DOBROPILLIA — A Russian missile strike at the airport in the southwestern port of Odesa – a city that has so far been relatively unscathed in the war – has damaged the runway and it can no longer be used, the Ukrainian military said on Saturday.
Russia has sporadically targetted Odesa, a Black Sea port, and a week ago, Ukraine said at least eight people were killed in a strike on the city.
“As a result of a missile attack in the Odesa region, the runway at Odesa airport was damaged. Its further use is impossible,” the Ukrainian military said.
There was no immediate word on the strike from the Russian military.
Russian forces also pounded Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region on Saturday. In the town of Dobropillia in Donetsk, the shockwave from a strike blew in the windows of an apartment building and left a large crater in the yard.
One resident, who gave only his first name of Andriy, said his partner was in a room facing the yard at the time of the attack and was knocked unconscious.
“Thank God the four children were in the kitchen,” he said, standing in the destroyed living room.
Residents sifted through their belongings to see what could be salvaged.
“At around 9:20 a.m. this happiness flew to our house, said Oleh, who also gave only his first name, speaking with sarcasm. “Everything is destroyed.”
Moscow hopes to take full control of the eastern Donbas region made up of Luhansk and Donetsk, parts of which were already controlled by Russian-backed separatists before the invasion.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in a daily update that the Russians were trying to capture the areas of Lyman in Donetsk and Sievierodonetsk and Popasna in Luhansk, adding they are “Not succeeding – the fighting continues.”
The war since Feb. 24 has turned cities to rubble, killed thousands and forced 5 million Ukrainians to flee abroad. Russia turned its focus to the south and east after failing to capture the capital, Kyiv.
Moscow calls its actions a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of extreme anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war of aggression.
While there have been efforts since the start of the war to hold peace talks, the two sides are far apart – which was illustrated by conflicting comments on the efforts by senior Russian and Ukrainian officials on Saturday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in remarks published on the Russian foreign ministry’s website, said lifting Western sanctions on Russia was part of the talks, but senior Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak denied this was the case.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has insisted since the Russian invasion that sanctions needed to be strengthened and could not be part of negotiations. He said on Friday there was a high risk the talks would end because of what he called Russia’s “playbook on murdering people.”
Ukraine accuses Russian troops of atrocities in areas near Kyiv that they previously occupied. Moscow denies the claims.
Lavrov said that if the United States and other NATO countries were truly interested in resolving the Ukrainian crisis, they should stop sending weapons to Kyiv.
In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden’s proposed $33 billion aid package for Ukraine, including $20 billion for weapons, has received bipartisan support. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday she hoped Congress would pass the package as soon as possible.
French President Emmanuel Macron told Zelenskiy during a call on Saturday that his country would step up military and humanitarian support for Ukraine.
‘CANNOT GET THROUGH’
Moscow said on Saturday its artillery units had struck 389 Ukrainian targets overnight.
Alexander Bogomaz, the governor of Russia’s Bryansk region, said air defenses had prevented a Ukrainian aircraft from entering the region, and as a result shelling had hit parts of an oil terminal, Russian news agencies reported.
The governor of another Russian region, Kursk, said several shells were fired from the direction of Ukraine on Saturday at a checkpoint near its border. Roman Starovoit said in a video on his Telegram channel that there were no casualties or damage.
On the Ukrainian side, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said the Russians were shelling all over the region “but they cannot get through our defense.” He said civilians would continue to be evacuated despite the difficult situation.
Gaidai said two schools and 20 houses were destroyed by Russian attacks on Friday in the Luhansk towns of Rubizhne and Popasna.
Mykola Khanatov, head of military administration in Popasna, said two buses sent to evacuate civilians from the town were fired on by Russian troops on Friday and there was no word from the drivers. He did not say how many people were on the buses.
Russia’s TASS news agency, reporting from the scene, said 25 civilians, including six children, had left the territory of the Azovstal steel plant in the besieged southern port of Mariupol on Saturday. It was unclear where they had gone, and Reuters could not independently verify the report.
There were also reports of attacks on places outside the Donbas, including in the southern Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia areas and the northeastern city of Kharkiv, where the regional governor said a residential area had been shelled overnight.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports on what was happening on the ground.
Ukraine carried out a prisoner exchange with Russia on Saturday, with seven soldiers and seven civilians coming home, deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a online post. She did not say how many Russians had been transferred.
(Reporting by Hamuda Hassan and Jorge Silva in Dobropillia, Ukraine, and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv; Additional reporting by Reuters journalists; Writing by Estelle Shirbon and Frances Kerry; Editing by Catherine Evans, Hugh Lawson and Daniel Wallis)
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