Zelenskiy Dismisses Russia's Claims On Pullback, Says Ukrainian Forces Preparing For Fight In East

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says he doesn't trust Russian promises to scale back military activity and his army is preparing for further fighting in the east.

"We don't believe anyone, not a single beautiful phrase," Zelenskiy said in a video address to the nation late on March 30, adding that he believes Russian troops are regrouping to strike the eastern Donbas region.

"We will not give anything away. We will fight for every meter of our territory," Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy and U.S. President Joe Biden earlier discussed specific defensive support, a new package of sanctions against Russia, and financial and humanitarian aid in an hourlong call.

The call came as Russian forces continued bombardments near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv one day after promising to scale down operations, a pledge that Western countries earlier dismissed as a ploy to regroup.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said "less than 20 percent" of the Russian contingent in the vicinity of the Ukrainian capital was starting to "reposition." Kirby said it appeared Russia is pulling troops away from Kyiv in order to resupply and reorganize them for use elsewhere in Ukraine -- not to send them back to Russia.

Kirby also told reporters at the Pentagon that the Russian Vagner Group had deployed about 1,000 contractors into Ukraine's Donbas region. The Vagner Group (also known as Wagner Group) is a paramilitary force that Western governments say the Kremlin has used in other conflict zones.

Biden used the call to review sanctions and humanitarian assistance that were announced last week, while Zelenskiy updated Biden on the status of negotiations with Russia, the White House said in a statement.

They also discussed the critical effect weapon supplies have had on the conflict and continued efforts to identify additional capabilities to help Ukraine's military defend the country.

A Pentagon official said not all the weaponry Biden promised in mid-March had been delivered yet.

Celeste Wallander, an assistant secretary of defense, told a congressional hearing that a package that includes 100 kamikaze-like Switchblade drones is in the process of being delivered.

Wallander said the United States was also working on getting countries that have Soviet-made S-300 anti-aircraft batteries to send them to Ukraine. One of the countries it has approached is Slovakia, which wants to replace its S-300s with more modern U.S.-made Patriot missile batteries, she said.

WATCH: Ukrainian forces recaptured the town of Trostyanets in eastern Ukraine, located just 40 kilometers from the border with Russia.

Meanwhile, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told reporters that Putin had been misled by advisers.

"We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth," Bedingfield said during a press briefing.

The United States is putting forward this information now to show "this has been a strategic error for Russia," she said.

There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin.

In the nearly five weeks since the invasion began, Russian forces have been halted on many fronts by stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces.

In addition to his comments about Vagner Group (also known as Wagner Group), a paramilitary force that Western governments say the Kremlin has used in other conflict zones, Kirby said Russia started to reposition less than 20 percent of its forces arrayed around Kyiv but cautioned that Russia was expected to resupply them for redeployment and not bring the forces home.

Russia told Ukraine on March 29 that it would curtail operations near the capital, Kyiv, and the northern city of Chernihiv "to increase mutual trust" for peace talks after the two sides met face-to-face in Istanbul.

But Ukrainian officials reported on March 30 that Russian shelling hit homes, stores, libraries, and other civilian sites in and around Chernihiv and on the outskirts of Kyiv.

But the governor of the Chernihiv region said on March 30 that he saw no let-up in Russian attacks overnight, while British military intelligence said that troop movements could be attributed to Russian contingents returning home or to neighboring Belarus to reorganize and resupply after suffering heavy losses on the battlefield.

"Do we believe it [Russia’s promise]? Of course not," Governor Vyacheslav Chaus said in a video post on Telegram.

"The enemy demonstrated its 'decreased activity' in the Chernihiv region by carrying out strikes on [the city of] Nizhyn, including air strikes, and all night long they hit [the city of] Chernihiv," he added.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Russia's pledge to curtail operations near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv was not true.

"The whole night we listened to sirens, to rocket attacks and we listened to huge explosions east of Kyiv and north of Kyiv," Klitschko said in a video address to EU regional officials. "There are immense battles there, people died, still die."

Russian troops also stepped up their attacks around the eastern city of Izyum and the eastern Donetsk region after redeploying some units from other areas, the Ukrainian side said.

Russia is likely to continue to compensate for its reduced ground maneuver capability through mass artillery and missile strikes, Britain's Defense Ministry said.

Moscow said recently that it had fulfilled the first part of its plan in Ukraine and that its main focus would now be on southeastern Ukraine, where it is trying to capture more territory to turn over to separatists it has supported since 2014.

Zelenskiy voiced caution about Russia's promises to scale back some operations, saying in his daily video address late on March 29 that Ukrainians “are not naive people.

"Ukrainians have already learned during these 34 days of invasion, and over the past eight years of the war in Donbas, that the only thing they can trust is a concrete result," he said.

Thousands of civilians in the southern port city of Mariupol continue to be trapped under repeated shelling and air strikes by Russian forces.

Mariupol has been one of the main focal points of fighting since the start of the invasion more than a month ago. The situation in the city, which numbered some 400,000 people before the war, has been described as "apocalyptic."

A Russian-backed separatist leader said that 140,000 people had left Mariupol, which has been a main target for Russia, and gone eastward since Russian forces began besieging it.

Denis Pushilin said on Russian television that "about 140,000 left Mariupol.... Both toward the [separatist-held region near Donetsk] and toward Russia," Interfax reported.

There was no way to verify Pushilin's statement. Mariupol had a prewar population of more than 400,000, and Ukraine has accused Moscow of forcing Mariupol residents into territory controlled by the separatists and Russia against their will.

The UN is looking into allegations that some residents of Mariupol have been forcibly taken to areas controlled by Russian forces or to Russia itself.

The head of the UN human rights mission in Ukraine told Reuters that thousands of civilians may have died in the city since bombing began.

"We do think that there could be thousands of deaths, of civilian casualties, in Mariupol," Matilda Bogner said. The mission did not have a precise estimate but was working to gather more information, she added.

According to the UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, the total number of refugees as of midday on March 29 was 4.02 million, with just over half of that total making their way out of Ukraine and into Poland.

"Refugees from Ukraine are now 4 million, five weeks after the start of the Russian attack," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a tweet on March 30, adding that he had just arrived in Ukraine to discuss ways to increase support "to people affected and displaced by this senseless war."

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Key Words: Ukraine, Russia, Russo-Ukrainian War, Russian Military, Ukrainian Military

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