Russia-Ukraine war: Zelenskyy warns Russian blockade could lead to food shortage

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Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports is “provoking a large-scale food crisis,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday in his late-night video address, as he questioned countries that delayed placing sanctions on Moscow and postponed aid to his country.

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“Russian officials are also openly threatening the world that there will be famine in dozens of countries,” he said. “And what could be the consequences of such a famine? What political instability and migration flows will this lead to? How much will you have to spend then to overcome the consequences?”

His comments came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is “not of a favorable opinion” of a move by Finland and, potentially, Sweden to join NATO. Ministers from both countries are expected to attend an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin later today.

Ukraine’s ground forces said Saturday that its forces were already training with weapons sent from western countries.

“Ukrainian soldiers are already actively using the technique and weapons provided by our partners,” the group wrote in a Facebook post.

Moscow will be “forced to take retaliatory steps,” if Finland joins NATO, Russia’s foreign minister said Saturday.

“Finland’s accession to NATO will seriously damage bilateral Russo-Finnish relations, which are maintained by stability and security in the Northern European region,” Alexander Grushko said in a statement published on the Russian foreign ministry’s website that was translated by NBC News.

“Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps (both military-technical and other) in order to stop threats to its national security arising in this regard,” he added.

Russian officials have racheted up their rhetoric in recent days after Finnish leadership backed a bid to join NATO.

Mariupol officials are warning that a humanitarian crisis is developing in the city, which is now almost entirely occupied by Russian forces.

“Drinking water is still inaccessible. For the majority of Mariupol residents, it is necessary to go a long way to water supply points (barrels or water carriers),” Petro Andryushchenko, adviser to the city’s Mayor Vadym Boychenko, said Saturday in a Telegram post that was translated by NBC News.

“Food. Situation has not changed. The flow of traders from the surrounding is increasing. But the problem is money to buy this food,” he said.

Andryushchenko added that as many as 170,000 Mariupol residents are without power and have no way to flee the area.

The city’s council and Boychenko also renewed calls for international help to save the Ukrainian soldiers holding out in the Azovstal steel plant.

“We need the involvement of the U.N. and the Red Cross, the leaders of the world’s leading countries,” Boychenko said in a separate statement published on the Mariupol City Council’s Telegram page.

“Therefore, we appeal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine to use all international instruments to save Ukrainian defenders and conduct an extraction operation. We will fight for the lives of our military, just as they are defending our city,”

Ukraine’s president said very difficult talks were underway on evacuating “a large number” of wounded soldiers from a besieged steelworks in the strategic southeastern port of Mariupol in return for the release of Russian prisoners of war.

Mariupol, which has seen the heaviest fighting in nearly three months of war, is now in Russian hands but hundreds of Ukrainian defenders are still holding out at the Azovstal steelworks despite weeks of heavy Russian bombardment.

Fierce Ukrainian resistance, which military analysts say President Vladimir Putin and his generals failed to anticipate when they launched the invasion on Feb. 24, has also slowed and in some places reversed Russian advances around Ukraine.

“At the moment very complex negotiations are under way on the next phase of the evacuation mission — the removal of the badly wounded, medics,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a late night address.

Officials store bodies of Russian soldiers in refrigerator railway wagons in Kyiv, on Friday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that his country is “not favorable” toward Finland and Sweden joining NATO, indicating Turkey could use its membership in the Western military alliance to veto moves to admit the two countries.

“We are following developments concerning Sweden and Finland, but we are not of a favorable opinion,” Erdogan told reporters.

The Turkish leader explained his opposition by citing Sweden and other Scandinavian countries’ alleged support for Kurdish militants and others whom Turkey considers to be terrorists.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said although Ukrainians are doing everything they can to drive out the Russians, “no one today can predict how long this war will last.”

“This will depend, unfortunately, not only on our people, who are already giving their maximum,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation. “This will depend on our partners, on European countries, on the entire free world.”

He said he was thankful to all those who are working to strengthen the sanctions on Russia and increase military and financial support to Ukraine. “This is the only recipe for protecting freedom in the face of the Russian invasion. And for Western countries, this is not simply an expense. This is not about accounting, it’s about the future.”

Zelenskyy said Ukraine on Friday shot down the 200th Russian aircraft of the war and he noted Russia’s heavy losses in tanks, armored vehicles, helicopters and drones.