U.S. Security Official Vindman Testifies Ukraine Offered Defense Minister Post

 U.S. Security Official Vindman Testifies Ukraine Offered Defense Minister Post

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the besieged port city of Mariupol has been left in “ruins” after days of relentless Russian bombing, as his government pleaded with Moscow to allow the evacuation of civilians and as the UN chief demanded an end to the “absurd” war started by Russia four weeks ago.

“There is nothing left there. Only ruins,” Zelenskiy said on March 22 of Mariupol, which had a population of 400,000 before the war but which has been reduced to rubble, with thousands of civilians dead and many more seeking a route out of the city ​​to safety.

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Zelenskiy was speaking to the Italian parliament through a video link, part of his high-profile virtual tour of global legislative bodies that has so far included the US Congress, the British House of Commons, the German Bundestag, and the Israeli Knesset.

He warned that his country is on the “brink of survival” as Russian forces continue to pound key infrastructure and civilian targets in several cities, including Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy.

As Mariupol defenders engage in a desperate struggle, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry reported that Ukrainian troops had driven Russian forces from the Kyiv suburb of Makariv following a fierce fight.

If confirmed, the advances would allow Ukrainian troops to retake control of a strategic highway and stymie Russian attempts to surround Kyiv from the northwest.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US military was not in a position to confirm that Ukrainian troops had regained Makariv, but he said, “We have seen indications that the Ukrainians are going a bit more on the offensive now.”

The Defense Ministry also said, however, that Russian forces were able to partially take the northwestern suburbs of Bucha, Hostomel, and Irpin, following weeks of fighting.

Zelenskiy, who has remained defiant throughout the conflict despite Russia’s overwhelming advantage in firepower, said Ukraine could never give up Mariupol, Kyiv, or other cities facing Russian surrender ultimatums.

“For Russian troops, Ukraine is the gates of Europe, where they want to break in, but barbarism must not be allowed to pass,” he told Italian lawmakers.

After Zelenskiy’s speech, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi praised Ukraine for its “heroic” resistance and blasted Russia for its actions.

“The arrogance of the Russian government has collided with the dignity of the Ukrainian people, who have managed to curb Moscow’s expansionist aims and impose a huge cost on the invading army,” Draghi said.

On-and-off talks between the two sides have continued, with little or no progress reported.

In a video address early on March 23, Zelenskiy said that negotiations with Russia were tough and sometimes confrontational, but he added that “step by step, we are moving forward.”

“We are continuing to work at different levels to encourage Russia to move towards peace. Ukrainian representatives are participating in talks that are taking place virtually every day. It’s very difficult, sometimes confrontational,” Zelenskiy said.

On March 22, amid widespread global condemnation, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged an end to the “absurd war” that Russia has launched against Ukraine, calling it an “unwinnable” conflict that is putting people through “a living hell.”

“Continuing the war in Ukraine is morally unacceptable, politically indefensible, and militarily nonsensical,” Guterres told reporters in New York as he decried the violence being inflicted on residents of Ukraine’s southern port city.

“Even if Mariupol falls, Ukraine cannot be conquered city by city, street by street, house by house,” he said.

For the past two weeks, Russia has attempted to encircle Mariupol, an important port on the Sea of ​​Azov and the most contentious battleground in the war so far.

Explosions and gunfire could be heard on March 22 in the city center as Ukrainian defenders battled to stave off the deadly onslaught.

Taking control of the city would give Russia a land link between Crimea – which Moscow seized in 2014 – and territory controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Residents of Mariupol have been trapped for the past two weeks without basic supplies, such as water, food, and fuel. At least 2,300 people have died, some buried in mass graves, authorities have said.

Russia has stepped up its attacks in recent days, with many targets such as hospitals, apartment buildings and civic buildings such as theaters being destroyed by seemingly indiscriminate bombings.

Dmytro Zabavin, a City Council deputy in Mariupol, told RFE / RL that the attack on the strategic port is “not war – it’s terrorism.”

He said the “destruction, and the number of dead, and the number of people who were killed by starvation, exhaustion” is even worse than was being reported as residential areas are devastated by Russian shelling.

“Unfortunately, the number of dead is many times higher,” he said, citing his communication with heads of residential areas.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, a regional governor, told national television that Russian and Ukrainian forces were battling in Mariupol as of the evening of March 22, and he accused Russian troops of firing indiscriminately at residential areas.

Mariupol Deputy Mayor Serhiy Orlov told CNN that his city was under a full Russian blockade and had not received any humanitarian aid.

“The city is under continuous bombing. [Russian aircraft drop] from 50 bombs to 100 bombs … each day …. A lot of death, a lot of crying, a lot of awful war crimes, “Orlov said.

Russia has denied targeting civilian areas despite widespread video evidence indicating such attacks.

The US military accused Russian forces on March 21 of committing war crimes in their bloody invasion of Ukraine, while President Joe Biden told a group of US business leaders that Russia’s actions are that of a country encountering far more resistance than expected.

“His back is against the wall,” Biden said of Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding Moscow would face “severe” consequences if it were to use chemical weapons.

Amid expectations of further air strikes against the capital, Kyiv, Mayor Vitali Klitschko implemented a new 35-hour curfew that took force at 8 pm on March 21.

Ukraine and Russia negotiators have been holding talks to come up with a formulation for a cease-fire, and Zelenskiy continues to insist on the need to meet with Putin “in any format” to end the fighting.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed on March 22 that the process was going “much more slowly and less substantively than we would like.” Peskov added that he could not go into detail given the sensitivity of the talks.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, but Ukrainian forces have mounted stiff resistance and the West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow in an effort to force it to withdraw its forces.

NATO, the United States, and most other Western allies have said they will not send troops to Ukraine, but instead have launched a series of crippling sanctions on Russia’s economy and those around Putin.

Poland and the Baltics are now pushing for even tougher sanctions, including an EU ban on Russian oil and gas imports. However, Germany, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas, and some other EU member states are resisting.

Kremlin spokesman Peskov has said Europe would be hit hard in the event of an embargo on Russian oil, striking the continent’s energy balance.

Observers have speculated that Russian military momentum has been stopped by Ukrainian forces in many parts of the country and that the sides could be heading for a long, protracted stalemate in the war.

Nearly 3.6 million have fled across Ukraine’s borders to neighboring countries, the United Nations’ refugee agency estimated on March 22, with the bulk of them arriving in NATO and European Union member Poland.

“This is another tragic milestone for the people of Ukraine and it has been achieved in just under a month,” said Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He added that 6.5 million people had been internally displaced within Ukraine.

“You are looking at almost one quarter of the entire population. The speed and scale of this outflow and this displacement crisis is unprecedented in recent times.”

With reporting by AP and Reuters

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