Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he did not trust Russian promises to reduce military activity and that his army was preparing for further fighting in the east.
“We don’t believe anyone, not a single nice phrase,” Zelenskiy said in a video address to the nation on March 30, adding that he believed Russian troops were regrouping to strike the eastern region of Donbass.
“We won’t give up anything. We will fight for every meter of our territory,” Zelenskiy said.
Zelenskiy and US President Joe Biden earlier discussed specific defensive support, a new sanctions package against Russia and financial and humanitarian assistance during an hour-long call.
The call came as Russian forces continued their shelling near kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv a day after promising to scale back operations, a promise Western countries had previously dismissed as a ploy to regroup.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said “less than 20%” of the Russian contingent in the vicinity of the Ukrainian capital was beginning to “reposition”. Kirby said it appeared Russia was pulling troops out of kyiv in order to resupply and reorganize them for use elsewhere in Ukraine — not sending them back to Russia.
Kirby also told Pentagon reporters that Russia’s Vagner Group had deployed about 1,000 contractors to Ukraine’s Donbass region. The Vagner Group (also known as the Wagner Group) is a paramilitary force that Western governments say the Kremlin has used in other conflict zones.
Biden used the call to review sanctions and humanitarian aid announced last week, while Zelenskiy briefed Biden on the status of negotiations with Russia, the White House said in a statement. declaration.
They also discussed the critical effect arms supplies have had on the conflict and continued efforts to identify additional capabilities to help the Ukrainian military defend the country.
A Pentagon official said not all of the weapons promised by Biden in mid-March have yet been delivered.
Celeste Wallander, deputy secretary of defense, told a congressional hearing that a package including 100 Switchblade kamikaze drones was being delivered.
Wallander said the United States was also working to get countries with Soviet-made S-300 anti-aircraft batteries to send them to Ukraine. One of the countries she has approached is Slovakia, which wants to replace its S-300s with more modern US-made Patriot missile batteries, she said.
WATCH: Ukrainian forces have retaken the town of Trostyanets in eastern Ukraine, located just 40 kilometers from the border with Russia.
Meanwhile, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told reporters that Putin had been misled by advisers.
“We believe Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about the poor performance of the Russian military and how the Russian economy is crippled by sanctions because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth,” he said. Bedingfield said during a press briefing.
The United States is now advancing this information to show that “this was a strategic mistake for Russia,” she said.
There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin.
In the nearly five weeks since the start of the invasion, Russian forces have been halted on many fronts by fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces.
In addition to his comments about the Vagner Group (also known as the Wagner Group), a paramilitary force that Western governments say the Kremlin has used in other conflict zones, Kirby said Russia has begun to reposition less than 20% of its deployed forces around Kyiv, but warned that Russia must resupply them for redeployment and not bring forces home.
Russia told Ukraine on March 29 that it would reduce operations near the capital, Kyiv, and the northern city of Chernihiv “to increase mutual trust” for peace talks after the two sides met face to face in Istanbul.
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But Ukrainian officials reported on March 30 that Russian shelling had hit homes, shops, libraries and other civilian sites in and around Chernihiv, as well as on the outskirts of Kyiv.
But the governor of the Chernihiv region said on March 30 that he saw no letting up in the Russian attacks overnight, while British military intelligence said the troop movements could be attributed to Russian contingents returning home or to neighboring Belarus to reorganize and resupply after suffering heavy losses on the battlefield.
“Do we believe it [Russia’s promise]? Of course not,” Governor Vyacheslav Chaus said in a video message on Telegram.
“The enemy has demonstrated its ‘diminished activity’ in the Chernihiv region by carrying out strikes against [the city of] Nizhyn, including airstrikes, and all night they struck [the city of] Chernihiv,” he added.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Russia’s promise to scale back operations near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv was not true.
“All night long we listened to sirens, rocket fire and we heard huge explosions east and north of Kyiv,” Klitschko said in a video address to EU regional officials. “There are huge battles there, people have died, are still dying.”
Russian troops have also stepped up their attacks around the eastern town of Izyum and eastern Donetsk region after redeploying some units from other regions, the Ukrainian side said.
Russia is likely to continue to compensate for its reduced ground maneuvering capability with mass artillery and missile strikes, the UK Ministry of Defense said.
Moscow recently said it had achieved the first part of its plan in Ukraine and that its main target would now be southeastern Ukraine, where it is trying to conquer more territory to hand over to the separatists it supports. since 2014.
Zelenskiy expressed caution about Russia’s promises to cut some operations, saying in his daily video address late March 29 that Ukrainians “are not naïve people.
“The Ukrainians have already learned during these 34 days of invasion, and during the last eight years of the war in Donbass, that the only thing they can trust is a concrete result,” he said. he adds. he said.
Thousands of civilians in the southern port city of Mariupol continue to be trapped under repeated shelling and airstrikes by Russian forces.
Mariupol has been one of the main focal points of the fighting since the invasion began more than a month ago. The situation in the city, which had some 400,000 inhabitants before the war, has been described as “apocalyptic”.
A Russian-backed separatist leader said 140,000 people had left Mariupol, which has been a main target for Russia, and headed east since Russian forces began besieging it.
Denis Pushilin declared on Russian television that “about 140,000 left Mariupol… Both towards the [separatist-held region near Donetsk] and to Russia,” Interfax reported.
There was no way to verify Pushilin’s statement. Mariupol had a pre-war population of over 400,000, and Ukraine has accused Moscow of forcing Mariupol residents into separatist-Russian-controlled territory against their will.
The UN is investigating allegations that some residents of Mariupol were forcibly taken to areas controlled by Russian forces or to Russia itself.
The head of the UN human rights mission in Ukraine told Reuters that thousands of civilians may have died in the city since the shelling began.
“We think there could be thousands of dead, civilian casualties, in Mariupol,” Matilda Bogner said. The mission did not have a precise estimate but was working to gather more information, she added.
According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, the total number of refugees as of noon on March 29 was 4.02 millionwith just over half of that total leaving Ukraine and entering Poland.
“Refugees from Ukraine now number 4 million, five weeks after the start of the Russian attack,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. said in a tweet on March 30, adding that he had just arrived in Ukraine to discuss ways to increase support “for those affected and displaced by this senseless war.”