LVIV, Ukraine (AP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused the West of cowardice on Sunday, and another senior official said Russia was trying to divide the nation into two parts, like North and South Korea.
Zelensky angrily asked for fighters and tanks to help defend his country from Russian troops. Russia now says its main focus is on taking control of the eastern Donbass, a clear departure from previous, broader goals, but that raises fears of a divided Ukraine.
Speaking after US President Joe Biden said in an annoying speech that Russian President Vladimir Putin could not stay in power – words that the White House immediately tried to downplay – Zelensky attacked the West’s “ping-pong” about who and how to transfer aircraft. and other weapons, while Russian missile attacks kill and trap civilians.
“I talked to the defenders of Mariupol today. I am in constant contact with them. Their determination, heroism and tenacity are surprising, ”Zelensky said in a video message, referring to the besieged southern city, which has experienced some of the greatest hardships and horrors of war. “If those who thought for 31 days how to hand over dozens of planes and tanks had 1% courage.”
Zelensky also told independent Russian journalists on Sunday that his government would consider declaring neutrality and offering Russia security guarantees, repeating earlier statements. That would include maintaining a nuclear-free Ukraine, he said.
He told reporters that the issue of neutrality – and the agreement to stay out of NATO – should be put to a referendum by Ukrainian voters after the withdrawal of Russian troops. He said the vote could take place within months of the troops leaving.
Russia quickly banned the publication of the interview. Raskomnadzor, which regulates communications for Moscow, issued a ban on Sunday, saying measures could be taken against the participating Russian media, including “those that are foreign media outlets acting as foreign agents.”
Russian publications appear to have complied with the ban, although the interview was published abroad.
Zelensky responded by saying that Moscow feared a relatively short conversation with journalists. “It would be ridiculous if it were not so tragic,” he said, according to the Ukrainian agency RBC “Ukraine”.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has stopped in many areas. Its goal is to quickly encircle the capital, Kyiv, and force it to surrender.
Moscow says its focus is on the withdrawal of the entire eastern Donbass, which since 2014 has been partially controlled by Russian-backed separatists. A senior Russian military official said on Friday that troops were moving east from other parts of the country.
Russia has supported separatist rebels in Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk since the uprising erupted shortly after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. In talks with Ukraine, Moscow demanded that Kyiv recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The head of Ukrainian military intelligence Kirill Budanov accused Russia of seeking to divide Ukraine into two parts, comparing it to North and South Korea.
“The occupiers will try to involve the occupied territories in a single quasi-state structure and oppose it to an independent Ukraine,” said a statement issued by the Ministry of Defense Budanov. He predicted that the guerrilla war of the Ukrainians would thwart such plans.
Ukrainian delegate in talks with Russia on ending the war, David Arahamiya, said on Facebook that the countries will meet in Turkey on Monday. But then the Russians said talks would begin on Tuesday. Earlier, the parties met without agreement.
Ukraine’s priorities in the Ukrainian-Russian talks in Turkey this week will be “sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Zelensky said in a statement on Sunday.
“We are looking for peace, indeed, without delay,” he said. “There is a possibility and a need for a personal meeting in Turkey.”
Zelensky also signed a law Sunday banning the reporting of troop movements and equipment that have not been announced or approved by the military. Journalists who break the law face three to eight years in prison. The law does not differentiate between Ukrainian and foreign reporters.
Ukraine says that to defeat Russia, the West must provide fighters, not just missiles and other military equipment. The offer to transfer Polish planes to Ukraine via the United States was canceled due to NATO fears of involvement in direct combat.
In his clear statements, Zelensky accused Western governments of being “afraid to prevent this tragedy. I’m just afraid to make a decision. “
His request was repeated on Sunday by a priest in the western city of Lviv, who had been hit by rockets the day before. The air assault showed that Moscow, despite allegations of intent to postpone the war to the east, is ready to strike anywhere in Ukraine.
“If diplomacy doesn’t work, we need military support,” said Father Yuri Vaskov, who said cowardly parishioners stay away from his Greek Catholic Church.
On the way to Kyiv, villagers combed the wreckage of Russian attacks. Locals in Byszów, about 22 miles (35 kilometers) from Kiev. passed through buildings torn apart and destroyed by shelling to save what they could, including books, shelves and photographs within.
Teacher Sviatlana Hrybouskaya, who was in the kindergarten class, said that too many children had become victims.
“It’s wrong,” Gribovska told Britain’s Sky News. “The children are not guilty of anything.”
Russia has confirmed that it used air-based cruise missiles to hit a fuel depot and a defense plant in Lieva, near the border with Poland. Another strike from a naval launch destroyed a warehouse in Plesetsk west of Kiev, where Ukraine was storing air defense missiles, said Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Kanashenko.
Russia’s emergency air strikes have rocked the city, which has become a haven for about 200,000 people fleeing bombed-out cities. Lviv, which was largely devoid of bombing, was also a transition point for most of the 3.8 million refugees who left Ukraine after the February 24 Russian invasion.
In a dim, crowded bomb shelter under an apartment building near the site of the first blast, Olana Ukrainets, a 34-year-old IT specialist, said she could not believe she had to hide again after fleeing the northeastern city of Kharkiv. one of the most bombed cities.
“We were on one side of the street and saw it on the other side,” she said. “We saw the fire. I said to my friend, “What is this?” Then we heard an explosion and broken glass. “
Also in Kharkiv, Ukrainian firefighters used axes and chainsaws to dig up concrete and other debris on Sunday in search of victims of a Russian military strike on the regional administration building. One body was found Saturday, a firefighter said. At least six people were killed in an attack on March 1 – for the first time Russian forces struck the center of Kharkov, where once lived 1.5 million people.
A rocket attack took place on Sunday night at an oil base in the extreme north-western region of Volhynia.
Along with millions of people fleeing Ukraine, the invasion has driven more than 10 million people from their homes, nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s population. Thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed.
Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Nebi Ken in Kyiv, Kara Anna in Lviv and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.