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

Vladmir Putin also compared Western sanctions to a declaration of war but said Russia 'hadn't gone there yet'

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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 officials attempted to resurrect the collapsed ceasefire in the besieged port city of Mariupol.

With the Kremlin’s rhetoric growing fiercer and plans for a reprieve from fighting dissolving, Russian troops continued to shell encircled cities and the number of Ukrainians forced from their country grew to 1.5 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.

Ukrainian deputy PM: Russia has failed to comply with its humanitarian corridor commitments

Ukrainian deputy PM: Russia has failed to comply with its humanitarian corridor commitments

“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 condemned their resistance to the Russian military operation.

"The current [Ukrainian] authorities must understand that if they continue to do what they are doing, they are putting in question the future of Ukrainian statehood," Mr Putin said on Saturday. "And if this happens, they will be fully responsible."

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.”

Mr Putin also dismissed rumours that the Kremlin was planning to declare martial law in Russia.

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

MasterCard said it made the decision over the "unprecedented nature of the current conflict and the uncertain economic environment".

Visa meanwhile said that "effective immediately" it would "work with its clients and partners within Russia to cease all Visa transactions over the coming days".

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, aeroplanes have been dropping bombs on residential areas. The Russian occupants are using heavy artillery, including Grad multiple rocket launchers.”

On Sunday, the city council said that another attempt at a ceasefire would start and they would try to evacuate the dead and wounded as well as civilians.

Russian forces have also been inching closer to the capital Kyiv in an assault that has become evermore indiscriminate ― and deadly.

Working-class towns such as Bucha and Irpin are in the line of fire, and air raids on Friday broke many people's resolve to stay.

"They are bombing residential areas ― schools, churches, big buildings, everything," said accountant Natalia Dydenko, glancing back at the destruction she was leaving behind.

Dozens of civilians have been killed in Chernihiv. Those remaining live in craters or among ruins.

"There were corpses all over the ground," a man who gave his name only as Sergei told AFP, as air raid sirens wailed. "They were queuing here for the pharmacy that's just there, and they're all dead."

AFP reporters saw scenes of devastation — despite Moscow's insistence it is not targeting civilian areas.

A defiant Zelenskyy said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces were counter-attacking around Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city, inflicting "such losses on the invaders that they have not seen even in their worst dream".

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was equally defiant, saying, "Ukraine is bleeding, but Ukraine has not fallen, and stands both feet on the ground … The myth of the unbeatable and almighty Russian army is already ruined."

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.

Updated: March 07, 2022, 5:18 AM