Russian forces advanced in their assault on Ukraine on Monday, attempting to capture the key southern port city of Mariupol, as Moscow prepared to celebrate national victory day.
Determined to show some success in a war now in its 11th week, Russian forces have targeted a sprawling seaside steel mill that was producing an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters what appeared to be their last stand to save Mariupol from falling.
The mill is the only part of the city not taken by the invaders, and its defeat would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it captured from Ukraine in 2014.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that the intensification of attacks could be linked to Victory Day, which marks Russia’s greatest triumph over Nazi Germany in 1945. Russian President Vladimir Putin may wish to herald a victory in Ukraine when addressing troops parading in Red Square.
“They have nothing to celebrate,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN about the Russians. “They failed to defeat the Ukrainians. They failed to divide the world or NATO. And they have only succeeded in isolating themselves internationally and becoming a pariah state around the globe.”
On Monday at a military parade to mark the holiday, Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to justify his invasion by claiming it was necessary to repel what he described as “a totally unacceptable threat right next to our borders”. He has repeatedly claimed that Ukraine is planning an attack on Russia – which Kyiv flatly denies.
“The danger grew day by day,” he claimed, adding that “Russia pre-emptively repelled an aggression.”
Putin again berated the West for disregarding Russian demands for security guarantees and a rollback to NATO enlargement, arguing that Moscow also had no choice but to invade.
But he has — at least so far — given no signal for the next phase of the conflict, nor has he called for the full capture of Mariupol, which his forces have been bombing and besieging for weeks.
Ukrainian fighters at the steel mill have refused deadlines set by the Russians for laying down their arms, even as attacks by fighter jets, artillery and tanks continued.
“We’re under constant fire,” said Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, a unit that holds the steelworks.
Lt. Ilya Samoilenko, another member of the Azov regiment, said there were a few hundred wounded soldiers at the factory but declined to reveal the number of combatants fit for combat. He said the militants had no life-saving equipment and had to dig by hand to extricate people from bunkers that collapsed under the shelling.
“Surrender is unacceptable for us because we cannot give the enemy such a gift,” Samoilenko said.
Drone footage from Mariupol, Ukraine, shows a destroyed apartment building.
The last of the civilians taking shelter with fighters at the facility were evacuated on Saturday. They arrived in Zaporizhzhia, the first major Ukrainian city across the front lines, on Sunday night, and spoke of constant shelling, dwindling food, pervasive mold – and the use of hand sanitizer to fuel cooking.
The British Ministry of Defense warned in a daily intelligence report on Twitter that Russia is running out of precision-guided munitions and is increasingly using inaccurate missiles and bombs, exposing Ukrainian cities to “intense and indiscriminate bombardment with little or no regard for civilian casualties. ”
Elsewhere in Ukraine, more than 60 people were feared dead after a Russian bomb leveled a school in the eastern village of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian officials said.
Authorities said about 90 people took shelter in the school’s basement when it was attacked on Saturday. Rescuers found two bodies and rescued 30 people, but “most likely all 60 people who remained under the rubble are now dead,” Luhansk province governor Serhiy Haidai wrote in the Telegram messaging app.
Russian shelling also killed two boys, ages 11 and 14, in the nearby town of Pryvillia, Haidai said. Luhansk is part of the Donbass, the industrial heartland to the east that Russian forces are working to conquer.
On the coast of Ukraine, the explosions once again echoed over the major Black Sea port of Odessa. Ukraine’s military said Moscow is focusing its main efforts on destroying airfield infrastructure in eastern and southern Ukraine.
According to the UN refugee agency, more than five million people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries since the war with Russia began
In a sign of stubborn resistance as fighting continues into the eleventh week, the Ukrainian military has attacked Russian positions on a Black Sea island captured in the first days of the war. A satellite image from Planet Labs showed smoke billowing from two locations on the island.
But Moscow’s forces showed no sign of backing down in the south. Satellite photos show that Russia has deployed armored vehicles and missile systems at a small base on the Crimean peninsula.
The most intense fighting in recent days has taken place in eastern Ukraine. A Ukrainian counteroffensive in the northeast near Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, is making “significant progress,” according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank.
However, the Ukrainian army was withdrawing from the embattled eastern town of Popasna, regional authorities said.
Rodion Miroshnik, a representative of the pro-Kremlin separatist Luhansk People’s Republic, said its armed forces and Russian troops had captured most of Popasna after two months of fierce fighting.
Kharkiv regional administration said three people were killed in shelling in the town of Bogodukhiv, some 50 kilometers from Kharkiv.
South of Kharkiv in Dnepropetrovsk province, the governor said a 12-year-old boy was killed by a cluster munition he found after a Russian attack. An international agreement prohibits the use of such explosives, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have signed the agreement.
“This war is treacherous,” Governor Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on social media. “It is near, even if it is invisible.”
President Biden said his request for an additional $33 billion in military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine reflected the importance of the mission. What else does it tell us about the future? NBCLX storyteller Clark Fouraker spoke with Arik Burakovsky of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy to put the request into perspective.
As Victory Day drew near and the spotlight shifted to Putin, Western leaders showed new signs of support for Ukraine.
The Group of Seven Industrial Democracies pledged to ban or phase out imports of Russian oil. The G-7 consists of the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Japan.
The United States also announced new sanctions against Russia, cutting off Western advertising from Russia’s three largest television networks, banning US accounting and consulting firms from providing services, and severing Russia’s industrial sector from wood products, industrial engines, boilers and bulldozers.
US First Lady Jill Biden has met with her Ukrainian counterpart. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hoisted his country’s flag at his embassy in Kyiv. And U2’s Bono performed with bandmate The Edge in a Kiev subway station that was used as a bomb shelter and sang the 1960s song “Stand by Me.”
Acting US Ambassador to Ukraine Kristina Kvien posted a picture of herself at the American embassy and described plans for the US’ eventual return to the Ukrainian capital after Moscow forces abandoned efforts to storm Kyiv weeks ago and had focused on conquering Ukraine Donbass.
Zelenskyy published a video address on the day of Allied Victory in Europe 77 years ago and drew parallels between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the evils of Nazism. The black-and-white photos showed Selenskyj in front of a destroyed block of flats in Borodyanka, a suburb of Kyiv.
Zelenskyy said that generations of Ukrainians have understood the meaning of the words “never again,” a phrase often used as a vow not to allow the horrors of the Holocaust to be repeated.
Click here for full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine.
Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, and AP collaborators around the world contributed to this report.
Even before Russia invaded Ukraine, the US had sent military equipment into the country to defend it. Where do these weapons come from? And how do these supplies affect our own military readiness? William Hartung, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, joined NBCLX storyteller Clark Fouraker to explain.
https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/national-international/putin-mark-victory-day-russia-forces-press-ukraine-assault/3232397/ Russia pushes attack on Ukraine as Putin marks Victory Day – NBC10 Philadelphia