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Russia strikes near Ukrainian capital; the mosque would have been hit

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces shelling the port city of Mariupol shelled a mosque housing more than 80 people, including children, the Ukrainian government said Saturday. fighting also raged on the outskirts of the capital, Kiev.

There was no immediate news of any casualties from the mosque bombing. Mariupol has known some of the greatest miseries of Russia’s War in Ukraine as incessant blockades thwarted repeated attempts to bring in food and water and evacuate trapped civilians.

The Ukrainian embassy in Turkey said a group of 86 Turkish nationals, including 34 children, were among those who sought refuge in the mosque of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Roksolana.

Elsewhere, air raid sirens sounded in the capital area and artillery barrages sent residents rushing for cover. Fighting broke out in several areas around Kiev.

Russia’s slow and overwhelming attempt to encircle the city and the bombardment of other population centers with artillery and airstrikes reflect tactics Russian forces have employed in other campaigns, including in Syria and Chechnya, to crush armed resistance.

Artillery pounded the northwestern outskirts of Kiev. Southwest of the city, two columns of smoke – one black and one white – rose in the town of Vaslkyiv after a strike on an ammunition depot. The strike on the depot caused hundreds of small explosions of detonating ammunition.

On Friday, the death toll in Mariupol exceeded 1,500 during the 12 days of the attack, the mayor’s office said. A strike against a maternity hospital in the city of 446,000 this week that killed three people has sparked international outrage and allegations of war crimes.

Ongoing shelling has forced crews to stop digging trenches for mass graves, so “the dead aren’t even buried”, the mayor said. An Associated Press photographer captured the moment a tank appeared to fire directly at a building, wrapping one side in a puffy orange ball of fire.

Russian forces have struck at least two dozen hospitals and medical facilities since invading Ukraine on February 24, according to the World Health Organization. Ukrainian officials reported Saturday that heavy artillery damaged a cancer hospital and several residential buildings in Mykolaiv, a town 489 kilometers (304 miles) west of Mariupol.

The hospital’s chief medical officer, Maksim Beznosenko, said several hundred patients were at the facility during the attack, but no one was killed.

The invading Russian forces struggled far more than expected against determined Ukrainian fighters. But the stronger Russian military threatens to overwhelm the defense forces, despite a steady stream of weapons and other aid from the West to Ukraine’s democratically elected, west-facing government.

The conflict has already sent 2.5 million people flee the country. Thousands of soldiers on both sides were reportedly killed along with many Ukrainian civilians.

On the ground, Kremlin forces appeared to be trying to regroup and regain momentum after encountering fierce resistance and racking up heavy casualties over the past two weeks. Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russia was trying to reset and “reposition” its troops, preparing for operations against Kiev.

“It’s ugly already, but it’s going to get worse,” said Nick Reynolds, a war analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank.

Russian forces blockaded Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, even as efforts were made to create new humanitarian corridors around it and other urban centers so that aid could enter and residents can go out.

Ukrainian emergency services reported on Saturday that the bodies of five people – two women, a man and two children – had been removed from a building that was hit by shelling in Kharkiv,

The Russians have also stepped up their attacks on Mykolaiv, located 470 kilometers (292 miles) south of Kiev, in an attempt to encircle the city.

As part of a multipronged attack on the capital, the Russian push from the northeast appears to be making progress, a US defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to give the US assessment of the fight. Combat units were moved from the rear as forces advanced within 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) of Kiev.

New commercial satellite images have emerged capturing artillery fire on residential areas that lay between the Russians and the capital. Images from Maxar Technologies showed muzzle flashes and smoke from large guns, as well as impact craters and burning houses in the town of Moschun, 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) from Kiev, it said. the society.

Residents of a devastated village east of the capital clambered over toppled walls and swinging metal strips into the remains of a pool hall, restaurant and theater freshly destroyed by Russian bombs .

With temperatures dropping below zero, villagers quickly spread plastic wrap or nailed plywood over the blown windows of their homes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “created this mess, thinking he will be in charge here,” said 62-year-old Ivan Merzyk. He added: “We’re not leaving.”

On the economic and political front, the United States and its allies decided to further isolate and sanction the Kremlin. President Joe Biden announced that the United States will significantly downgrade its trade status with Russia and ban imports of Russian seafood, alcohol and diamonds.

The decision to revoke Russia’s most favored nation status was taken in coordination with the European Union and the Group of Seven countries.

“The free world is coming together to take on Putin,” Biden said.

As the invasion enters its 16th day, Putin said on Friday that there had been “some positive developments” in the ongoing talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators. He gave no details.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared on video to encourage his people to keep fighting.

“It is impossible to say how many more days we will need to liberate our land, but it is possible to say that we will,” he said from Kyiv.

Zelenskyy said authorities were working to create 12 humanitarian corridors and trying to ensure that urgently needed food, medicine and other basics reached people across the country.

He also accused Russia of kidnapping the mayor of a city, Melitopol, calling the kidnapping “a new stage of terror”. The Biden administration had warned before the invasion of Russian plans to detain and kill targeted people in Ukraine. Zelenskyy himself is likely a priority target.

US defense officials said Russian pilots flew an average of 200 sorties a day, compared to 5-10 for Ukrainian forces, which focus more on surface-to-air missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and drones to eliminate Russian planes.

The United States also said Russia launched nearly 810 missiles at Ukraine.

Until recently, Russian troops had made their greatest advances on eastern and southern cities while struggling in the north and around Kiev. They have also started targeting areas in western Ukraine, where large numbers of refugees have fled.

Russia said Friday it used high-precision long-range weapons to disable military airfields in the western cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk. The Lutsk attack killed four Ukrainian servicemen, the mayor said.

Russian airstrikes also first targeted Dnipro, a major industrial hub in the east and Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, with around 1 million people. One person was killed, Ukrainian officials said.

In footage of the aftermath released by Ukraine’s emergency agency, firefighters extinguished a burning building and ash fell on bloody rubble. Smoke billowed from the broken concrete where the buildings once stood.

The United Nations political chief said the international organization had received credible reports that Russian forces were using cluster bombs in populated areas. International law prohibits the use of bombs, which disperse smaller explosives over a wide area, in cities and towns.

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Associated Press reporters Felipe Dana and Andrew Drake in Kyiv, Ukraine, and other reporters around the world contributed.