Russia stepped up its attacks on numerous fronts in Ukraine on Saturday, pushing deeper into the beleaguered southern port of Mariupol and hitting a suburb of kyiv as well as an area near the main western city of Lviv, as Ukraine endured what many here believe is it is the wrath of Russia. for the sinking of the flagship of its Black Sea fleet.
Several Ukrainian civilians were reported killed, even as Russia appeared to be targeting crucial military sites, including weapons storage depots, to cripple Ukrainian forces ahead of what is expected to be a protracted and even bloodier battle for the eastern part of the country.
What was likely to be a final struggle for control was unfolding in Mariupol, the strategic city that has been the scene of relentless Russian attacks during the seven-week war. Ukrainian authorities deny the city has fallen, but its last defenders appear to be in hiding and growing in numbers amid desperate fighting.
Russia said it had cleared all urban sections of the city and surrounded a huge steel plant where the last remaining soldiers remained, a claim that could not be independently verified.
“The situation is very difficult” in Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in comments published by the Ukrainian website Pravda on Saturday. “Our army is blocked, the wounded are blocked… No food, no water, no medicine. However, the boys are defending the city.”
He reiterated accusations that Russia is forcibly deporting Ukrainians from Mariupol and that Russia refused to allow humanitarian corridors to leave the port city on Saturday.
In eastern Ukraine, Russia pressed ahead with a buildup of troops and military materiel ahead of the looming offensive, as seemingly indiscriminate artillery fire continued to rain down on towns and cities that Ukrainian officials had urged civilians to flee. .
Ukraine has been preparing for the battle in the east for weeks. In recent days, flatbed trucks carrying tanks, as well as convoys of military vehicles, have become more common on the streets of the eastern city of Kramatorsk, many of them heading east toward the industrial region. from Donbas.
Hit hammered targets throughout the east. The Russian military claimed to have destroyed a military repair facility in the Black Sea town of Mykolaiv and to have shot down a Ukrainian plane in the northeastern Kharkiv region.
Nightly shelling in Severodonetsk cut off a central gas pipeline to the eastern city, which is also short of water, the regional governor said on Saturday. Such infrastructure losses have contributed to a dire humanitarian situation in many towns and cities, a key reason why an estimated 1 in 4 Ukrainians find themselves displaced.
Near the western city of Lviv, which has been a relatively safe haven for much of the war, Saturday’s explosions were blamed on an attack originating in the territory of Russia’s ally Belarus, regional governor Maksym said. Kozytskyi, on the Telegram messaging application.
With Russia threatening to intensify attacks in kyiv, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said rescuers and medics had been dispatched to the blast site on the eastern edge of the capital. The Russian Defense Ministry said an attack hit an armored vehicle plant.
After weeks of relative calm in the city, Klitschko called on residents not to ignore the air-raid sirens. The mayor also tried to dissuade those who fled when kyiv was under Russian attack from returning home, especially to suburbs and satellite towns where investigators have uncovered evidence of mass atrocities against civilians during the month of Russian occupation.
The Russians left behind a landscape strewn with mines and booby traps, and Ukrainian authorities have counted at least 900 dead, almost all civilians.
Military casualties also increased. In an interview Saturday with CNN, Zelensky said Ukraine’s combat deaths were outnumbered by losses suffered by Russia. He said that between 2,500 and 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed, while Moscow has lost between 19,000 and 20,000 soldiers.
Russia has not published military casualty counts in weeks. Last month, the Defense Ministry reported that 1,351 soldiers were killed, a figure Western experts at the time called unrealistic. Later, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged “significant” troop losses, which he called “a great tragedy for us.”
Even as Russia continued to deny that Ukrainian missiles were responsible for the sinking of its giant Moskva missile cruiser on Thursday, the Ukrainians rejoiced in another underdog victory, but with the grim expectation that Moscow would seek ultimate revenge.
Named for the Russian capital, Moskva was a source of national pride. Russian officials claimed the ship accidentally caught fire, causing a damaging ammunition explosion, and then sank in stormy seas while being towed to port.
Western military officials, however, back Ukraine’s version of events, saying the ship is believed to have been hit by two Ukrainian-made Neptune missiles. Ukraine says the attack killed the ship’s captain and the fate of much of the 510-member crew remains unknown.
Despite the loss of the ship, Ukrainian military officials said on Saturday that Russian warships in the Black Sea still pose a major threat, with sea-launched missiles likely to be used to attack key weapons plants. They said the Russian navy is also active in the Mariupol siege.
Russia intends to capture the city, which sits on the Sea of Azov, to allow Moscow to create a land corridor between Russian-controlled eastern territories and the Crimean peninsula, which it seized eight years ago.
Mariupol, a bustling metropolis of more than 400,000 people before the war, is now a dilapidated ghost town, the scene of some of the most harrowing suffering of the war. Tens of thousands of civilians have been unable to leave and thousands have died.
In a late-night speech, Zelensky said the Ukrainian forces’ success was “historically significant” but also insufficient. He again called for more heavy weapons from Western allies and said that the countries that really want
to help Ukraine it must turn off the tap on Russian oil, a dramatic step that Europe has been reluctant to take, though it has made some tentative moves toward an oil import ban.
“In general, the democratic world must accept that Russia’s money for energy resources is in fact money for the destruction of democracy,” the president said.
The White House, asked on Friday about reports that Zelensky is pressuring President Biden to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, said the United States is considering a wide range of options to put pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It’s just over three weeks until Victory Day, the May 9 holiday in Russia that marks the then-Soviet Union’s triumph, at terrible cost, over the Nazis. Many analysts believe that Putin is determined to have some military victory in Ukraine to aim for by then, no matter the cost and extent of brutality to achieve it.
After Russia failed to seize kyiv in the first weeks of the war, Putin announced a narrowed goal of “helping” Russian-speakers in the Donbas region, part of which is already in the hands of Russia-backed separatists. Russia. That is interpreted to mean that Russia is aiming to seize the rest of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, which contain several major cities and towns.
There were nine agreed humanitarian corridors available on Saturday from the eastern battle zone, Ukrainian officials said, but the journey is always dangerous and many people are reluctant to leave their homes despite the danger of staying.
In Kramatorsk, a town in Lugansk where a devastating Russian attack on a train station full of would-be evacuees killed around 60 people on April 8, outings have been reduced to a trickle.
On Saturday, only two buses were scheduled to leave the Kramatorsk bus station, and by late morning only a handful of people had arrived to begin the journey west.
Bulos reported from Kramatorsk, King from Warsaw, and Wilkinson from Washington.