A Russian protestor carries a placard showing a picture of Russian president Vladimir Putin with the name "Terrorist No1" during a demonstration against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in front of the Palais des Nations, European headquarters of the United Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, on Sunday. Photo by Laurent Gillieron/EPA-EFE
Sept. 25 (UPI) -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Russians to resist conscription into the military as the United States on Sunday warned Russia of "catastrophic" consequences if it uses nuclear weapons.
Zelensky's comments also came as Ukraine warned of rising attacks from Iran-made drones and news that NATO will hold a meeting on weapons production.
"Russian commanders do not care about the lives of Russians -- they just need to replenish the empty spaces left by the dead, wounded, those who fled or the Russian soldiers that were captured," Zelensky said in his nightly address Saturday.
Zelensky, speaking directly to Russians in the their language, added that Russian authorities "are well aware that they are sending their citizens to the death" and do not care about the people who fill these roles.
"Right now, it is being decided whether your life will end or not. It is better not to take a conscription letter than to die in a foreign land as a war criminal," Zelensky said.
"It is better to run away from criminal mobilization than to be crippled and then bear responsibility in the court for participating in the war of aggression.
"It is better to surrender to Ukrainian captivity than to be killed by the strikes of our weapons, absolutely fair strikes, as Ukraine defends itself in this war. We defend the brightest -- we defend our lives, our children, our freedom."
If soldiers are not able to avoid conscription, Zelensky urged them to surrender to Ukrainian forces and said they will be guaranteed to be treated "in a civilized manner" and that "no one will know the circumstances of your surrender."
"No one in Russia will know that your surrender was voluntary," Zelensky said. "If you are afraid to return to Russia and do not want an exchange, we will find a way to ensure this as well."
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Russian President Vladimir Putin's decisions to hold "sham referenda" on Russian-occupied Ukraine and conscript hundreds of thousands of people "is a sign that he is struggling very badly in Ukraine."
"He knew that as soon as he ordered mobilization, there would be some upheaval in the country, and we're seeing the images and scenes of that right now," Sullivan said.
"So the Russian army is in trouble, and the Ukrainian army is making gains on the battlefield and stopping the Russians from making progress in areas where they continue to try to advance."
Sullivan added that the White House has maintained channels of communication with the Kremlin "to be clear about our messages to them and to receive their messages."
"We want to be able to protect them so that we have the continuing ability to reach Russia and tell them in no uncertain terms, for example, what the consequences would be, and they would be catastrophic if Russia went down the dark road of nuclear weapons use," Sullivan said.
"If Russia crosses this line there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia. The United States will respond decisively."
Sullivan added that the United States has "spelled out in greater detail exactly what that would mean" in such private channels.
"Russia understands very well what the United States would do in response to the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine because we have spelled it out for them, and I will leave it at that today," Sullivan said.
"But as far as the question of deterrence is concerned, you know, Russia will make its decisions, but it will do so fully understanding that the United States will respond decisively."
Liz Truss, Britain's new prime minister, said Sunday in an interview with CNN that Putin "has been outsmarted by Ukrainians" who have pushed back against the Russian offensive.
When asked how Western leaders should respond if Putin ramps up military activity in Ukraine, Truss said they "should not be listening to his saber-rattling and his bogus threats."
Over the weekend, Ukrainian officials warned that a growing number of Russian attacks have been carried out by Iran-made drones.
"Today, the Russian army used Iranian drones for attacking the Dnipropetrovsk region and Odesa. I commissioned the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide a tough response to this fact. The world will know about every fact of collaboration with evil, and it will have corresponding consequences," Zelensky said in his nightly address on Friday.
Zelensky noted that Ukraine has already deprived Iran's ambassador to Ukraine of accreditation and moved to "significantly reduce the number of diplomatic personnel of the Iranian Embassy."
"Six of these Iranian drones were shot down by our anti-aircraft troops of the "East" and "South" air commands. Another one was shot down by the anti-aircraft defense of the Naval Forces," Zelensky said.
Ukraine's Operational Command South said in a statement on Facebook on Sunday that Odesa was "again attacked by enemy kamikaze drones" which explode on impact.
"The enemy hit the administrative building in the center of the city three times. The rescue operation and fire extinguishing are ongoing," the statement reads. "One drone was shot down by air defense forces. There are no casualties."
A senior Ukrainian official told The New York Times that Israeli intelligence officials have provided their Ukrainian counterparts with information about Iranian drones.
A NATO official told The New York Times on Sunday that Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance's secretary-general, has called for a special meeting of member to discuss way to replenish weapons stockpiles of countries that have supplied weapons to Ukraine.
The officials will meet in Brussels on Wednesday to examine ways to send further ammunition and equipment to Ukraine.