Russian forces pounded targets across Ukraine, taking aim at supply lines for foreign weapons in the west and intensifying an offensive in the east, as the European Union moved Wednesday to further punish Moscow for the war with a proposed ban on oil imports. The Russian military said Wednesday it used sea- and air-launched precision guided missiles to destroy electric power facilities at five railway stations across Ukraine, while artillery and aircraft also struck troop strongholds and fuel and ammunition depots. The defense minister repeated that Russian forces have blocked off a steel mill in Mariupol from which scores of civilians were evacuated over the weekend. Another official denied they were storming the plant, as its defenders said a day earlier. Ukrainian authorities, meanwhile, said attacks in the eastern Donbas region left 21 civilians dead. The flurry of attacks over the past day comes as Russia prepares to celebrate Victory Day on May 9, marking the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. This year the world is watching for whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the occasion to declare a limited victory — or expand what he calls a “special military operation” to a wider war. Also read:EU leader calls for Russian oil ban in new set of sanctions A declaration of all-out war would allow Putin to introduce martial law and mobilize reservists to replace what Western officials say have been significant troop losses. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday dismissed the speculation as “untrue” and “nonsense.” As areas across Ukraine came under renewed attack, Belarus, which Russia used as a staging ground for its invasion, announced military drills. The Defense Ministry in Minsk said the exercises that began Wednesday don’t threaten any neighbors but a top Ukrainian official the country will be ready to act if Belarus joins the fighting. While the Russian attacks were across a wide swath of Ukraine, some were concentrated in and around Lviv, the western city close to the Polish border that has been a gateway for NATO-supplied weapons. Explosions were heard late Tuesday in the city, which has seen only sporadic attacks during the war and has become a haven for civilians fleeing the fighting elsewhere. The mayor said the strikes damaged three power substations, knocking out electricity in parts of the city and disrupting the water supply. Two people were wounded. The attacks on rail infrastructure were meant to disrupt the delivery of Western weapons, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said, while his boss, Minister Sergei Shoigu, told top military brass that the West was “stuffing Ukraine with weapons.” Western weaponry pouring into Ukraine helped its forces blunt Russia’s initial offensive and seems certain to play a central role in the battle for the Donbas, which Moscow now says is its focus following its failure to take Kyiv in the early weeks of the war. Ukraine has urged the West to ramp up the supply of weapons ahead of that potentially decisive battle. Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, which had been slow at first to help arm Ukraine, said Wednesday his government is considering supplying Ukraine with howitzers, in addition to Gepard anti-aircraft guns and other equipment it has already agreed to send. The governor of the eastern Donetsk region, which lies in the Donbas, said Russian attacks left 21 dead on Tuesday, the highest number of known fatalities since April 8, when a missile attack on the railway station in Kramatorsk killed at least 59 people. Russia has deployed a significant number of troops in the region and appears to be trying to advance in the north, as they try to cut Ukrainian forces off, according to an assessment from the British Defense Ministry. However, Moscow’s push has been slow as Ukrainian fighters dig in and use long-range weapons to target the Russians. In addition to supplying weapons to Ukraine, Europe and the United States have sought to punish Moscow with sanctions. The EU’s top official called on the 27-nation bloc on Wednesday to ban Russian oil imports. “We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimizes the impact on global markets,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Also read:Ukraine hopes for more evacuations from besieged steel mill The proposals need unanimous approval from EU countries and are likely to be the subject of fierce debate. Hungary and Slovakia have already said they won’t take part in any oil sanctions, but von der Leyen didn’t elaborate on whether they would receive an exemption, which appears likely. Von der Leyen also proposed that Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, and two other major banks be disconnected from the SWIFT international banking payment system. On Tuesday, in one of the most crucial battles of the war, Ukrainian fighters said Russian forces began storming the bombed-out steel mill in Mariupol, the last pocket of resistance in the city. But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that was not true. “There is no assault. We see that there are cases of escalation due to the fact that the militants take up the firing positions. These attempts are being suppressed very quickly,” Peskov said. Shoigu, the defense minister, said that fighters at the Azovstal mill have been “securely blocked” inside, while Russian forces continue to demand their surrender — something they have repeatedly refused to do. Over the weekend, however, scores of civilians were successfully evacuated from the plant’s underground tunnels after enduring weeks of shelling. It is unclear how many Ukrainian fighters are still inside, but the Russians put the number at about 2,000 in recent weeks, and 500 were reported to be wounded. A few hundred civilians also remained there, said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. Officials have expressed hope more people could yet be evacuated. No new rescues from the plant have been announced, but Vereshchuk said Wednesday authorities plan to continue efforts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol and nearby areas if the security situation allows it. Thanks to the evacuation effort over the weekend, 101 people — including women, the elderly, and 17 children, the youngest 6 months old — emerged from the bunkers under the steelworks to “see the daylight after two months,” said Osnat Lubrani, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine. One evacuee said she went to sleep at the plant every night afraid she wouldn’t wake up. “You can’t imagine how scary it is when you sit in the bomb shelter, in a damp and wet basement, and it is bouncing and shaking,” 54-year-old Elina Tsybulchenko said upon arriving in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, about 140 miles (230 kilometers) northwest of Mariupol. Mariupol — and the plant in particular — has come to symbolize the human misery inflicted by the war. The Russians’ two-month siege of the strategic port has trapped civilians with little or no food, water, medicine or heat, as Moscow’s forces pounded the city into rubble. The city’s fall would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free up troops for fighting elsewhere in the Donbas.
