UPDATED: Ukraine president says Russian rockets have destroyed Vinnytsia airport

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LVIV, Ukraine March 6 (Reuters) –

LVIV, Ukraine March 6 (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian rockets had completely destroyed the civilian airport of the central-western region capital of Vinnytsia on Sunday.

Earlier the authorities said emergency services were working to put out fires at the airport caused by the rocket strikes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed directly to Russians on Sunday to take to the streets in protest against the Kremlin’s invasion of his country or risk their own poverty and repression.

Since last week, thousands of people in Russia have been detained for protesting against the invasion of Ukraine or what the Russian authorities call a “special military operation” that began on Feb 24.

Russians are now bracing for an uncertain and isolated future after international sanctions plunged the economy into crisis and authorities cracked down on independent media and restricted access to Facebook and other social media sites. 

“Citizens of Russia! For you, this is a struggle not only for peace in Ukraine! This is a fight for your country,” Zelenskiy said in a televised address, switching from Ukrainian to Russian.

“If you keep silent now, only your poverty will speak for you later. And only repression will answer,” he said.

All forms of protest in Russia have essentially become illegal since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic for what authorities say are safety reasons.

Like the Ukrainian people, Russians now face a choice “between life and slavery,” Zelenskiy said.

On the 11th day of the invasion, Russian forces are continuing to attack and are preparing to bombard the Black Sea port city of Odessa, he said.

“Rockets against Odessa? This will be a war crime,” he said in a televised address.

Earlier, in an address to Ukrainians on Sunday morning, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy praised the many forms of resistance people have chosen to oppose the Russian invasion and called his country “a superpower of spirit.”

The country, he said, was performing at “the maximum of possibilities,” with soldiers fighting but also ordinary people defending towns, hospitals and fire departments. He encouraged residents of occupied areas to protest, if possible.

Ten days into the war, he said, Ukraine had united with “millions of people, which became one whole.”

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that he made a “desperate” plea to American lawmakers yesterday for the United States to help get more warplanes to his military.

Zelenskiy opened the private video call with US lawmakers by telling them this may be the last time they see him alive. “President Zelenskiy made a desperate plea,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

He said Zelenskiy wants the US to facilitate the transfer of planes from Eastern European allies. “I will do all I can to help the administration to facilitate their transfer,” Schumer said.

The US is considering sending American-made F-16s as backfill to former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe that are now members of NATO. They, in turn, would send Ukraine their own Soviet-era MiGs, which Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly.

A photo issued by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense of a destroyed Russian tank.

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