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  • Rikki Lambert

Ukraine at 'turning point', president says

A destroyed school in Zhytomyr, Ukraine

Ukraine's president says his country's conflict with Russia has reached a strategic turning point, as satellite images show Russian tanks moving closer to Kyiv.

Russian forces' bombardment of Ukraine cities appears to be shifting to a regrouping for a possible assault on the capital Kyiv.

The governor of the Kharkiv region, on the Russian border, said a psychiatric hospital had been hit with no reported casualties, and the mayor of the city of Kharkiv said about 50 schools had been destroyed there.

In the besieged southern city of Mariupol, the city council said at least 1,582 civilians had been killed as a result of Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade that has left hundreds of thousands trapped with no food, water, heat or power.

Russia's defence ministry said the Black Sea port was now completely surrounded and Ukrainian officials accused Russia of deliberately preventing civilians getting out and humanitarian convoys getting in.

A new effort to evacuate civilians along a humanitarian corridor appeared to have failed.

"The situation is critical," Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said.

Western countries meanwhile took more steps to try to force Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his assault on Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden said the G7 industrialised nations would revoke Russia's "most favoured nation" trade status. He also announced a US ban on imports of Russian seafood, alcohol and diamonds.

President Zelenskiy tweeted early Saturday morning Australian time:

European Union leaders meeting in France said they were ready to impose harsher economic sanctions on Russia and might give Ukraine more funds for arms. But they rejected Ukraine's request to join the bloc.

At a meeting with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Putin said there were "certain positive shifts" in talks with Kyiv, but did not elaborate.

With the Russian assault now in its third week, Zelenskiy, who has rallied his people with a series of addresses, said Ukraine had "already reached a strategic turning point":

"It is impossible to say how many days we still have (ahead of us) to free Ukrainian land. But we can say we will do it.
"We are already moving towards our goal, our victory."

Russia's main attack force has been stalled on roads north of Kyiv, having failed in what Western analysts say was an initial plan for a lightning assault.

But images released by private US satellite firm Maxar showed armoured units manoeuvring in and through towns close to an airport on Kyiv's northwest outskirts, the scene for fighting since Russia landed paratroopers there in the first hours of the war.

Other elements had repositioned near the settlement of Lubyanka just to the north, with artillery howitzers in firing positions, Maxar said.

Britain's defence ministry said Russia appeared to be gearing up for new offensive activity in the coming days that would probably include operations against Kyiv.

However, the Russian ground forces were still making only limited progress, hampered by logistical problems and Ukrainian resistance, it said in its intelligence update.

"Our opponent has been halted in practically every direction by air strikes, rocket fire and ground attacks," Ukraine presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych told a news briefing.

Ukraine also raised the prospect of Moscow's ally Belarus throwing its troops into the war, accusing Russia of staging "false flag" air attacks on Belarus from Ukraine to provide an excuse for an offensive.

Since the invasion, Western countries have swiftly moved to isolate Russia from the global financial system.

Announcing further EU sanctions, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc would on Saturday suspend Moscow's privileged trade and economic treatment; crack down on its use of crypto-assets; and ban the import of iron and steel goods from Russia as well as the export of luxury goods in the other direction.

Australian shadow foreign affairs minister Penny Wong told national radio on Friday she supported the Ukrainian ambassador's push for their Russian counterpart to be expelled:

"Sure, it should be considered. Whether or not it takes place is a judgement the Foreign Minister of the day has to make.
"I can completely understand why the Ukrainian diplomat has called for this, particularly given the horrific actions of Russia overnight, bombing a maternity hospital - an illegal and immoral act, in an illegal and immoral war.
"Ultimately, what the Foreign Minister has to decide is the message best sent through expulsion or is it in our interest to continue to have lines of communication to Russia, both here in Australia, but as importantly, also in Moscow.


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