The United States announced new military assistance for Ukraine and a renewed diplomatic push in the war-ravaged nation as President Joe Biden’s secretary of state and Pentagon chief completed a secrecy-shrouded trip to Kyiv. In the highest-level American visit to the capital since Russia invaded in late February, top envoy Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Ukraine’s president, Volodomyr Zelenskyy, and his advisers that the U.S. would provide more than $300 million in foreign military financing and had approved a $165 million sale of ammunition. They also said Biden would soon announce his nominee to be ambassador to Ukraine and that American diplomats who left Ukraine before the war would start returning to the country this coming week. The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv will remain closed for the moment. Zelenskyy had announced Saturday that he would meet with the U.S. officials in Kyiv on Sunday, but the Biden administration refused to confirm that and declined to discuss details of a possible visit even though planning had been underway for more than a week. Read: To Europe’s relief, France’s Macron wins but far-right gains Journalists who traveled with Austin and Blinken to Poland were barred from reporting on the trip until it was over, were not allowed to accompany them on their overland journey into Ukraine, and were prohibited from specifying where in southeast Poland they waited for the Cabinet members to return. Officials at the State Department and the Pentagon cited security concerns. Austin and Blinken announced a total of $713 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine and 15 allied and partner countries; some $322 million is earmarked for Kyiv. The remainder will be split among NATO members and other nations that have provided Ukraine with critical military supplies since the war with Russia began, officials said. Such financing is different from previous U.S. military assistance for Ukraine. It is not a donation of drawn-down U.S. Defense Department stockpiles, but rather cash that countries can use to purchase supplies that they might need. The new money, along with the sale of $165 million in non-U.S. made ammunition that is compatible with Soviet-era weapons the Ukrainians use, brings the total amount of American military assistance to Ukraine to $3.7 billion since the invasion, officials said. Zelenskyy had urged the Americans not to come empty-handed. U.S. officials said they believed the new assistance would satisfy at least some of the Ukrainians’ urgent pleas for more help. New artillery, including howitzers, continues to be delivered at a rapid pace to Ukraine’s military, which is being trained on its use in neighboring countries, the officials said. On the diplomatic front, Blinken told Zelenskyy that Biden will announce his nomination of veteran diplomat Bridget Brink to be the next U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. A career foreign service officer, Brink has served since 2019 as ambassador to Slovakia. She previously held assignments in Serbia, Cyprus, Georgia and Uzbekistan as well as with the White House National Security Council. The post requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Blinken also told Ukraine’s foreign minister that the small staff from the now-shuttered U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, which has relocated to Poland from temporary offices in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, would begin making day trips to Lviv in the coming days. Officials said the U.S. had accelerated its review of security conditions in the capital and that the State Department will reopen the embassy there as soon as the situation allows. Biden has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of genocide for the destruction and death wrought on Ukraine. Just on Thursday, Biden said he would provide a new package of $800 million in military aid to Ukraine that included heavy artillery and drones. Congress approved $6.5 billion for military assistance last month as part of $13.6 billion in spending for Ukraine and allies in response to the Russian invasion. From Poland, Blinken plans to return to Washington while Austin will head to Ramstein, Germany, for a meeting Tuesday of NATO defense ministers and other donor countries. Read: Tomorrow could be too late to halt fighting in Mariupol: UN That discussion will look at battlefield updates from the ground, additional security assistance for Ukraine and longer-term defense needs in Europe, including how to step up military production to fill gaps caused by the war in Ukraine, officials said. More than 20 nations are expected to send representatives to the meeting. The Ukrainian officials participating were Zelenskyy, Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Defense Minister Olexiy Reznikov, Ambassador Oskana Markarova, presidential administration head Andriy Yermak, chief of defense Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and Andrii Sybiya of Zelenskyy’s office. Representing the United States in addition to Blinken and Austin were State Department deputy chief of staff Tom Sullivan, senior military assistant Lt. Gen. Randy George and Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper.
