Zelenskyy hails ‘powerful blows’ by Ukrainian soldiers as Russia lowers invasion aims

ITV News Reporter James Dunham outlines how the defence against the Russian advance appears to be holding across large swathes of Ukraine

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that Ukrainian soldiers have dealt "powerful blows" to Russian forces, as he pushed for further talks with Moscow to end the fighting.

In a video address late on Friday, the Ukrainian President said that the Russian military have lost 16,000 troops- a claim that has not been verified and which Moscow disputes.

Hailing his country's heavy resistance against enemy forces, he added that Russia has not been able to take the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, or Kharkiv, the second-largest city.

As Moscow signalled it was scaling back its invasion goals in Ukraine, Mr Zelenskyy urged for meaningful diplomatic talks as weeks of on-and-off peace negotiations have failed to make any significant progress.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy pushed for further talks with Russia. Credit: AP

"Our defenders are leading the Russian leadership to a simple and logical idea: we must talk, talk meaningfully, urgently and fairly," he said.

His comments came after Moscow declared the first phase of what it calls its “military operation” mostly complete, saying it will focus on “liberating” the breakaway Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Russian-backed separatists have controlled part of the Donbas region since 2014, and Russian forces have been battling to seize more of the region from Ukraine, including the besieged city of Mariupol.

This indication that the Kremlin may be switching to more limited objectives comes as Moscow-sent forces failed to take any major city in Ukraine in the month since launching its invasion.

The one city Russians had managed to occupy, Kherson, is now no longer under Moscow’s control, the Pentagon said on Friday evening.

Markian Lubkivskyi, an adviser to the Ukrainian defence minister, believes Kyiv’s forces could seize back Kherson on Saturday.

Battle lines close to the strategically vital capital have been frozen for weeks with two main Russian armoured columns stuck northwest and east of Kyiv.

'I think we are getting deliberately mixed messages from the Kremlin': ITV News Correspondent John Ray explains the apparent change in Russia's strategic priorities

But despite military defeats, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) says that Russia is likely to continue to use its heavy firepower on urban areas, as cities such as Mariupol and Chernihiv remain besieged.

Surrounded by Russian forces and under constant bombardment, the northern city of Chernihiv has no electricity, heating or running water, with artillery shells rendering the remaining pedestrian bridge impassable on Friday.

"Russian forces are proving reluctant to engage in large scale urban infantry operations," the MoD said in an intelligence update.

"Rather preferring to rely on the indiscriminate use of air and artillery bombardments in an attempt to demoralise defending forces."

In other evidence of the continued offensive, Russian troops have seized control of the town of Slavutych, where workers at the Chernobyl plant live, according to the governor of Kyiv region, Oleksandr Pavlyuk.

For expert analysis of this topic, listen to the Ukraine episodes of the What You Need To Know podcast

As civilian areas remain targets for attack, French President Emmanuel Macron says France, Greece and Turkey are attempting to organise an evacuation of civilians from Mariupol.

An agreement has been reached over the establishment of 10 humanitarian corridors in Ukrainian towns and cities on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said. She said civilians seeking to flee Mariupol would have to leave in private cars as Russian soldiers were not allowing buses through their checkpoints around the port city.

Why is Joe Biden more focused on humanitarian efforts than committing to tougher military support for Ukraine? ITV News Correspondent Peter Smith reports live from Warsaw

As western leaders push for an end to the war, US President Joe Biden met with Poland’s president Andrzej Duda in Warsaw on Saturday before he returns to Washington.

There is growing pressure on Mr Biden to back up his tough talk against Vladimir Putin with more military support for Nato's eastern border, having rejected Poland's calls to send MiG fighter jets there.

He told Mr Duda that “your freedom is ours,” as he assured Poland's prime minister that the US and other Nato allies would come to their aid if Russia should attack.