ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces ramped up their attack on Ukraine on Monday, attempting to capture the crucial southern port city of Mariupol as Moscow celebrated its Victory Day holiday.
Determined to show some victories in a war now in its 11th week, Russian forces in the port city of Mariupol have destroyed a seaside steelworks where an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian militants are making their last stand.
The mill is the only part of the city that was not taken by the invaders. Its defeat would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s military warned of a high possibility of rocket attacks, saying that Russian forces in the Russian-controlled areas of Zaporizhia – the city where many refugees from Mariupol have gathered – “stole personal documents from the local population without good reason.” confiscate. The military claimed Russian troops seized documents to force residents to attend Victory Day commemorations.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 could prompt another attack.
“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 militants at the port city’s steel plant have refused deadlines imposed by Russia for laying down their arms, even as attacks by warplanes, 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 that there were a few hundred wounded soldiers at the factory. He would not say how many fit fighters were left. Fighters have no life-saving equipment and have to dig by hand to extricate people from bunkers that have collapsed under fire.
“Surrender is unacceptable for us because we cannot give the enemy such a gift,” Samoilenko said.
The last of the civilians who had taken refuge with militants at the plant 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. ”
More than 60 people were feared dead after a Russian bomb destroyed a Ukrainian school used as a shelter in Bilohorivka, an eastern village, Ukrainian officials said.
About 90 people hid 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 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.
Explosions echoed through the major Black Sea port of Odessa.
The Ukrainian military continued its stubborn resistance, attacking Russian positions on a Black Sea island captured in the early 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 Ukrainian military also warned that about 19 tactical groups of Russian battalions were stationed just across the border in Russia’s Belgorod region. These groups probably consist of about 15,200 soldiers with tanks, rocket batteries and other weapons.
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, made “significant progress,” according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank.
However, the Ukrainian army withdrew from the embattled town of Popasna to the east after two months of bitter fighting. Rodion Miroshnik, a representative of the pro-Kremlin separatist Luhansk People’s Republic, said its forces and Russian troops had captured most of the city.
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.”
As Victory Day drew attention to Putin, Western leaders showed fresh 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 announced other new sanctions, 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 had.
Zelenskyy published a video address on the day of the Allied Victory in Europe 77 years ago. The black-and-white photos showed him in front of a destroyed block of flats in Borodyanka, a suburb of Kyiv.
Drawing parallels between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the evils of Nazism, Zelenskyy said generations of Ukrainians understand the meaning of the words “Never Again,” a vow not to allow the horrors of the Holocaust to be repeated.
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