Nearly two months of intense and escalating hostilities in Ukraine continue to have horrific repercussions for civilians and caused a grave humanitarian crisis. "At least 15.7 million people in Ukraine are now in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Over 5 million people fled Ukraine to seek safety in other countries and another 7.1 million have been internally displaced across the country," Assistant Secretary-General Amin Awad, UN crisis coordinator for Ukraine, said Thursday. "This represents more than 25 percent of the entire population of Ukraine." Since the war started, civilian infrastructure has taken a huge hit with more than 136 health facilities and an average of 22 schools a day coming under attack. Moreover, damaged water systems have left 6 million people without regular access. Read: Ukraine: Missile attack kills 5 in Odesa Amin said the treatment of war prisoners is "deeply disturbing" and the fate of civilians in Mariupol remains unknown. Meanwhile, people living in occupied Kherson are short on food and medicines; Mykolaiv has been without water for seven days; and the devastation of urban centres and civilian infrastructure across the regions – especially in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Kyiv and Chernihiv – have disrupted critical services for millions, including water and health care. Also, humanitarians are facing tremendous challenges that are often preventing them from delivering assistance to areas where people are in desperate need. Over 12 million people who have been displaced are now returning home, Amin said. To aid organisations, the UN humanitarian office, OCHA, released an additional $50 million on top of the $158 million already provided for life-saving operations, Osnat Lubrani, humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, said. Amid mounting allegations of rape, she said part of the money would be directed to prevent any form of gender-based violence and to support survivors. "Thanks to the timely support of our donors, these funds will allow us to reach millions of people – mainly in the most affected areas in the east of the country – with the support they need to survive and face probably one of the biggest challenges of their lives," Osnat said. Read: Many flights canceled at Amsterdam's airport due to strike "Aid workers from local and international NGOs and UN agencies have worked day and night to scale up our response to assist more than 3.3 million people. This is alongside the incredible work done by volunteers across the country," she added. Despite these critical efforts and invaluable assistance, much more is required to meet the growing needs of Ukrainians. "It is remarkable how the humanitarian community here managed, in a few weeks, to expand from delivering assistance in two areas of eastern Ukraine to now operating across all 24 oblasts," Osnat said. "However, we are still not able or have been prevented from reaching areas where people are in dire need of assistance, including Mariupol and Kherson."
Eight weeks into the war, the Biden administration’s decision to dramatically ramp up delivery of artillery guns to Ukraine signals a deepening American commitment at a pivotal stage of fighting for the country’s industrial heartland. It also brings into stark relief Moscow’s warning that continued U.S. military aid to Ukraine would have “unpredictable” consequences, suggesting that Russia sees the international wave of weaponry as a growing obstacle to its invasion as well as a Western provocation. “We’re in a critical window” of time now, President Joe Biden said Thursday in announcing he had approved an additional $800 million in battlefield aid that includes 72 of the U.S. Army’s 155mm howitzers, along with 144,000 artillery rounds and more than 120 armed drones that will require training for Ukrainian operators. This brings to $3.4 billion the amount of security assistance provided since Russia began its invasion Feb. 24. That is an extraordinary total of U.S. military aid for a country to which the United States has no defense treaty obligation. WHY IS ARTILLERY SO IMPORTANT NOW? Heavy weapons such as artillery are shaping up as a key feature of the unfolding battle for Ukraine’s eastern region known as the Donbas. The relatively flat terrain is suited for what the military calls maneuver warfare — the movement of tanks and other ground forces backed by long-range guns like the 155mm howitzer. The Russians have been deploying their own additional artillery to the Donbas region in recent days, along with more ground troops and other material to support and sustain what could be a long fight for terrain in Ukraine’s industrial heartland. Read: Britain, India call for immediate cease-fire in Ukraine The howitzers the U.S. is sending to Ukraine will be the latest American model, known as the M777, used by the Army and the Marine Corps. Smaller and more maneuverable than the older model, the M777 can be deployed on the battlefield by heavy-lift helicopters and moved relatively quickly between positions by seven-ton trucks that also are being provided by the Pentagon. “What makes it important is the kind of fighting that we expect in the Donbas. Because of the terrain, because it’s open, because it’s flat, because it’s not as urban, we can expect the Russians to rely on long-range fires — artillery in particular,” said John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. “So we know that this is going to be part of the Russians’ playbook.” A senior U.S. defense official said the first of the 72 howitzers are expected to begin moving to Europe by this weekend. Of 18 other 155mm howitzers that Biden approved last week for shipment to Ukraine, an unspecified number already are in Europe, and U.S. howitzer training for Ukrainian personnel began Wednesday in an undisclosed country outside of Ukraine. WILL THIS BE ENOUGH TO HOLD OFF THE RUSSIAN OFFENSIVE? Probably not, and Biden said he already has asked the Pentagon to get to work on additional potential military assistance. Biden said this phase of Russia’s invasion will be “more limited in terms of geography but not in terms of brutality.” He also acknowledged that he needs Congress to approve the funds necessary to continue providing key weapons to Ukraine beyond the latest $800 million package, which he said would ensure a steady flow of arms only for the next few weeks. U.S. officials say the Russians are trying to