Russia continued launching air and artillery attacks on cities and sites across Ukraine as the invasion on its neighbor entered its 10th day on Saturday.
Ground troops had reportedly failed to make significant gains in southern Ukraine, as ramped up tactics to control access to the Black Sea were met with aggressive opposition.
Fighting on the outskirts of the strategic port city Mariupol wiped out power heat and water systems serving nearly half a million people, and food and supplies were running low, Ukrainian officials said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said there would be a ceasefire starting at 10 a.m. Saturday, Moscow time to allow for humanitarian corridors out of Mariupol and the city of Volnovakha.
The mayor of Mariupol, Vadim Boychenko, had said the city was “blockaded” by Russian forces and called for a ceasefire and for a humanitarian corridor for food and medicine.
The cities of Kharkiv and Okhtyrka were coming under heavy strikes, but resistance forces held on to Chernihiv and Mykolaiv, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said.
Troops also protected Odesa from Russian ships who have repeatedly attacked the southern port, he said.
A massive convoy of troops headed to Kyiv remained stalled due to logistical concerns, but frequent shelling could be heard from the center of the capital.
Russia took control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, after a Friday air raid, raising fears of an international nuclear catastrophe.
A “projectile” hit a training center, starting a massive blaze. It did not damage any of the plant’s six reactors, a United Nations agency found. Officials reported no radiation spikes.
The historically unprecedented attack led Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to label Russia a “nuclear terror” and plead for “immediate action” from the West. The US embassy in Ukraine decried the attack as a “war crime.”
The Russian Defense Ministry blamed the nuclear plant attack on a Ukraine “sabotage group,” without citing evidence.
“These plants are now in a situation that few people ever seriously contemplated when they were originally built,” said Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington. “No nuclear plant has been designed to withstand a potential threat of a full-scale military attack.”
Other experts said the fire was probably the result of an imprecise strike, because prevailing winds would send radioactive fallout straight toward Russia.
Some 1.2 million refugees had fled the country as more civilians took up arms to continue their fierce resistance to the world superpower’s onslaught.
Ukraine said 28 children had been killed by Russian troops and 840 injured. Three-hundred and thirty-one citizens were confirmed dead, but the true total was likely far greater, a UN agency reported.
As worldwide pressure on Moscow mounted, Russian lawmakers rubber stamped a bill that subjected journalists to 15 years in prison for accurately reporting on the war, which the Kremlin maintains is a mere “special military operation” to “denazify” the former Soviet republic.
Major news networks like CBS, ABC, CNN and the BBC suspended their reporting from Moscow amid the free speech crackdown.
The censorship bill “will force those who lied and made statements discrediting our armed forces to bear very grave punishment,” Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, said.
“I want everyone to understand, and for society to understand, that we are doing this to protect our soldiers and officers, and to protect the truth.”
Russia also moved to further squelch the spread of information in the country by blocking Facebook and Twitter.
State outlets were falsely reporting that Zelensky, survivor of three assassination attempts in a week, had fled Kyiv, despite photos and videos of him continuing to lead his country’s defense from the capital city.
Zelensky once again appealed to NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Officials rejected the request to avoid being forced to shoot down Russian war planes.
“All the people who die from this day forward will also die because of you, because of your weakness, because of your lack of unity,” Zelensky said of the treaty organization.
“The alliance has given the green light to the bombing of Ukrainian cities and villages by refusing to create a no-fly zone.”
Zelensky was set to address the US Senate on Saturday during a Zoom call scheduled for 9.30 a.m. Eastern Time.
With Post wires