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As Mariupol’s defense was on the verge of crumbling, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed that his forces would put up determined resistance to the planned large-scale Russian offensive in the east of the country.
“We will not give up our territory,” Zelenskiy told CNN in an interview conducted April 16 and aired April 17.
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Zelenskiy said there was no guarantee that Russian forces would not attempt to take the capital, Kyiv again, if his army succeeded in eastern Ukraine, adding that the outcome of the war could be decided in the Donbass region, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine.
“That’s why it’s very important for us not to allow them, to hold on, because this battle…it can influence the course of the whole war,” Zelenskiy told CNN. “Because I don’t trust the Russian military and Russian leadership.
“That’s why we understand that the fact that we repelled them and they left, and that they were fleeing kyiv – from the north, from Chernihiv and from that direction – does not mean that they are able to capture Donbass, they will come no further to kyiv.”
Russian forces faced stronger than expected resistance from Ukrainian troops and civilians in and around the kyiv region, forcing them to retreat and refocus their efforts on expected attacks in the eastern and southern Ukraine.
Russian troops continued to shell Mariupol after claiming to have cleared the urban area of Ukrainian soldiers and surrounded the remaining troops at a massive steel plant.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal vowed a “fight to the end” amid the ruins of Mariupol and said the strategic port city “did not fall”, despite claims by attacking Russian forces.
Shmyhal told ABC on April 17 that “the city still hasn’t fallen. There are still our military forces, our soldiers. So they will fight until the end.”
Shmyhal said kyiv wanted a diplomatic solution “if possible”, but said: “If the Russians don’t like the negotiations, we will fight until the end, absolutely. We will not surrender. We will not leave our country, our families, our land, we will fight until the end.
Shmyhal again pleaded with the West to send more arms and ammunition to help Ukrainian forces. He also urged nations to send additional financial aid. Ukraine is experiencing a “huge humanitarian catastrophe” and needs additional aid “to save our economy for future recovery”, he said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said around 2,500 Ukrainian troops remained in Azovstal, a claim that could not be independently verified. Ukrainian officials did not mention any numbers for the city’s defenders.
WATCH: The port city of Mariupol was home to 400,000 people before the Russian invasion. It has been besieged by Russian troops and continuously bombarded for more than 50 days. The city has been reduced to rubble, amid claims from Russia that it now has almost complete control. Thousands of civilians are believed to have died and tens of thousands remain trapped in the city.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said April 17 that Mariupol’s defenders had tied down large Russian forces that surrounded the city. She described Mariupol as a “shield defending Ukraine”.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine and Russia failed to agree on humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of injured Ukrainian civilians and soldiers from Mariupol.
“We have not been able to agree … on ceasefires on evacuation routes. That is why, unfortunately, we are not opening humanitarian corridors today. ‘today,” Vereshchuk said on his Telegram account on April 17.
If Russia’s capture of Mariupol is confirmed, it would be the first major Ukrainian city to fall since Moscow’s unprovoked war began on February 24.
WATCH: A Ukrainian woman has given RFE/RL a detailed account of how she was raped by a Russian army soldier. To protect his privacy, we have pixelated his face and are not disclosing his name. The Ukrainian police have been informed of the case.
Capturing Mariupol would allow Russian forces from the south, crossing the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula, to fully link up with troops in the Donbass region, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine and the center of the offensive. planned Russian.
The British Ministry of Defense said in its regular bulletin that Russian forces continued to redeploy combat and support equipment from Belarus to eastern Ukraine, including locations near Kharkiv and Severdonetsk.
Russian artillery continues to hit Ukrainian positions throughout the east of the country, where Russia plans to resume offensive activity, the ministry said. But he stressed that even though Russia’s operational focus has shifted to eastern Ukraine, Russia’s ultimate goal remains the same.
“He pledged to force Ukraine to abandon its Euro-Atlantic orientation and assert its own regional dominance,” the ministry said.
At least five people were killed in a series of Russian artillery strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, local officials said April 17. of buildings throughout the northeastern city.
Oleh Syneyhubov, the region’s governor, said on his Telegram channel that 31 people were injured in the attacks.
AFP reporters reported hearing two incoming explosions and witnessing five fires in residential areas of central Kharkiv, which had a pre-war population of 1.4 million.
Separately, Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Ukraine’s Lugansk region, said at least two people were killed and four injured on April 17 in the shelling of the eastern town of Zolote.
Local media reported an explosion in the capital, Kyiv, although Deputy Mayor Mykola Povoroznyk said air defense systems thwarted Russian attacks.
A Russian missile attack damaged infrastructure in the kyiv suburb of Brovary, Ukrainian officials said. Mayor Ihor Sapashko warned there could be disruptions in water and electricity supplies following the attack.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said the military used precision-guided aerial missiles to attack the Brovary munitions factory overnight.
He said other Russian airstrikes also destroyed Ukrainian air defense radars near Severodonetsk in the east and several ammunition dumps elsewhere.
Missile attacks continued in the region around the southern city of Mykolaiv, according to regional governor Vitali Kim, while officials in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, said Russian strikes killed at least five civilians on April 17.