adjust their approach in Ukraine after early setbacks, suggesting the fight could be a long one. Read: Satellite photos show possible mass graves near Mariupol After failing to take Kyiv, the capital, in the early weeks of its multipronged invasion, Russia has since narrowed its objectives by focusing on the Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014, and on a stretch of coastal territory along the Sea of Azov from Mariupol to the Crimean Peninsula. One Russian advantage is this region’s proximity to Russian territory, which allows for shorter supply lines than earlier battles in Ukraine’s north. WHAT ELSE IS THE U.S. PROVIDING? In addition to the 72 howitzers and the vehicles required to move them around the battlefield, the new weapons package for Ukraine includes artillery rounds and armed drones from U.S. Air Force stocks. Still in the pipeline from a separate $800 million weapons package announced only last week is a wide range of articles, including radars used to enable the targeting of Russian artillery, as well as air surveillance radars and unmanned coastal drone vessels. “Artillery and drones are the exact things Ukraine will need as Russia heads into its next campaign in the East and South,” said Mark Montgomery, a retired Navy rear admiral who previously served with U.S. European Command in helping improve U.S.-Ukrainian military relations. Montgomery is now an analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The drone included in the latest package is called the Phoenix Ghost, made by a U.S. company, Aevex Aerospace, which bills itself as a leader in “full-spectrum airborne intelligence solutions.” Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, declined to describe the drone’s capabilities beyond saying that it is used “largely but not exclusively to attack targets.” It also has onboard cameras. Kirby said the drones are especially well suited for the terrain on which the Ukrainians are fighting in the Donbas.
Russia assaulted cities and towns along a boomerang-shaped front hundreds of miles long and poured more troops into Ukraine on Tuesday in a potentially pivotal battle for control of the country’s eastern industrial heartland of coal mines and factories. If successful, the Russian offensive in what is known as the Donbas would essentially slice Ukraine in two and give President Vladimir Putin a badly needed victory following the failed attempt by Moscow’s forces to storm the capital, Kyiv, and heavier-than-expected casualties nearly two months into the war. The eastern cities of Kharkiv and Kramatorsk came under deadly attack. Russia also said it struck areas around Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro west of the Donbas with missiles. Multiple explosions were heard early Wednesday in the southern city of Mykolaiv, the regional governor said. A hospital was reported shelled earlier in the nearby town of Bashtanka. In Mariupol, the now-devastated port city in the Donbas, Ukrainian troops said the Russian military dropped heavy bombs to flatten what was left of a sprawling steel plant and hit a hospital where hundreds were staying. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Moscow’s forces bombarded numerous Ukrainian military sites, including troop concentrations and missile-warhead storage depots, in or near several cities or villages. Those claims could not be independently verified. In what both sides described as a new phase of the war, the Russian assault began Monday along a front stretching more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) from northeastern Ukraine to the country’s southeast. Ukraine’s military said Russian forces tried to “break through our defenses along nearly the entire front line.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Russian military was throwing everything it has into the battle, with most of its combat-ready forces now concentrated in Ukraine and just across the border in Russia. “They have driven almost everyone and everything that is capable of fighting us against Ukraine,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation. Read: Russia launches fight for industrial heartland, Ukraine says Despite Russian claims of hitting only military sites, they continue to target residential areas and kill civilians, he said. “The Russian army in this war is writing itself into world history forever as the most barbaric and inhuman army in the world,” Zelenskyy said. Weeks ago, after the abortive Russian push to take Kyiv, the Kremlin declared that its main goal was the capture of the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years. A Russian victory in the Donbas would deprive Ukraine of the industrial assets concentrated there, including mines, metals plants and heavy-equipment factories. A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessments of the war, said the Russians had added two more combat units, known as battalion tactical groups, in Ukraine over the preceding 24 hours. That brought the total number of units in the country to 78, all of them in the south and the east, up from 65 last week, the official said. That would translate to about 55,000 to 62,000 troops, based on what the Pentagon said at the start of the war was the typical unit strength of 700 to 800 soldiers. But accurately determining Russia’s fighting capacity at this stage is difficult. A European official, likewise speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said Russia also has 10,000 to 20,000 foreign fighters in the Donbas. They are a mix of mercenaries from Russia’s private Wagner Group and Russian proxy fighters from Syria and Libya, according to the official. While Ukraine portrayed the attacks on Monday as the start of the long-feared offensive in the east, some observers noted that an escalation has been underway there for some time and questioned whether this was truly the start of a new offensive. The U.S. official said the offensive in the Donbas has begun in a limited way, mainly in an area southwest of the city of Donetsk and south of Izyum. Justin Crump, a former British tank commander now with the strategic advisory company Sibylline, said the Ukrainian comments could, in part, be an attempt to persuade allies to send more weapons. “What they’re trying to do by positioning this, I think, is ... focus people’s minds and effort by saying, ‘Look, the conflict has begun in the Donbas,’” Crump said. “That partly puts pressure on NATO