KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Saturday that democratic countries are working together to stop the Russian invasion while civilians continue to flee eastern parts of the country faced an expected attack and firefighters searched for survivors in a northern town no longer occupied by Russian forces.
In his daily nightly video address to Ukrainians, Zelenskyy said that “Russian aggression should not be limited to Ukraine” and that “the entire European project is a target for Russia.”
Several European leaders have sought to show solidarity with the struggle-torn nation. Zelenskyy thanked the leaders of Britain and Austria for their visits to Kyiv, capital of Ukraine, on Saturday and for pledges of further support. He also thanked the President of the European Commission and the Prime Minister of Canada for a global fundraiser that raised more than 10 billion euros ($11 billion) for Ukrainian refugees.
Zelenskyy reiterated his call for a full embargo on Russian oil and gas, which he described as the source of Russia’s “confidence and impunity.”
“Freedom has no time to wait,” said Zelenskyy. “When tyranny begins its aggression against anything that keeps peace in Europe, immediate action must be taken.”
More than six weeks into the invasion, Russia has withdrawn its troops from the northern part of the country around Kyiv, and again focused on the Donbass region in the east. Western military analysts said an arc of territory in eastern Ukraine is under Russian control, from Kharkiv – Ukraine’s second largest city – in the north to Kherson in the south.
But counterattacks threaten Russian control of Kherson, Western assessments say, and Ukrainian forces are repelling Russian attacks elsewhere in Donbass, a largely Russian-speaking industrial region.
Civilians evacuated eastern Ukraine after a rocket attack on Friday that killed at least 52 people and more than 100 wounded at a train station where thousands were clamoring to leave.
Ukrainian authorities have urged civilians to withdraw ahead of an upcoming intensified offensive by Russian forces in the east. With trains not leaving Kramatorsk on Saturday, panicked residents boarded buses or found other ways to walk, fearing the kind of relentless attacks and occupations by Russian invaders that were bringing food shortages, destroyed buildings and death to other cities.
“It was terrifying. The horror, the horror,” said a resident of the British broadcaster Sky and remembered Friday’s attack on the train station. “Heaven forbid going through that again. No I do not want to.”
The State Railways of Ukraine said residents of Kramatorsk and other parts of Donbass could flee through other stations. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said ten evacuation corridors are planned for Saturday.
Calling the train station attack the latest example of war crimes by Russian forces, Zelenskyy said he should motivate the West to do more to help his country defend itself.
Russia denied responsibility, accusing the Ukrainian military of firing on the station to blame Moscow for civilian casualties. A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry explained the missile’s trajectory and Ukrainian troop positions to support the argument.
Major General Igor Konashenkov claimed Ukraine’s security services are preparing a “cynically staged” media operation in Irpin, another city near Kyiv, aimed at attributing civilian casualties to Russian forces – wrongly, he said – and the killing of a fake Russian Secret Service to stage team that intended to kill witnesses. The claims could not be independently verified.
Western experts and Ukrainian authorities insisted that Russia had attacked the station. The words “For the children” in Russian were painted on the remains of the rocket. The wording seemed to indicate that the missile was sent to avenge the loss or subjugation of children, although its exact meaning remained unclear.
Ukrainian authorities have been working to identify victims and document possible war crimes in the north. The mayor of Bucha, a town near Kyiv where vivid evidence of civilian killings can be seen surfaced after Russian forces withdrew, search teams said they were still finding bodies of people shot at point-blank range in yards, parks and city squares.
Workers dug up 67 bodies from a mass grave near a church on Friday, according to Ukraine’s Attorney General. Russia falsely claimed that the scenes were staged in Bucha.
Ukrainian and Western officials have repeatedly accused Russian forces of committing atrocities. A total of 176 children were killed and 324 others injured, the Attorney General said on Saturday.
In an interview with The Associated Press Inside his heavily guarded presidential office complex, Zelenskyy said he was determined to negotiate a diplomatic end to the war despite Russia “torturing” Ukraine. He also acknowledged that peace is unlikely to come quickly. So far, neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor other high-ranking officials have been involved in the talks.
“We must fight, but fight for life. You can’t fight for dust when there’s nothing and no people. That’s why it’s important to end this war,” he said.
Ukrainian authorities have said they expect more mass killings once they reach the southern port city of Mariupol, which is also located in Donbass and has faced months of blockade and intense fighting. The city’s location on the Sea of Azov is crucial for building a land bridge from the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia captured from Ukraine eight years ago.
As journalists, largely absent from the city, leaked back in, new images emerged of the devastation caused by an airstrike on a theater last month, which reportedly killed hundreds of civilians seeking shelter.
Ukrainian officials have been asking western powers on an almost daily basis to send more weapons and continue to punish Moscow with sanctionsincluding excluding Russian banks from the global financial system and a full EU embargo on Russian gas and oil.
During his visit on Saturday, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he expected further EU sanctions against Russia but defended his country’s previous opposition to the halt to Russian gas supplies.
A package of sanctions imposed this week “will not be the last,” said the Chancellor, acknowledging that “as long as people are dying, any sanction is insufficient.” Austria is militarily neutral and not a member of NATO.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit came a day after the UK pledged an additional £100 million ($130 million) in quality military equipment. Johnson also confirmed further economic support and guaranteed Ukraine an additional $500 million in World Bank loans, bringing the UK’s total loan guarantee to up to $1 billion.
In the interview with AP, Zelenskyy noted the growing support but expressed frustration when asked if the weapons and equipment Ukraine received from the West are enough to change the outcome of the war.
“Not yet,” he said, switching to English for emphasis. “Of course it’s not enough.”
Anna reported from Bucha, Ukraine. Robert Burns in Washington, Jill Lawless and Danica Kirka in London, and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine