Russia’s President Putin says Ukraine putting its sovereignty ‘in question’

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Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a warning on Saturday that Ukrainian statehood was at risk and compared the West’s sanctions on Russia to “declaring war,” as a promised ceasefire in the besieged port city of Mariupol collapsed amid scenes of terror.

With the Kremlin’s rhetoric growing fiercer and a reprieve from fighting dissolving, Russian troops continued to shell encircled cities and the number of Ukrainians forced from their country grew to 1.4 million.

The Ukrainian government has ordered men between the ages of 18 and 60 to stay and be available to fight. Some, like Volodymyr Onysko, have volunteered.

“We know why we are here. We know why we defend our country,” Mr Onysko told Britain’s Sky News. “We know what we are doing, and that’s why we will win.”

Mr Putin continued to pin the blame for the war squarely on the Ukrainian leadership and slammed their resistance to the Russian military operation.

“If they continue to do what they are doing, they are calling into question the future of Ukrainian statehood,” he said. “And if this happens, it will be entirely on their conscience.”

He also hit out at Western sanctions that have crippled Russia’s economy and sent the value of its currency tumbling.

“These sanctions that are being imposed, they are akin to declaring war,” he said during a televised meeting with flight attendants from Russian airline Aeroflot. “But thank God, we haven’t got there yet.”

Russia’s financial system suffered yet another blow as MasterCard and Visa announced they were suspending operations in the country.

Ten days after Russian forces invaded, the struggle to enforce the temporary ceasefires in Mariupol and the eastern city of Volnovakha showed the fragility of efforts to stop the fighting across Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials said Russian artillery fire and air strikes had prevented residents from leaving, despite the evacuation agreements. Mr Putin accused Ukraine of sabotaging the effort.

A third round of talks between Russia and Ukraine will take place on Monday, said Davyd Arakhamia, a member of the Ukrainian delegation. He gave no additional details, including where they would take place.

Previous meetings were held in Belarus and led to the failed ceasefire agreement to create humanitarian corridors for the relocation of children, women and older people from besieged cities, where pharmacies have run bare, hundreds of thousands face food and water shortages, and the injured have been succumbing to wounds.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said thousands of residents had gathered for safe passage out of the city of 430,000 when shelling began and the evacuation was stopped. Later in the day, he said the attack had escalated further.

“The city is in a very, very difficult state of siege,” Boychenko told Ukrainian TV. “Relentless shelling of residential blocks is ongoing, airplanes have been dropping bombs on residential areas. The Russian occupants are using heavy artillery, including Grad multiple rocket launchers.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleaded with US lawmakers for additional help, specifically fighter planes to help secure the skies over Ukraine, even as he insisted Russia was being defeated.

“We’re inflicting losses on the [Russian forces] they could not see in their worst nightmare,” Mr Zelenskyy said.

The National

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