and EU suppliers to say, ‘Guys, we’re starting to fight now. We need this now.’” President Joe Biden is expected to announce a new weapons package in the coming days that will include additional artillery and ammunition, according to a U.S. official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said his country will send heavy artillery to Ukraine. And Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Zelensky that the Netherlands will send more heavy weapons, including armored vehicles. Western arms have played a key role in enabling the outgunned Ukrainians to hold off the Russians. Read: Zelenskyy: Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine has begun Associated Press journalists in Kharkiv said at least four people were killed and three wounded in a Russian attack on a residential area of the city. The attack occurred as residents attempted to maintain a sense of normalcy, with municipal workers planting spring flowers in public areas. An explosion also rocked Kramatorsk, killing at least one person and wounding three, according to AP journalists at the scene. In Bashtanka, an unspecified number of people were wounded when Russian forces shelled the hospital, destroying the reception area and the dialysis unit, the head of the regional council, Hanna Zamazeeva, said on Facebook. Bashtanka is about 70 kilometers (40 miles) north of Mykolaiv. Eyewitness accounts and reports from officials have given a broad picture of the extent of the Russian advance. But independent reporting in the parts of the Donbas held by Russian forces and separatists is severely limited, making it difficult to know what is happening in many places on the ground. Military experts said the Russians’ goal is to encircle Ukrainian troops from the north, south and east. Key to the campaign is the capture of Mariupol, which would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, seized from Ukraine in 2014. It would also free up Russian troops to move elsewhere in the Donbas. A few thousand Ukrainian troops, by the Russians’ estimate, remained holed up in a sprawling Mariupol steel plant, representing what was believed to be the last major pocket of resistance in the city. Russia issued a new ultimatum to the Ukrainian defenders to surrender Wednesday after a previous ultimatum was ignored. The Russian Defense Ministry said those who surrender will be allowed to live and given medical treatment. There was no immediate response from the Ukrainian troops, but they have repeatedly vowed not to give up. Instead, the deputy commander of the Azov regiment, who was among the troops remaining in Mariupol, said the Russian military dropped heavy bombs on the steel plant and hit an “improvised” hospital. “We are pulling people out from under the rubble,” Sviatoslav Palamar told Radio Liberty. Serhiy Taruta, the former governor of the Donetsk region and a Mariupol native, also reported the bombing of the hospital, where he said 300 people, including wounded troops and civilians with children, were sheltered. The reports could not be independently confirmed. Zelenskyy said the Kremlin has not responded to a proposal to exchange Viktor Medvedchuk, the jailed leader of a pro-Russia party, for the Mariupol defenders.
After days of regrouping and reinforcing, the Russian military began a new and potentially climactic phase of the war in Ukraine by launching its long-feared, full-scale ground offensive to take control of the country’s industrial heartland, the Donbas, Ukrainian officials said. The stepped-up assaults began Monday along a broad front of over 300 miles (480 kilometers), Ukrainian officials said. “The Russian troops have begun the battle for the Donbas,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced in a video address. He said a “significant part of the entire Russian army is now concentrated on this offensive.” Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years in the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas and have declared two independent republics that have been recognized by Russia. Russia has declared the capture of the Donbas to be its main goal in the war since its attempt to seize the capital, Kyiv, failed. “No matter how many Russian troops are driven there, we will fight,” Zelenskyy vowed. “We will defend ourselves.” Before the offensive got underway, Russia bombarded the western city of Lviv and other targets in what appeared to be an intensified bid to grind down the country’s defenses. Read: Zelenskyy: Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine has begun The Ukraine military’s general staff said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces had intensified assaults in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions — both part of the Donbas — and in the area of Zaporizhzhia. On Monday morning, “almost along the whole front line of the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions, the occupiers attempted to break through our defenses,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, told Ukrainian media. “Fortunately, our military is holding out. They passed through only two cities. This is Kreminna and another small town.” There were street battles in Kreminna, and Russian forces took control of the city, according to Luhansk regional military administrator Serhiy Haidai. He told Ukrainian TV that heavy artillery fire set seven residential buildings on fire and targeted a sports complex where the nation’s Olympic team trains. Haidai said that before advancing, Russian forces “just started leveling everything to the ground.” He said his forces retreated to regroup and keep fighting. Meanwhile, in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard that was holding out against Russian forces, said in a video message that Russia had begun dropping bunker-buster bombs on the Azovstal steel plant where the regiment was holed up. The sprawling plant contains a warren of tunnels where both fighters and civilians are sheltering. It is believed to be the last major pocket of resistance in the shattered city. In Lviv, a city close to the Polish border that has seen only sporadic attacks during almost two months of war, at least seven people were reported killed in missile strikes. Lviv has been a haven for civilians fleeing the fighting elsewhere. And to the Kremlin’s increasing anger, it has also become a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons. The attack on Lviv hit three military infrastructure facilities and an auto shop, according to the region’s governor, Maksym Kozytskyy. He said the wounded included a child. A hotel sheltering Ukrainians who had fled the fighting in other parts of the country was also badly damaged, Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said. “The nightmare of war has caught up with us even in Lviv,” said Lyudmila Turchak, who fled with two children from the eastern city of Kharkiv. The biggest city in western Ukraine and a major transportation hub, Lviv is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Poland, a NATO member. Read: Ukrainian officials: Russian strikes kill at least 7 in Lviv Russia has complained about the increasing flow of Western weapons to Ukraine and warned that such aid could have consequences. On Russian state media, some anchors have charged that the supplies amount to direct Western engagement in the fight against Russia. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, was hit by shelling that killed at least three people, according to Associated Press journalists on the scene. One of the dead was a woman who appeared to be going out to collect water in the rain. She was found with a water canister and an umbrella by her side. Moscow said its missiles struck military targets in eastern and central Ukraine including ammunition depots, command headquarters, and groups of troops and vehicles. It reported that its artillery hit hundreds of Ukrainian targets, and that warplanes conducted 108 strikes on troops and military equipment. The claims could not be independently verified. Gen. Richard Dannatt, a former head of the British Army, told Sky News that Russia was waging a “softening-up” campaign ahead of the Donbas offensive. A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessments of the war, said there are now 76 Russian combat units, known as battalion tactical groups, in eastern and southern Ukraine, up from 65 last week. That could translate to around 50,000 to 60,000 troops, based on what the Pentagon said at the start of the war was the typical unit strength of 700 to 800 soldiers. The capture of Mariupol is seen as key. If Russian forces succeed in taking full control of the city, that could free up nearly a dozen battalion tactical groups for use elsewhere in the Donbas, the U.S. defense official said. It also would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, and complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, seized from Ukraine from 2014.
Multiple explosions apparently caused by missiles struck the western Ukrainian city of Lviv early Monday as the country was bracing for an all-out Russian assault in the east. At least six people were killed in the city, which has been spared much of the worst violence in almost two months of war. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to “fight absolutely to the end” in strategically vital Mariupol, meanwhile, where the ruined southeastern port city’s last known pocket of resistance was holed up in a sprawling steel plant laced with tunnels. Plumes of thick, black smoke were rising over Lviv after the explosions, which were witnessed by Associated Press staff. Lviv and the rest of western Ukraine have not been immune but have been less affected by the fighting than other parts of the country and have been considered a relative haven. Lviv’s regional governor, Maksym Kozytskyy, said six people were killed and another eight, including a child, were wounded by four Russian missile strikes. He said three hit military infrastructure facilities and one struck a tire shop. He said emergency teams were putting out fires caused by the strikes. Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi put the toll at six dead and 11 wounded, including one child. Read: Missiles cause multiple blasts in western Ukrainian's Lviv Military analysts say Russia is increasing its strikes on weapons factories, railways and other infrastructure targets across Ukraine to wear down the country’s ability to resist a major ground offensive in the Donbas, Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern industrial heartland. With missiles and rockets battering various parts of the country, Zelenskyy accused Russian soldiers of torture and kidnappings in areas they control. The fall of Mariupol, which has been reduced to rubble in a seven-week siege, would give Moscow its biggest victory of the war. But a few thousand fighters, by Russia’s estimate, were holding on to the giant, 11-square-kilometer (4-square-mile) Azovstal steel mill. “We will fight absolutely to the end, to the win, in this war,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal vowed Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” He said Ukraine is prepared to end the war through diplomacy if possible, “but we do not have intention to surrender.” Many Mariupol civilians, including children, are also sheltering at the Azovstal plant, Mikhail Vershinin, head of the city’s patrol police, told Mariupol television. He said they are hiding from Russian shelling and from Russian soldiers. Capturing the city on the Sea of Azov would free Russian troops for a new offensive to take control of the Donbas region in Ukraine’s industrial east. Russia also would fully secure a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and it would deprive Ukraine of a major port and prized industrial assets. Read: `No surrender’: Ukrainians fight on in Mariupol steel plant Russia is bent on capturing the Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists already control some territory, after its attempt to take the capital, Kyiv, failed. “We are doing everything to ensure the defense” of eastern Ukraine, Zelenskyy said in his nightly address to the nation. As for besieged Mariupol, there appeared to be little hope of military rescue. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the remaining Ukrainian troops and civilians there are basically encircled. He said they “continue their struggle,” but that the city effectively doesn’t exist anymore because of massive destruction. The relentless bombardment and street fighting in Mariupol have killed at least 21,000 people, by Ukrainian estimates. A maternity hospital was hit by a lethal Russian airstrike in the opening weeks of the war, and about 300 people were reported killed in the bombing of a theater where civilians had taken shelter. An estimated 100,000 people remained in the city out of a prewar population of 450,000, trapped without food, water, heat or electricity. Drone footage carried by the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti showed mile after mile of shattered buildings and, on the city’s outskirts, the steel complex, from which rose towering plumes of smoke. