People rest at a temporary settlement site near Mariupol, Ukraine, March 17, 2022. (Photo/Xinhua)
Russia claimed on Saturday that it had unleashed hypersonic missiles against an arms depot in Ukraine, the first use of the next-generation weapons in combat, after Kyiv's embattled leader pressed for "meaningful" talks to halt the "special military operation" in its fourth week.
If confirmed, the use of Russia's new Kinzhal ("dagger") hypersonic missile, which can elude most defense systems, would mark a new escalation in Russia's campaign to force Ukraine to abandon hopes of closer ties with the West.
"The Kinzhal aviation missile system with hypersonic aeroballistic missiles destroyed a large underground warehouse containing missiles and aviation ammunition in the village of Deliatyn in the Ivano-Frankivsk region (of western Ukraine)," Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Saturday.
The region of Ivano-Fran kivsk shares a 50-kilometer-long border with NATO member Romania.
The ministry also said Russian forces used the anti-ship missile system Bastion to destroy Ukrainian military facilities near the Black Sea port of Odesa.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who unveiled the Kinzhal missile in 2018, has called it "an ideal weapon" that flies at 10 times the speed of sound.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuri Ignat told Agence France-Presse that the depot in Deliatyn, a village near the border with Romania, had indeed been hit but "we have no information of the type of missile".
Moscow's announcement came hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky again appealed for peace, urging Russia to accept "meaningful" talks in his latest video posted on social media.
"This is the time to meet, to talk, time for renewing territorial integrity and fairness for Ukraine," he said. "Otherwise, Russia's losses will be such that several generations will not recover."
Ukraine claimed on Saturday that a Russian general had been killed by strikes on an airfield outside Kherson, just north of Crimea, saying he was the fifth top-ranking officer killed since Feb 24.
Russia didn't confirm the information, but said its troops had broken through Ukrainian defenses to enter the strategic southern port city of Mariupol, prompting more people to join the millions fleeing their homes.
On Sunday morning, the Mariupol City Council said an art school being used as a shelter in the besieged city had been bombed by Russian forces.
About 400 people were sheltering in the building, which was destroyed in the attack, the council said.
Russia has repeatedly denied that its attacks were targeting civilians, saying they instead were targeting military facilities with "high-precision weapons".
Mikhail Mizintsev, chief of Russia's National Defense Management Center, accused Ukrainian nationalists of planning chemical attacks in several regions.
He said nationalists have placed mines in ammonia and chlorine storage facilities at the Sumykhimprom chemical plant in Sumy in order to poison the Sumy region's residents in case Russian troops enter the city.
Separately, Russia's Federal Security Service said mines that Ukrainians had deployed in the Black Sea could drift as far as the Bosporus Strait and the Mediterranean Sea.
Storms have cut cables to some of those mines, which are now floating freely in the western Black Sea, pushed along by wind and the currents, the security service warned.