Another Russian general has been killed in Ukraine, the country’s military claimed Saturday, the fifth senior leader to fall since the invasion began 23 days ago.
Lieutenant-General Andrey Mordvichev, commander of the 8th army of the southern military district, was killed when armed forces destroyed a command post at an airfield in Kherson, a port city in southern Ukraine, officials said.
His death came as thousands of civilians attempted to flee another port city, Mariupol, which has been under bombardment for weeks, and as Ukraine’s president said Russia is trying to starve his country’s cities into submission.
Continuing the invasion would exact a toll on Russia for “several generations,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video posted overnight.
The comments were in part a response to a huge rally Russian President Vladimir Putin held Friday in Moscow. Though ostensibly held to support Russia’s forces, reports said many among the tens of thousands who packed the Luzhini Stadium said they were “forced” to attend.
Zelensky in the video accused the Kremlin of deliberately creating “a humanitarian catastrophe” and appealed again for Putin to meet with him to prevent more bloodshed.
Russian forces were blockading the largest cities with the goal of creating such miserable conditions that Ukrainians will surrender, Zelensky said. But he warned that Russia would pay the ultimate price.
“The time has come to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia’s costs will be so high that you will not be able to rise again for several generations,” he said.
Zelensky pointed to the 200,000 people reportedly at the Moscow rally as roughly the same number of Russian troops taking part in the invasion.
“Picture for yourself that in that stadium in Moscow there are 14,000 dead bodies and tens of thousands more injured and maimed,” Zelensky said in the video shot outside the presidential office in the capital, Kyiv. “Those are the Russian costs throughout the invasion.”
Ukrainian and Russian officials agreed to establish 10 humanitarian corridors for bringing aid in and residents out — one from Mariupol, and several around Kyiv and in the eastern Luhansk region, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Saturday.
She also announced plans to deliver humanitarian aid to Kherson, which was seized by Russian forces.
Vladimir Medinsky, who has led Russian negotiators in several rounds of talks with Ukraine, said the two sides are closer to agreement on the issue of Ukraine dropping its bid to join NATO and adopting a neutral status. In remarks carried by Russian media, he said the sides are now “halfway” on issues regarding the demilitarization of Ukraine.
But Mikhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelenskyy, said that assessment was intended “to provoke tension in the media.” He tweeted: “Our positions are unchanged. Ceasefire, withdrawal of troops & strong security guarantees with concrete formulas.”
Another tweet from Podolyak admonished those pontificating about the negotiations.
“I would like to softly recommend the ‘active commentators of the negotiation process’ who are NOT inside,” he said. “Don’t spread your lies in a country that is at war. Negotiations are complicated. The positions of the parties are different. For us, fundamental issues are inviolable.”
Fighting continued on multiple fronts across the country Saturday.
Early morning barrages hit Kyiv neighborhoods, killing at least one and wounding 19.
Maj. Gen. Oleksandr Pavlyuk, who is leading the defense of the region around Ukraine’s capital, said his forces are well-positioned to defend the city and vowed: “We will never give up. We will fight until the end. To the last breath and to the last bullet.”
The governor of the Zaporizhzhia region in east-central Ukraine, Oleksandr Starukh, announced a 38-hour curfew in the southeastern city of the same name after two missile strikes on its suburbs killed nine people Friday.
In the besieged port city of Mariupol, the site of some of the war’s greatest suffering, street fighting was stopping rescuers from reaching hundreds of survivors trapped beneath a shelled theatre, Mariupol’s mayor told the BBC.
Mayor Vadym Boychenko said Ukrainian forces are “doing everything they can” to hold their positions, but that “forces of the enemy are larger than ours”
Ukrainian and Russian forces battled over the Azovstal steel plant, one of the biggest in Europe, Vadym Denysenko, adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said Saturday.
Photos posted on social media showed the plant was destroyed after multiple days of shelling. “Civilians were hiding in bomb shelters of the plant, their destiny is unknown,” a report from Toronto Television said.
“I can say that we have lost this economic giant,” Vadym Denysenko, adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said Saturday in televised remarks. “In fact, one of the largest metallurgical plants in Europe is actually being destroyed.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, during a Saturday visit to NATO ally Bulgaria, condemned Russia’s invasion as “reckless and ruthless.” He said the U.S. has not yet seen Russia mobilize additional forces to compensate for its significant battlefield losses.
“Because of the fact that they’ve stalled on a number of fronts there, it makes sense that [Putin] would want to increase his capabilities going forward,” Austin said. “We’ve just not seen that yet.”