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar described Mariupol as a “shield defending Ukraine.” Russian forces, meanwhile, carried out aerial attacks near Kyiv and elsewhere in an apparent effort to weaken Ukraine’s military capacity ahead of the anticipated assault on the Donbas. Read: Riots in Sweden against far-right group leave 3 injured After the humiliating sinking of the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet last week in what the Ukrainians boasted was a missile attack, the Kremlin had vowed to step up strikes on the capital. Russia said Sunday that it had attacked an ammunition plant near Kyiv overnight with precision-guided missiles, the third such strike in as many days. Explosions were also reported in Kramatorsk, the eastern city where rockets earlier this month killed at least 57 people at a train station crowded with civilians trying to evacuate ahead of the Russian offensive. At least five people were killed by Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, on Sunday, regional officials said. The barrage slammed into apartment buildings. The streets were littered with broken glass and other debris. Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov, in an impassioned address marking Orthodox Palm Sunday, lashed out at Russian forces for not letting up the bombing campaign on such a sacred day. Zelenskyy called the bombing in Kharkiv “nothing but deliberate terror.” Zelenskyy also appealed for a stronger response to what he said was the brutality of Russian troops in parts of southern Ukraine. “Torture chambers are built there,” he said. “They abduct representatives of local governments and anyone deemed visible to local communities.” He again urged the world to send more weapons and apply tougher sanctions against Moscow. Malyar, the Ukrainian deputy defense minister, said the Russians were pounding Mariupol with airstrikes and could be preparing for an amphibious landing to reinforce their ground troops. The looming offensive in the east, if successful, would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a badly needed victory to sell to the Russian people amid the war’s mounting casualties and the economic hardship caused by Western sanctions. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer — who met with Putin in Moscow this past week in a first by a European leader since the invasion Feb. 24 — said the Russian president is “in his own war logic” on Ukraine. In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Nehammer said he thinks Putin believes he is winning the war, and “we have to look in his eyes and we have to confront him with that, what we see in Ukraine.”
Russian forces resumed scattered attacks on Kyiv, western Ukraine and beyond Saturday in an explosive reminder to Ukrainians and their Western supporters that the whole country remains under threat despite Russia’s pivot toward mounting a new offensive in the east. Stung by the loss of its Black Sea flagship and indignant over alleged Ukrainian aggression on Russian territory, Russia’s military command had warned a day earlier of renewed missile strikes on Ukraine’s capital. Officials in Moscow said they were targeting military sites. But the toll of war reaches much deeper. Each day brings new discoveries of civilian victims of a war that has shattered European security and plunged East-West relations to new lows. In the Kyiv region alone, Ukrainian authorities have reported finding the bodies of more than 900 civilians, most shot dead, since Russian troops retreated two weeks ago. Russia’s preparations for the anticipated eastern offensive are producing more victims, A mother wept over her 15-year-old son’s body in the partially blockaded city of Kharkiv, where shelling increased this week. Nine civilians died and more than 50 people were wounded on Friday, the president’s office reported. An explosion believed to be caused by a missile struck Saturday near an outdoor market in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, according to firefighters and AP journalists at the scene. One person was killed, and at least 18 people were wounded, according to rescue workers. In the capital, smoke rose early Saturday from eastern Kyiv as Mayor Vitali Klitschko reported a strike on the the city’s Darnytski district. One person was killed and several more were wounded, he said. The mayor advised residents who fled the city earlier in the war not to return for their safety. “Our air defense forces are doing everything they can to protect us, but the enemy is insidious and ruthless,” Klitschko said. Read: 30,000 Ukrainians returning home every day: UN It was not immediately clear from the ground what was hit in the attack. Darnytskyi is a sprawling district on the southeastern edge of the capital, containing a mixture of Soviet-style apartment blocks, newer shopping centers and big-box retail outlets, industrial areas and railyards. Earlier this week the Russian military said it would carry out strikes on Kyiv, and Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Saturday an armored vehicle plant in the Ukrainian capital was targeted. He didn’t specify where the plant is located, but there is one in the Darnytskyi district. He said it was among multiple Ukrainian military sites hit with “air-launched high-precision long-range weapons.” As the U.S. and Europe send new arms to Ukraine, the strategy could be aimed at hobbling Ukraine’s defenses ahead of what’s expected to be a full-scale Russian assault in the east. It was the second strike in the Kyiv area in two days. Another hit a missile plant on Friday as tentative signs of prewar life began to resurface in the capital after Russian troops failed to capture the city and withdrew to concentrate on lauching a full-scale assault in eastern Ukraine. Kyiv was not the only target far from the eastern front Saturday. The governor of the Lviv region in western Ukraine – an area long seen as a safe zone – reported airstrikes on the region by Russian Su-35 aircraft that took off from neighboring Belarus. Gov. Maksym Kozytskyy didn’t provide details about possible casualties or damage.
