Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said Russia is targeting all of Europe with its aggression and that stopping the invasion of Ukraine is essential for the security of all democracies.
Officials have said a grave with dozens of Ukrainians civilians was found in Buzova village near Kyiv, the latest such discovery as Russian forces retreat from their offensive on the capital and shift their assault to the east.
In his late-night address to Ukrainians on Saturday, the Ukrainian president said Russian aggression “was not intended to be limited to Ukraine alone” and the “entire European project is a target for Russia”.
“That is why it is not just the moral duty of all democracies, all the forces of Europe, to support Ukraine’s desire for peace,” he said. “This is, in fact, a strategy of defense for every civilized state.
“This will be a hard battle, we believe in this fight and our victory. We are ready to simultaneously fight and look for diplomatic ways to put an end to this war.”
His address came as civilians continued to flee eastern parts of the country before an expected onslaught and firefighters searched for survivors in a northern town no longer occupied by Russian forces.
Zelenskiy thanked the leaders of Britain and Austria for their visits on Saturday to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and pledges of further support.
He also thanked the European Commission president and Canada’s prime minister for a global fundraising event that brought in more than €10bn for Ukrainians who have fled their homes.
Zelenskiy repeated his call for a complete embargo on Russian oil and gas, which he called the sources of Russia’s “self-confidence and impunity”.
“Freedom does not have time to wait,” Zelenskiy said. “When tyranny begins its aggression against everything that keeps the peace in Europe, action must be taken immediately.”
More than six weeks after the invasion began, Russia has pulled its troops from the northern part of the country, around Kyiv, and refocused on the Donbas region in the east. Maxar satellite imagery showed an eight-mile (13km) convoy of military vehicles headed south to the Donbas region through the Ukrainian town of Velykyi Burluk.
Western military analysts said an arc of territory in eastern Ukraine was under Russian control, from Kharkiv – Ukraine’s second-largest city – in the north to Kherson in the south.
But counterattacks are threatening Russian control of Kherson, according to the western assessments, and Ukrainian forces are repelling Russian assaults elsewhere in the Donbas, a largely Russian-speaking and industrial region.
Civilians were evacuating eastern Ukraine following a missile strike on Friday that killed at least 52 people and wounded more than 100 at the Kramatorsk train station, where thousands clamored to leave. With trains not running out of Kramatorsk on Saturday, residents boarded buses or looked for other ways to leave, fearing the kind of unrelenting assaults and occupations by Russian invaders that brought food shortages, demolished buildings and death to other cities.
“It was terrifying. The horror, the horror,” one resident told Sky news, recalling Friday’s attack on the train station. Heaven forbid, to live through this again. No, I don’t want to.”
Zelenskiy called the train station attack the latest example of war crimes by Russian forces. Russia denied responsibility.
The Kramatorsk elder, Oleksander Honcharenko, said he expected just 50,000 to 60,000 of the city’s population of 220,000 to remain as people flee.
Residents of the besieged region of Luhansk would have nine trains on Sunday on which to get out, the region’s governor, Serhiy Gaidai, wrote on the Telegram message service.
Ukrainian authorities have worked to identify victims and document possible war crimes in the north. The mayor of Bucha, a town near Kyiv where graphic evidence of civilian slayings emerged after Russian forces withdrew, said search teams were still finding bodies of people shot at close range in yards, parks and city squares.
Workers unearthed 67 corpses on Friday from a mass grave near a church, according to Ukraine’s prosecutor general. Russia has falsely claimed that the scenes in Bucha were staged.
Ukrainian authorities have said they expect to find more mass killings once they reach the southern port city of Mariupol, which is also in the Donbas and has been subjected to a month-long blockade and intense fighting. The city’s location on the Sea of Azov is critical to establishing a land bridge from the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine eight years ago.
As journalists who had been largely absent from the city began to trickle back in, new images emerged of the devastation from an airstrike on a theater last month that reportedly killed hundreds of civilians seeking shelter.
Ukrainian officials have pleaded with western powers almost daily to send more arms and further punish Moscow with sanctions, including the exclusion of Russian banks from the global financial system and a total EU embargo on Russian gas and oil.
During his visit on Saturday, the Austrian chancellor, Karl Nehammer, said he expected more EU sanctions against Russia but defended his country’s opposition so far to cutting off deliveries of Russian gas, while acknowledging that “as long as people are dying, every sanction is still insufficient”. Austria is militarily neutral and not a member of Nato.
The visit by Boris Johnson, the British PM, came a day after the UK pledged an additional £100m in high-grade armaments. Johnson also confirmed further economic support, guaranteeing an additional $500m in World Bank lending to Ukraine, taking Britain’s total loan guarantee to up to $1bn.
The visits are a sign that Kyiv is returning to some degree of normality.
Some residents are coming back and cafes and restaurants are reopening. Italy said it planned to reopen its embassy this month.
The European Union on Friday adopted new sanctions against Russia, including bans on the import of coal, wood, chemicals and other products. Oil and gas imports from Russia remain untouched.
Ukraine has banned all imports from Russia, a key trading partners before the war with annual imports valued at about $6bn.
In the interview with AP, Zelenskiy noted increased support for the Ukrainian war effort, but when asked if it was sufficient to shift the war’s outcome, he replied: “Not yet,” switching to English for emphasis. “Of course it’s not enough.”
With Reuters and Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism