Meanwhile a Ukrainian official said there were casualties after at least three Russian ballistic missiles were fired at the Odesa region on the Black Sea, but he did not give specifics.
Regional leader Maksim Marchenko said the missiles were fired from the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia has held since seizing it from Ukraine in 2014.
The Ukrainian military said the Iskander missiles were intended for critical infrastructure but did not hit their targets because of the response of Ukraine’s air defences. It was unclear where they hit.
Odesa is Ukraine’s largest port and the headquarters of its navy.
On Saturday evening (AEDT) Russian missiles hit two cities in central Ukraine early on Saturday, damaging infrastructure and residential buildings, the head of the Poltava region said.
“Poltava. A missile struck one of the infrastructure facilities overnight,” Dmitry Lunin wrote in an online post. “Kremenchuk. Many attacks on the city in the morning.”
Lunin later said at least four missiles hit two infrastructure objects in Poltava while, according to preliminary information, three enemy planes attacked the industrial facilities of Kremenchuk.
Poltava city is the capital of the Poltava region, east of Kyiv, and Kremenchuk one of the area’s major cities.
There was no immediate information about possible casualties, Lunin said. Reuters could not immediately verify the report.
Negotiators from the two countries spoke on Saturday (AEDT) via video link, after previous talks failed to yield an agreement on a temporary ceasefire. But Kyiv officials and the Red Cross said another desperate attempt to rescue civilians from the shattered and encircled city of Mariupol was blocked.
“Certainly, this is not something that can be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for the continuation of the talks,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, five weeks after Moscow began invading Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russian troops continued withdrawing from areas around Kyiv, three days after Moscow said it would reduce military activity near the Ukrainian capital and the northern city of Chernihiv to promote trust between the two sides. And Ukrainian forces exploited the pullback by mounting counterattacks and retaking towns and villages.
Zelensky said Russian forces were leaving behind “a complete disaster” as they retreat, and warned residents to beware of more Russian shelling and of land mines.
“They are mining the whole territory, they are mining homes, mining equipment, even the bodies of people who were killed,” he said.
He urged residents to wait to resume their normal lives until they are assured that the mines have been cleared and the danger of shelling has passed.
Zelensky said he spoke Friday with French President Emmanuel Macron by telephone and with the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, during her visit to Kyiv.
“Europe doesn’t have the right to be silent about what is happening in our Mariupol,” he said. “The whole world should respond to this humanitarian catastrophe.”
Zelensky said 3071 people were able to leave Mariupol on Friday. His office said 86 Ukrainian service members were freed in the Zaporizhzhia region as part of a prisoner swap with Russia. The number of Russians released was not disclosed.
But Ukraine and its allies warned that the Kremlin was not de-escalating but resupplying its troops and redeploying them to the country’s east for an intensified assault on the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbas region, which includes Mariupol.
The latest negotiations followed a meeting on Tuesday in Turkey, where Ukraine reiterated its willingness to abandon a bid to join NATO and declare itself neutral — Moscow’s chief demand. In return, Ukraine proposed that its security be guaranteed by several other countries.
The head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, wrote on social media that Moscow’s positions on retaining control of the Crimean Peninsula — seized from Ukraine in 2014 — and expanding the territory in eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists “are unchanged”.
The invasion that has left thousands dead and driven more than 4 million refugees from Ukraine.
On the outskirts of Kyiv damaged cars lined the streets of Irpin, a suburban area popular with young families, now in ruins.
Three wooden crosses next to a residential building that was damaged in a shelling marked the graves of a mother and son and an unknown man. A resident who gave her name only as Lila said she helped hurriedly bury them on March 5, just before Russian troops moved in.
“They were hit with artillery and they were burnt alive,” she said.
An Irpin resident who gave his name only as Andriy said the Russians packed up their equipment and left on Tuesday. The next day, they shelled the town for close to an hour before Ukrainian soldiers retook it.
“I don’t think this is over,” Andriy said. “They will be back.”
To the south, the International Committee for the Red Cross said it was unable to carry out an operation to bring civilians out of Mariupol by bus. It said a team had been on its way but had to turn back.
City authorities said the Russians were blocking access to Mariupol.
“We do not see a real desire on the part of the Russians and their satellites to provide an opportunity for Mariupol residents to evacuate to territory controlled by Ukraine,” Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
He said Russian forces “are categorically not allowing any humanitarian cargo, even in small amounts, into the city”.
The strategic port city on the Sea of Azov has seen some of the worst suffering of the war, with weeks of heavy fighting and shortages of water, food, fuel and medicine. Around 100,000 people are believed left in the city, down from a prewar 430,000.
“We are running out of adjectives to describe the horrors that residents in Mariupol have suffered,” Red Cross spokesperson Ewan Watson said.
On Thursday, Russian forces blocked a 45-bus convoy attempting to evacuate people from Mariupol, and only around 600 people were able to leave in private cars, the Ukrainian government said. Russian forces also seized 14 tonnes of food and medical supplies bound for Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
In the past few days, the Kremlin, in a seeming shift in its war aims, said its “main goal” is gaining complete control of the Donbas. Mariupol’s capture would be a major prize for the Russians, giving them an unbroken land bridge to Crimea.
The Donbas is the industrial region of eastern Ukraine where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014. The separatists have declared two areas independent republics.
Despite its pledge to scale back, Russian forces have continued to bombard both the Chernihiv area and cities on the outskirts of Kyiv. But Ukraine’s military said it had retaken 29 settlements in the two regions amid a Russian withdrawal of some of its troops.
Russian forces in the north-east also continued to shell Kharkiv, and in the southeast sought to seize the cities of Popasna and Rubizhne as well as Mariupol, the Ukrainian military said.
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