Russian troops stepped up their bombardment of the besieged port city of Mariupol on Sunday, with Ukrainian officials saying a strike flattened an art school used as a shelter by hundreds of civilians.
Mariupol continues to bear some of the war’s greatest suffering. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy early Sunday accused Russia of war crimes over its siege, describing the attack on the city of 430,000 as “a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come.”
In his nightly address to the nation, Zelenskyy said Ukraine is interested in peace, and that ongoing talks with Russia are “not simple or pleasant, but they are necessary.” He has requested to meet directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to no avail.
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Here are some key things to know about the conflict:
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN MARIUPOL?
Mariupol, a strategic port on the Azov Sea, has been encircled by Russian troops, cut off from energy, food and water supplies, and has faced a relentless bombardment.
It has been cut off since the early days of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine launched on Feb. 24, with civilian life relegated to bomb shelters since then and aid groups saying it faces a humanitarian crisis. Russian forces have also cut off its access to the sea of Azov.
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An adviser to Ukraine’s president said there was no immediate military help for Mariupol, saying the nearest forces able to assist were already struggling against Russian forces at least 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. Pitched battles continue around the Azovstal steel plant, one of the largest in Europe.
In a video post from a rubble-strewn street that was authenticated by The Associated Press, Mariupol police officer Michail Vershnin pleaded to Western leaders for help, saying: “Children, elderly people are dying. The city is destroyed and it has been wiped off the face of the earth.”
In a statement, the Mariupol city council said Russian soldiers have forced several thousand residents — mostly women and children — to leave and be relocated to Russia. It didn’t say where in Russia and the AP could not immediately confirm the claim.
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WHAT OF THE ART SCHOOL?
Details remain few in the immediate aftermath, but Ukrainian authorities said Sunday that the Russian military bombed an art school in Mariupol where about 400 people had taken refuge.
Local authorities said the school building was destroyed and people could remain under the rubble. There was no immediate word on casualties.
The strike would follow a pattern of attacks on civilian refuges, after Russian forces on Wednesday also bombed a theater in Mariupol where civilians took shelter. The authorities said 130 people were rescued but many more could remain under the debris.
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WHAT IS HAPPENING IN OTHER CITIES IN UKRAINE?
Authorities in the eastern city of Kharkiv say at least five civilians were killed in the latest Russian shelling, with the victims including a nine-year-old boy. Kharkiv has been under siege since the start of the Russian invasion and faced relentless Russian artillery.
Some 70 baby orphans were evacuated from Sumy, another Ukrainian city under siege, in the northeast. The region’s governor said most of the infants require constant medical attention and will be taken to an unspecified foreign country.
In Mykolaiv, rescuers on Saturday searched the rubble of a marine barracks that was destroyed in an apparent missile attack a day earlier. It isn’t clear how many marines were inside at the time.
Around Kyiv, the northwestern suburbs of Bucha, Hostomel, Irpin and Moshchun were under fire Saturday, according to the Kyiv regional administration. It said Slavutich, 165 kilometers (103 miles) north of the capital, was “completely isolated.”
More than 6,000 people were able to evacuate along eight of 10 humanitarian corridors Saturday, said Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. That figure included 4,128 people from Mariupol, who were taken to the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia.
ARE THERE NEW MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS?
The Russian military reported Sunday that it has carried out a new series of strikes on Ukrainian military facilities with long-range hypersonic and cruise missiles, a day after announcing it had used its latest hypersonic missile for the first time in combat.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that the Kinzhal hypersonic missile hit a Ukrainian fuel depot in Kostiantynivka near the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv. The strike marked the second day in a row that Russia used the Kinzhal, a weapon capable of striking targets 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) away at a speed 10 times the speed of sound.
Meanwhile, the British defense ministry said the Ukrainian Air Force and air defense forces are “continuing to effectively defend Ukrainian airspace” and Russia has failed to get control of the air, which was one of the Kremlin’s key objectives.
ARE RUSSIA AND UKRAINE TALKING?
The two countries have held several rounds of negotiations, but remain divided over key issues. Moscow wants Ukraine’s demilitarization and Kyiv is demanding security guarantees.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss accused Putin of using the talks as a “smokescreen” while his forces regroup. “We don’t see any serious withdrawal of Russian troops or any serious proposals on the table,” she told the Times of London.
HOW ARE UKRAINIAN REFUGEES FARING?
Thousands of refugees from Ukraine waited in long lines in the Polish capital of Warsaw to receive local identification papers that will allow them to move on with their lives.
Refugees started lining up by Warsaw’s National Stadium overnight to get the coveted PESEL identity cards that will allow them to work, go to school and get medical care or social benefits for the next 18 months.
By mid-morning Saturday, many were told to come back another day because the demand was so high.
Poland has taken in more than 2 million refugees from Ukraine — the bulk of more than 3.3 million people that the U.N. says have fled since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Hundreds of thousands have streamed into Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania.
A bipartisan delegation of U.S. lawmakers visiting Poland stopped by reception centers Saturday. The seven-member group led by Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, complimented the willingness of the Polish people to accept refugees. Some Poles have welcomed refugees into their homes.
HOW MANY CIVILIANS HAVE DIED IN UKRAINE?
That’s hard to say, with full casualty figures difficult to confirm during wartime. The U.N. human rights office says it has recorded a total of 816 civilian deaths and 1,333 civilian injuries since the war began, though it believes the figures are actually much higher. Ukrainian officials say thousands of civilians have been killed.
The office of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General reported Saturday that 112 children have been killed since the fighting started. More than 140 children have been wounded.
Dozens of civilians were killed and injured as a result of attacks over the past 24 hours in the eastern Donetsk region alone, Ukrainian police said Saturday. At least 37 residential buildings and infrastructure facilities were damaged in attacks on eight cities and villages.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war between Russia and Ukraine: http://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine