Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Saturday that a peace agreement with Russia will be contingent upon all Russian forces leaving Ukrainian territory. The remarks were made while speaking to Chatham House, a British think tank. Zelenskiy also said, “I was elected by the people of Ukraine as president of Ukraine, not as president of a mini-Ukraine of some kind. This is a very important point.” Indeed, it is. However, Russia shows no signs of letting up, as the situation in Mariupol has revealed. It’s not very realistic to think Moscow would be willing to return to pre-23 February boundaries willingly.
Evacuation efforts in Mariupol have concluded. The last women, children and elderly civilians left Azovstal steelworks earlier today, leaving only Ukrainian soldiers in the sprawling steel plant. With the civilians having left, Russian forces are expected to redouble their efforts to capture the plant and break the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the city.
The fate of the Russian frigate Admiral Makarov remains unknown at the present time. The Ukrainian government and military claim the ship was struck by an antiship missile near Snake Island yesterday. Russia has denied the claim, of course, and today released pictures of the frigate supposedly back at its homeport of Sevastopol.
Russian forces launched a missile attack against the Ukrainian port city of Odesa earlier Saturday. Ballistic missiles targeted a furniture factory and damaged nearby buildings. There has been no word on casualties. As fighting in Mariupol draws to a close, expect Russia to pay more attention to Odesa and other targets along the Black Sea coastline west of Crimea.
Forty-six civilians have been evacuated from the Azovstal steelworks plant in Mariupol, according to Russian news reports. Another report from Ukrainian troops defending the plant tells of twenty civilians who were evacuated during a ceasefire. It remains unclear if these two groups are the same or different. However, The UN confirmed today that an operation to evacuate people from the steel plant in Mariupol is under way. According to estimates, there are 1,000 Ukrainian civilians and several hundred soldiers sheltering in the massive plant. According to news updates at 1540 Eastern Time, the UN has announced an operation to evacuate all civilians inside the city will begin on Monday
In eastern Ukraine, fighting has picked up around Kharkov as Ukrainian forces strive to push Russian troops farther away from the nation’s second-largest city. The battlelines around Kharkov have been static since the early days of the war. Russian troops are entrenched in the city’s northern and eastern suburbs. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, operations carried out by Ukrainian forces have retaken four villages around Kharkov: Verkhnya Rohanka, Ruska Lozova, Slobidske and Prilesne. Those claims have yet to be independently verified.
Germany’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is being criticized (yet again). Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleb told a German newspaper that Berlin’s actions have been hesitant when compared to other European nations. Kuleb said Germany should “take the leading role in Europe, especially in questions of Eastern policy.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wasted little time in defending his decisions on Ukraine. “I make my decisions quickly and in coordination with our allies. I am suspicious of hasty action and Germany going it alone.” Scholz has been heavily criticized for not providing weapons and supplies to Ukraine fast enough.
Another effort is underway to deliver humanitarian aid and buses to Mariupol. Yesterday’s attempt to evacuate civilians was unsuccessful after aid groups were not given the security guarantees needed despite Russian promises to establish a humanitarian corridor and call for a temporary ceasefire.
The withdrawal of Russian ground forces north of Kiev is underway and progressing. However, in other parts of Ukraine, Russian attacks are continuing and pressure remains. As the Russian focus shifts to fighting in eastern Ukraine, some of the forces that had been engaged in the failed push on Kiev could find themselves in Donbas quite soon.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has said Turkey stands ready to organize a seaborne evacuation of civilians from Mariupol.
According to reports from the Ukrainian general staff, Moscow is mobilizing its troops in Moldova’s occupied Transnistria to demonstrate its readiness to attack Ukraine from the southwest and for potential provocations in the Moldova-Ukraine border region.
The US rejection of Poland’s proposal to provide its MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters to Ukraine yesterday has caused some friction in US-Poland relations. The Polish government had announced that it was placing its MiGs at the disposal of the United States to supply to Ukraine. Washington was surprised by the offer and wasted little time in rejecting it. The Ukrainian government has been pleading for more aircraft and Poland appears to be the only nation to take the notion seriously. Warsaw’s proposal, if enacted, would’ve kept its hands clean and placed the US in the position of possibly being labeled a co-combatant by Moscow. The issue will undoubtedly come up when Vice President Harris arrives in Eastern Europe later today to seek additional support for US efforts to isolate and punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
The Kremlin is accusing the United States of waging economic war and Russia and warned that Washington’s efforts will wreak havoc throughout energy markets. The Russian government has said it is considering how to respond to the ban on Russian oil and energy.
There continue to be reports Russian forces causing problems along evacuation routes and humanitarian corridors that have been established. In the city of Bucha, north of Kiev, the city council claims that Russian troops are blocking evacuation routes and causing a backup of buses filled with evacuees.
In Mariupol, the city council claims a Russian airstrike has destroyed a children’s hospital. Official reports from the Ukrainian government claim there are children trapped in the rubble right now and that rescue efforts are underway.
Separatist officials in eastern Ukraine have warned of a ‘large-scale Ukrainian attack’ coming soon and have called for the evacuation of women, children and the elderly to start immediately. The Ukrainian government countered with a statement calling the attack rumor false and nothing more than a lie designed to give Russia a pretext to invade. As this back and forth was taking place, Russian media has been releasing reports that claim Ukraine is stepping up attacks on the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Shelling has increased around these regions for a second consecutive day.
In a video posted online but apparently recorded on Wednesday, Denis Pushilin, the pro-Moscow leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, gave a stark warning. “Very soon, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky will order the military to go on an offensive, to implement a plan to invade the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics. From today, Feb. 18 a mass organized transfer of the population to Russia is being organized. Women, children, and the elderly will need to be evacuated first. We urge you to listen and make the right decision.” The evacuees will go to the Rostov region of Russia, where camps and accommodations are being set up by the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations.
A car bomb exploded outside of a government building earlier today in the center of Donetsk. The explosion occurred around 6:00 PM Donetsk time (11 AM Eastern Standard Time). Video and photos allegedly from the scene show a car engulfed in flames. The blast was reportedly heard around the city. The vehicle reportedly belonged to Denis Sinenkov, chief of the People’s Militia.
US officials now estimate the number of Russian troops near Ukraine to be somewhere between 160,000-190,000. This is a marked increase from the estimated 100,000 troops present in late January, 2022. According to Michael Carpenter, US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe this represents the largest military mobilization to take place in Europe since the end of World War II. Adding to the tense situation, on Saturday Russia will conduct an exercise of its strategic nuclear forces, in which ballistic and cruise missiles will be test-fired.
Author’s Note: Next Update Will Be Posted Around 8 PM EST