were under way to evacuate civilians from the steel plant, which has been under heavy attack as part of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine’s south and east.
Previous evacuation attempts have collapsed.
Zelenskiy said the constant “brutal” bombardments on infrastructure and residential areas “show that Russia wants to empty [the Donbas region] of all people.” Speaking in his nightly address to the nation on April 29, the said: “Therefore, the defense of our land, the defense of our people, is literally a fight for life.”
He said the cities and towns of the Donbas will survive only if Ukraine remains standing.
“If the Russian invaders are able to realize their plans even partially, then they have enough artillery and aircraft to turn the entire Donbas into stones. As they did with Mariupol.”
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Zelenskiy said Mariupol, once one of the most developed cities in the region, was now a “Russian concentration camp among the ruins.”
The situation in Kharkiv, a major city to the north, is “brutal,” he said, without elaborating, that Ukrainian troops and intelligence agents “have had important tactical successes.”
Having failed in an assault on Kyiv in the north of Ukraine last month, Russia is now trying to fully capture two eastern provinces in the area known as Donbas.
Ukraine has acknowledged losing control of some towns and villages in the east since Russia refocused its assault, but says Moscow’s gains have come at a massive cost to a troops already worn down from their earlier defeat near the capital.
“We have serious losses but the Russians’ losses are much, much bigger…They have colossal losses,” presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said.
In Washington, Congress prepared to consider U.S. President Joe Biden’s request for $33 billion to support Ukraine, a massive jump in funding that includes over $20 billion for weapons, ammunition, and other military aid.
It amounts to nearly 10 times the aid Washington has sent since the invasion started on February 24, representing a dramatic increased U.S. involvement in the conflict.
Zelenskiy thanked Biden and the American people on Twitter.
“We defend common values — democracy and freedom. We appreciate the help. Today it is needed more than ever!”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-California) said lawmakers hoped to pass the aid package “as soon as possible.”
President Vladimir Putin this week threatened unspecified retaliation for Western arms deliveries to Ukraine, and Lavrov earlier this week said the West should not underestimate the elevated risks of nuclear conflict over Ukraine.
But Lavrov took a step back from those comments on April 29, saying Russia did not consider itself to be at war with NATO.
Ukrainian officials said Russia on April 29 pounded the whole front line in the eastern Donetsk region with rockets, artillery, mortar bombs, and aircraft to stop the Ukrainians regrouping.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said Putin has shown “utter disregard” for the lives of Ukrainian civilians. Russia’s war in Ukraine is of the “coldest and most depraved sort,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.
“I don’t think we fully appreciated the degree to which he would visit that kind of violence and cruelty,” Kirby said in response to a reporter’s question about whether he thought Putin was acting rationally.
The Pentagon spokesman said he could not assess what is going on in Putin’s mind but said “depravity” had been shown toward civilians.
Earlier on April 29 RFE/RL announced the death of one of its journalists, Vira Hyrych, in the missile strike hit in Kyiv.
Hyrych’s body was found amid the wreckage of her apartment building, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service said.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of our Ukrainian Service staffer Vira Hyrych in Kyiv overnight. We have lost a dear colleague who will be remembered for her professionalism and dedication to our mission,” RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in a statement.
“We are shocked and angered by the senseless nature of her death at home in a country and city she loved. Her memory will inspire our work in Ukraine and beyond for years to come,” he added.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said Hyrych was going to bed when a Russian ballistic missile hit her apartment.
“Russia’s barbarism is incomprehensible,” Nikolenko said.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed “long-range, high precision” missiles had hit Kyiv factory buildings of Ukrainian rocket manufacturer Artem.
Ukrainian officials have not commented on whether the factory had been hit.
The United States is still trying to ascertain whether there was a military target for the strike or whether Russia may simply have been “trying to send a message to the international community,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on MSNBC.
The attack was an assault on the Ukrainian state, the Ukrainian people, and on “those who are doing nothing more than to try to spread the truth,” Price said, noting that Hyrych unfortunately “is not the first journalist to lose his or her life in this fight.”
With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and dpa