Russian forces bomb mosque in Mariupol, encroach on Kyiv

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March 12 (UPI) — Russian forces bombed a mosque in Mariupol on Saturday, encroached on the capital of Kyiv and struck structures in other cities, according to Ukrainian officials.

The attack on the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol follows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accusing Russia of genocide late Wednesday after Kremlin forces bombed a children’s hospital and maternity ward killing three people, including a child, according to city officials.

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“The mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Roxolana in Mariupol was attacked by Russian invaders,” the Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey tweeted. “More than 80 adults and children, including Turkish citizens, are hiding from bombardment.”

In the past 12 days, more than 1,500 people have died from from the conflict, according to the Mariupol mayor’s office.

Ukrainian officials have renewed calls for a no-fly zone, but U.S. officials have maintained that such a move would bring the country into a direct war with Russia.

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Fighting has also continued northwest of Kyiv with the bulk of Russian ground forces around 15.5 miles from the city’s center, according to a British Ministry of Defense update early Saturday.

“Elements of a large Russian column north of Kyiv have dispersed,” the update said. “This is likely to support a Russian attempt to encircle the city. It could also be an attempt by Russia to reduce its vulnerability to Ukrainian counterattacks, which have taken a significant toll on Russian forces.

“Beyond Kyiv, the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remain encircled and continue to suffer heavy Russian shelling,” the update continued.

In the northern city of Chernihiv, Russian strikes hit a hotel overnight, CNN reported.

“I am here now,” Vyacheslav Chaus, head of the Chernihiv region administration, told CNN Saturday. “There is no hotel anymore.”

“The enemy continues to launch air and missile strikes on the city of Chernihiv. Civilians are dying, many people are being injured. The enemy shells civilian infrastructure, where there is no military.”

The city also has “no electricity, almost no water, gas, and heat,” he continued.

In Vasylkiv, south of Kyiv, Russian forces struck a military airport.

“Today at about 7 a.m. enemy forces shelled the city of Vasylkiv,” Nataliia Balasynovych, the town’s mayor, said on Facebook, according to the CNN report. “Eight missiles hit, shelled the airport. As a result of the missile strikes, the airport was completely destroyed, the runway was destroyed.

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“Ammunition depot also detonated. Ammunition is still detonating because one of the missiles hit the ammunition depot. The warehouse with fuels and lubricants was also destroyed. As a result, the capacity of our airport has been completely eliminated.”

CNN also reported at least two explosions early Saturday in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro and possible remnants to anti-aircraft fire.

The prior day three Russian strikes hit Dnipro, in which one civilian was killed. The three strikes hit a school, an apartment building and a shoe factory.

There was also growing evidence developing on Friday that Volnovakha in eastern Ukraine has fallen to Russian forces and their allies in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic.

On Friday, Russian forces also captured Mayor Ivan Federov, of Melitopol, a coastal Ukrainian city near the Sea of Azov.

Zelensky demanded Federov’s immediate release in a video statement released Saturday on Facebook.

“Our armed forces are doing everything to deprive the enemy of any desire to continue the war against Ukraine,” Zelensky said. “The losses of Russian troops are enormous. The dynamics of the invaders’ losses on the 17th day is such that it is safe to say that this is the biggest blow to the Russian army in decades.”

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Since the Feb. 24 invasion, Zelensky said Russia has lost 31 tactical battalions groups, more than 360 tanks and 1,205 armored vehicles, almost 60 planes, and more than 80 helicopters.

Zelensky added in the video address that groups of Russian troops have surrendered to Ukrainian forces, but Russian forces have been recruiting fighters, reservists and mercenaries to “outnumber” Ukrainian forces.

“They are using terror to break us, to break our faith in Ukraine’s victory, I am confident that they will not succeed,” Zelensky said.

Zelensky also addressed the city of Mariupol, saying that Ukrainian forces will guarantee a cease-fire along the evacuation corridor out of the city to allow supplies into the city and to facilitate the evacuation of civilians.

European Union leaders attend a summit at the Chateau de Versailles near Paris on March 11, 2022. Photo by the European Union/ UPI | License Photo