Photo: The Canadian Press
Firefighters work at the site in the aftermath of the first strike that involved Russian rockets that hit an oil facility in an industrial area in the northeastern outskirts of Lviv, Ukraine, Sunday, March 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused the West of lacking courage as his country fights to stave off Russia’s invading troops, making an exasperated plea for fighter jets and tanks to sustain a defense in a conflict that has ground into a war of attrition.
Speaking after US President Joe Biden said in a lacerating speech that Russian President Vladimir Putin could not stay in power — words the White House immediately sought to downplay — Zelenskyy lashed out at the West’s “ping-pong about who and how should hand over jets” and other weapons while Russian missile attacks kill and trap civilians.
“I’ve talked to the defenders of Mariupol today. I’m in constant contact with them. Their determination, heroism and firmness are astonishing,” Zelenskyy said in a video address early Sunday, referring to the besieged southern city that has suffered some of the war’s greatest deprivations and horrors. “If only those who have been thinking for 31 days on how to hand over dozens of jets and tanks had 1% of their courage.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its 32nd day, has stalled in many areas, its aim to quickly encircle the capital, Kyiv, and force its surrender faltering in the face of staunch Ukrainian resistance — bolstered by weapons from the US and other Western allies .
Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russia’s troops looked to be trying to encircle Ukrainian forces directly facing the two separatist-held areas in the country’s east. That would cut the bulk of Ukraine’s military off from the rest of the country.
Moscow claims its focus is on wresting from Ukraine the entirety of the eastern Donbas region, which has been partially controlled by Russia-backed separatists since 2014. A high-ranking Russian military official said Friday that troops were being redirected to the east from other parts of the country.
The leader of one of the separatist-controlled areas of Donbas said Sunday that he wants to hold a vote on joining Russia, words that could indicate a shift in Russia’s position. Leonid Pasechnik, the head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, said it plans to hold a referendum on becoming part of Russia “in the nearest time.”
Russia has supported the separatist rebels in Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk since an insurgency erupted there in 2014, shortly after Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. In talks with Ukraine so far, Moscow has urged Kyiv to acknowledge the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, accused Russia of seeking to split Ukraine in two, like North and South Korea.
“The occupiers will try to pull the occupied territories into a single quasi-state structure and pit it against independent Ukraine,” Budanov said in a statement released by the Defense Ministry, He predicted that guerrilla warfare by Ukrainians would derail such plans.
Ukraine says that to defeat Russia, it needs fighter jets and not just the missiles and other military equipment supplied by the West. A proposal to transfer Polish planes to Ukraine via the United States was scrapped amid NATO concerns about getting drawn into a military conflict with Russia.
In his pointed remarks, Zelenskyy accused Western governments of being “afraid to prevent this tragedy. Afraid to simply make a decision.”
“So, who is in charge of the Euro-Atlantic community? Is it still Moscow, thanks to its scare tactics?” he said: “Our partners must step up their aid to Ukraine.”
His plea was echoed by a priest in the western city of Lviv, which was struck by rockets on Saturday. The aerial assault illustrated that Moscow, despite recent assertions that it intends to shift the war eastward, is willing to strike anywhere in Ukraine.
“When diplomacy doesn’t work, we need military support,” said the Rev. Yuri Vaskiv, who on Sunday reported fewer parishioners than usual in the pews of his Greek Catholic church, likely because of their fear.
Referring to Putin, he said: “This evil is from him, and we must stop it.”
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov confirmed that Russian forces used air-launched cruise missiles to hit a fuel depot and a defense plant in Lyiv. He said another strike with sea-launched missiles destroyed a depot with air defense missiles in Plesetske just west of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.