Ukraine war: Zelensky expects Russian attacks in Ukraine's east to intensify
Ukraine – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he expects Russian military operations to ramp up in the east of the country even as Western intelligence agencies see a pull back from the capital Kyiv.
"Russian soldiers are being brought to the Donbass. Likewise in the direction of Kharkiv," said Zelensky in a video address late Friday. "The situation in the east of our country remains very difficult."
Washington and London have reported a scaling back of Russian soldiers near Kyiv.
The Pentagon estimates that about 20% of Russia's troops outside the city have left the area in the past several days, although it describes the movement as a "repositioning" to other areas, such as the Donbass, not a complete withdrawal.
In what was seen by some analysts as a curtailment of its war aims, Russia said earlier this week that the military focus would turn to "liberation" of the Donbass region, parts of which have been claimed by Moscow-backed separatists for nearly eight years.
The British Defense Ministry said on Saturday that Russian forces are reported to have withdrawn from Hostomel airport, northwest of Kyiv, which has been intensely contested since the first day of the conflict.
Ukraine had also been able to retake several villages near Kyiv, too, the ministry said.
Russian attacks continue
But as pressure on Kyiv appeared to ease, fierce fighting continued in other parts of Ukraine early Saturday, with Ukrainian authorities reporting Russian rocket fire on several major cities in the south.
In the city of Dnipro, two or three heavy explosions were heard overnight, the Ukrayinska Pravda news portal reported, citing the regional administration.
The area around the city of Kryvyi Rih was shelled with rocket launchers. A gas station caught fire, said the head of the local military administration, Oleksandr Vilkul.
Vilkul said Russian forces used Grad multiple rocket launchers.
Like all reports from the combat zones, the information was not independently verifiable.
The port city of Odessa on the Black Sea was also hit with rockets on Friday evening.
Russia said on Saturday it has destroyed 67 more military targets in its latest missile attacks in Ukraine.
The Defense Ministry said a petrol and diesel depot were destroyed near the commercial and industrial city of Kremenchuk, some 186 miles southeast of the capital Kyiv, on Saturday morning.
Diplomatic efforts still underway
Diplomatic efforts are expected to continue on Saturday.
US diplomat Victoria Nuland, the under secretary of state for political affairs, is heading to Europe to coordinate the response to Russia's violent crackdown on its neighbor.
Nuland is expected to visit France, Germany, Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus, the US State Department said in Washington.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross plans a fresh go at evacuating thousands of civilians from the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol after Friday's attempt failed.
Dozens of buses had planned to take part in a mass evacuation convoy carrying thousands of people. The operation failed due to uncertainties over the security situation, the Red Cross said.
Russian and Ukrainian sources said, however, some 3,000 people had managed to flee the city using private vehicles.
According to the government in Kyiv, seven escape corridors were set up on Saturday for civilian population in embattled cities across Ukraine.
Cover photo: IMAGO / Xinhua