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'LET THEM COME' Ukrainian President says Russia will have to carpet-bomb Kyiv and kill everyone to take city

"The Russian troops are suffering great losses," he told a news conference yesterday. "We could even now talk about the greatest blow to the Russian troops in tens of years."

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pauses as he speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pauses as he speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pauses as he speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared last night that Russia would have to carpet-bomb Kyiv and kill its residents to take the capital, adding if that is their goal, "let them come".

The President issued his defiant message, claiming the Russian army had suffered its "biggest losses in decades", as fighting raged on the outskirts of the city.

"The Russian troops are suffering great losses," he told a news conference yesterday. "We could even now talk about the greatest blow to the Russian troops in tens of years."

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Estimates of the numbers of Russian dead vary, with one US official stating that between 5,000 and 6,000 military personnel may have been killed, while 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers have died in action.

Despite Zelenskyy's vows of resistance, Vladimir Putin's ground forces were continuing to make advances and last night were reported to be just 25km from the city centre.

Russian troops have resorted to pounding populated areas with artillery and airstrikes as they deploy siege tactics honed in Syria and Chechnya, where cities were reduced to rubble.

The bombardment has intensified as the Russians prepare their assault on the capital, considered a major political and strategic prize for Putin, but Ukrainians armed with portable missiles and Molotov cocktails have vowed to annihilate any forces that enter the capital.

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Serhiy Kralya, 41, looks at the camera after surgery at a hospital in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine on Friday, March 11, 2022. Kralya was injured during shelling by Russian forces.

Serhiy Kralya, 41, looks at the camera after surgery at a hospital in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine on Friday, March 11, 2022. Kralya was injured during shelling by Russian forces.

Serhiy Kralya, 41, looks at the camera after surgery at a hospital in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine on Friday, March 11, 2022. Kralya was injured during shelling by Russian forces.

But before any tanks roll in, they can expect to face days or weeks of deadly shelling as the Russians soften up defences.

Meanwhile, residents in other besieged areas, including the port city of Mariupol, have come under such intense bombardment that they have been unable to bury the dead that lie on the streets.

It was claimed yesterday that a mosque sheltering more than 80 people, including over 30 children, was hit in the surrounded city.

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The Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey confirmed that a group of Turkish nationals were among those sheltering in the mosque.

"The mosque of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Roxolana (Hurrem Sultan) in Mariupol was shelled by Russian invaders," the foreign ministry said in a tweet.

"More than 80 adults and children are hiding there from the shelling, including citizens of Turkey."

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An explosion in an apartment building that came under fire from a Russian army tank in Mariupol, Ukraine, Friday, March 11, 2022.

An explosion in an apartment building that came under fire from a Russian army tank in Mariupol, Ukraine, Friday, March 11, 2022.

An explosion in an apartment building that came under fire from a Russian army tank in Mariupol, Ukraine, Friday, March 11, 2022.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been trapped in Mariupol for more than a week with no food, water, heat or power amid freezing temperatures.

Efforts to establish a ceasefire to let them leave have repeatedly broken down.

The death toll in the city of 446,000 - where a strike on a maternity hospital this week killed three people and sparked international outrage - has now passed 1,500 during 12 days of attack, the mayor's office confirmed.

The ongoing bombardment forced crews to stop digging trenches for mass graves, so the "dead aren't even being buried", the mayor said.

Now in its third week, there are fears of an escalation in the conflict after Ukrainian authorities said Russian airstrikes had attacked sites in two of its western cites, located close to the borders of NATO members Poland and Romania.

And last night, one senior Russian diplomat said Moscow could target Western shipments of military equipment to Ukraine.

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A woman carries her cat near a destroyed bridge as she flees from her hometown on the road towards Kyiv, in the town of Irpin, some 25 km (16 miles) northwest of Kyiv, Saturday, March 12, 2022.

A woman carries her cat near a destroyed bridge as she flees from her hometown on the road towards Kyiv, in the town of Irpin, some 25 km (16 miles) northwest of Kyiv, Saturday, March 12, 2022.

A woman carries her cat near a destroyed bridge as she flees from her hometown on the road towards Kyiv, in the town of Irpin, some 25 km (16 miles) northwest of Kyiv, Saturday, March 12, 2022.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia "warned the US that pumping weapons from a number of countries it orchestrates isn't just a dangerous move, it's an action that makes those convoys legitimate targets".

He also denounced the US sanctions against Moscow as an "unprecedented attempt to deal a serious blow to various sectors of the Russian economy," and noted that Moscow will act in a measured way to avoid hurting itself.

Ryabkov insisted Russia isn't "going to escalate the situation", adding that they had no intention to expel Western media and businesses amid soaring tensions with the West.

In a 90-minute call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz yesterday, Putin repeated his allegation that Ukrainian forces using civilians as shields had thwarted efforts to evacuate them from combat zones.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

President Zelenskyy has said he is open to discussions with the Russian president, adding he had discussed the possibility of negotiations being held in Jerusalem with the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett.

He said he hoped Bennett would have a "positive influence" on peace talks with Russia.

The conflict has already forced 2.5 million people to flee the country and has resulted in the deaths of many Ukrainian civilians.

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