Zelenskiy Vows Strong Resistance In Eastern Ukraine As Desperate Mariupol Teeters

As the defense of Mariupol teetered on the verge of collapse, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed that his forces would put up determined resistance to the expected large-scale Russian offensive in the east of the country.

"We will not give up our territory," Zelenskiy told CNN in an interview conducted on April 16 and broadcast on April 17.

Zelenskiy said there was no guarantee Russian forces would not try again to take the capital, Kyiv, should its military be successful in the east of Ukraine, adding that the outcome of the war could be decided in the Donbas region, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland.

“This is why it is very important for us to not allow them, to stand our ground, because this battle...it can influence the course of the whole war," Zelenskiy told CNN. "Because I don't trust the Russian military and Russian leadership."

"That is why we understand that the fact that we fought them off and they left, and they were running away from Kyiv -- from the north, from Chernihiv and from that direction -- it doesn't mean if they are able to capture Donbas, they won't come further toward Kyiv."

Russian forces faced tougher-than-expected resistance from Ukrainian troops and civilians in and around the Kyiv area, forcing them to retreat and refocus their efforts on expected attacks in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Russian troops continued to pound Mariupol after claiming they had cleared the urban area of Ukrainian soldiers and had surrounded the remaining troops in a massive steelworks plant.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has vowed a “fight to the end” amid the ruins of Mariupol and said the strategic port city "has not fallen," despite claims by the attacking Russian forces.

Shmyhal told ABC on April 17 that the "city still has not fallen. There's still our military forces, our soldiers. So they will fight to the end."

Shmyhal said that Kyiv wanted a diplomatic solution "if possible," but said, "If the Russians wouldn't like negotiations, we'll fight to the end, absolutely. We will not surrender. We won't leave our country, our families, our land. We will fight to the end."

Shmyhal again pleaded with the West to send more weapons and ammunition to aid Ukraine’s forces. He also urged nations to send additional financial aid. Ukraine is experiencing a "huge humanitarian catastrophe" and needs further help "to save our economy for future recovery," he said.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said that about 2,500 Ukrainian troops remain at Azovstal, a claim that could not be independently verified. Ukrainian officials did not mention any numbers for the city defenders.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on April 17 that the defenders of Mariupol have tied up significant Russian forces encircling the city. She described Mariupol as a “shield defending Ukraine.”

Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine and Russia have failed to agree on humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians and wounded Ukrainian troops from Mariupol.

"We have not been able to agree...about cease-fires on evacuation routes. That is why, unfortunately, we are not opening humanitarian corridors today," Vereshchuk said on her Telegram account on April 17.

If Russia's capture of Mariupol is confirmed, it would be the first major Ukrainian city to fall since Moscow’s unprovoked war began on February 24.

Capturing Mariupol would allow Russian forces in the south, which came up through the illegally annexed Crimean Peninsula, to fully link up with troops in the Donbas region, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland and the focus of the anticipated Russian offensive.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its regular bulletin that Russian forces continue to redeploy combat and support equipment from Belarus towards eastern Ukraine, including locations close to Kharkiv and Severdonetsk.

Russian artillery continues to strike Ukrainian positions throughout the east of the country, where Russia plans to renew its offensive activity, the ministry said. But it pointed out that even though Russia’s operational focus has shifted to eastern Ukraine, Russia’s ultimate objective remains the same.

“It is committed to compelling Ukraine to abandon its Euro-Atlantic orientation and asserting its own regional dominance,” the ministry said.

At least five people were killed in a series of Russian artillery strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, local officials said on April 17. Maksym Khaustov, chief of the Kharkiv region's health department, said the strikes had sparked fires and blown roofs off of buildings throughout the northeastern city.

Oleh Syneyhubov, the governor of the region, said on his Telegram channel that 31 people had been injured in the attacks.

AFP journalists reported hearing two incoming blasts and witnessed five fires in residential areas in the center of Kharkiv, which had a prewar population of 1.4 million people.

Separately, Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Ukraine's Luhansk region, said at least two people were killed and four injured on April 17 in the shelling of the eastern town of Zolote.

Local media reported an explosion in the capital, Kyiv, though Deputy Mayor Mykola Povoroznyk said air-defense systems had thwarted Russian attacks.

A Russian missile attack damaged infrastructure in the Kyiv suburb of Brovary, Ukrainian officials said. Mayor Ihor Sapashko warned that there may be interruptions in water and electricity supplies as the result of the attack.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said the military has used precision-guided air-launched missiles to attack the ammunition plant in Brovary overnight.

He said that other Russian air raids also destroyed Ukrainian air-defense radars near Severodonetsk in the east and several ammunition depots elsewhere.

Missile attacks continued in the region around the southern city of Mykolayiv, according to regional Governor Vitali Kim, while officials in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, said Russian strikes had killed at least five civilians on April 17.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and AFP