- Putin's statement came as a promised cease-fire in the besieged port city of Mariupol collapsed
- Russian troops continued shelling and the number of Ukrainians forced from their country has grown
- By Saturday night, Russian forces had intensified their shelling of Mariupol
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Ukrainian statehood is in jeopardy and likened the West's sanctions on Russia to “declaring war,” while a promised cease-fire 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 cities and the number of Ukrainians forced from their country grew to 1.4 million.
By Saturday night, Russian forces had intensified their shelling of Mariupol, while dropping powerful bombs on residential areas of Chernihiv, a city north of Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said.
Bereft mothers mourned slain children, wounded soldiers were fitted with tourniquets and doctors worked by the light of their cellphones as bleakness and desperation pervaded. Putin continued to pin the blame for all of it squarely on the Ukrainian leadership and slammed their resistance to the invasion.
“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.”
The third round of talks between Russia and Ukraine will take place Monday, according to 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 cease-fire agreement to create humanitarian corridors for the evacuation 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 their wounds.
(With inputs from AP)