This is not where Nadiya Trubchaninova thought she would find herself at 70 years of age, hitchhiking daily from her village to the shattered town of Bucha trying to bring her son’s body home for burial. The questions wear her down, heavy like the winter coat and boots she still wears against the chill. Why had Vadym gone to Bucha, where the Russians were so much harsher than the ones occupying their village? Who shot him as he drove on Yablunska Street, where so many bodies were found? And why did she lose her son just one day before the Russians withdrew? Now 48-year-old Vadym is in a black bag in a refrigerated truck. After word reached her that he had been found and buried by strangers in a yard in Bucha, she has spent more than a week trying to bring him home for a proper grave. But he is one body among hundreds, part of an investigation into war crimes that has grown to global significance. Read: 30,000 Ukrainians returning home every day: UN Trubchaninova is among the many elderly people left behind or who chose to stay as millions of Ukrainians fled across borders or to other parts of the country. They were the first to be seen on empty streets after the Russians withdrew from communities around the capital, Kyiv, peering from wooden gates or carrying bags of donated food back to freezing homes. Some, like Trubchaninova, survived the worst of the war only to find it had taken their children. She last saw her son on March 30. She thought he was taking a walk as part of his long recovery from a stroke. “It would be crazy to go farther,” she said. She wonders whether he went driving to search for a cellphone connection to call his own son and wish him happy birthday. She wonders whether Vadym thought the Russians in Bucha were like those occupying their village, who told them they wouldn’t be harmed if they didn’t fight back.
Vladimir Putin vowed Tuesday that Russia’s bloody offensive in Ukraine would continue until its goals are fulfilled and insisted the campaign was going as planned, despite a major withdrawal in the face of stiff Ukrainian opposition and significant losses. Russian troops, thwarted in their push toward Ukraine’s capital, are now focusing on the eastern Donbas region, where Ukraine said Tuesday it was investigating a claim that a poisonous substance had been dropped on its troops. It was not clear what the substance might be, but Western officials warned that any use of chemical weapons by Russia would be a serious escalation of the already devastating war. Russia invaded on Feb. 24, with the goal, according to Western officials, of taking Kyiv, the capital, toppling the government and installing a Moscow-friendly regime. In the six weeks since, the ground advance stalled and Russian forces lost potentially thousands of fighters and were accused of killing civilians and other atrocities. Putin insisted Tuesday that his invasion aimed to protect people in parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed rebels and to “ensure Russia’s own security.” He said Russia “had no other choice” but to launch what he calls a “special military operation,” and vowed it would “continue until its full completion and the fulfillment of the tasks that have been set.” For now, Putin’s forces are gearing up for a major offensive in the Donbas, which has been torn by fighting between Russian-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces since 2014, and where Russia has recognized the separatists’ claims of independence. Military strategists say Moscow appears to hope that local support, logistics and the terrain in the region favor its larger, better-armed military, potentially allowing Russia to finally turn the tide in its favor. Read: ‘It’s not the end’: The children who survived Bucha’s horror In Mariupol, a strategic port city in the Donbas, a Ukrainian regiment defending a steel mill claimed a drone dropped a poisonous substance on the city. It indicated there were no serious injuries. The assertion by the Azov Regiment, a far-right group now part of the Ukrainian military, could not be independently verified. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that while experts try to determine what the substance might be, “The world must react now.” Evidence of “inhuman cruelty” toward women and children in Bucha and other suburbs of Kyiv continued to surface, he added, including of alleged rapes. “Not all serial rapists reach the cruelty of Russian soldiers,” Zelenskyy said. The claims came after a Russia-allied separatist official appeared to urge the use of chemical weapons, telling Russian state TV on Monday that separatist forces should seize the plant by first blocking all the exits. “And then we’ll use chemical troops to smoke them out of there,” the official, Eduard Basurin, said. He denied Tuesday that separatist forces had used chemical weapons in Mariupol. Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said officials were investigating, and it was possible phosphorus munitions — which cause horrendous burns but are not classed as chemical weapons — had been used in Mariupol. Much of the city has been leveled in weeks of pummeling by Russian troops. The mayor said Monday that the siege has left more than 10,000 civilians dead, their bodies “carpeted through the streets.” Mayor Vadym Boychenko said the death toll in Mariupol alone could surpass 20,000. Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak acknowledged the challenges Ukrainian troops face in Mariupol. He said via Twitter that they remain blocked and are having issues with supplies, while Ukraine’s president and generals “do everything possible (and impossible) to find a solution.” “For more than 1.5 months our defenders protect the city from (Russian) troops, which are 10+ times larger,” Podolyak tweeted. “They’re fighting under the bombs for each meter of the city. They make (Russia) pay an exorbitant price.” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the use of chemical weapons “would be a callous escalation in this conflict,” while Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said it would be a “wholesale breach of international law.”