Sunday, April 17, 2022

Attacks Rock Ukrainian Cities, as Mariupol Nears Full Russian Control

At the Washington Post, "The port city’s fate hung in the balance after weeks of bombardment and siege by Russian forces":

MUKACHEVO, Ukraine — Deadly attacks rocked numerous cities and leveled buildings across Ukraine on Saturday, serving as ominous signals of how close destruction remains even in areas where Russian forces have recently pulled out.

Russia moved ever closer to controlling the already devastated port city of Mariupol as its invasion of Ukraine continued into its eighth week. In Russian-occupied Kherson, satellite imagery that showed the digging of hundreds of fresh grave plots held haunting symbolism of the fate of civilians there.

U.S. officials and military experts are expecting that in the next phase of the war, Russian forces will concentrate their might on capturing the eastern region known as Donbas and the southern cities that provide crucial access to the Black Sea and beyond. But the latest barrage demonstrated that Russia is still capable of wreaking destruction well beyond where its forces are situated or have recently vacated, such as the capital of Kyiv and its suburbs.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who met with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, said in an interview to air on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Putin “believes he is winning” the war.

“We have to look him in his eyes and we have to confront him with what we see in Ukraine,” Nehammer said, according to a transcript of the interview.

One person was killed as a result of a rocket strike near Kyiv, and several injured were taken to a hospital in the capital, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Saturday. The mayor urged residents of Kyiv who are away from the city not to return at present but to “stay in safer places.”

Blasts were also reported outside Kyiv on Friday. Russia said in a statement on Friday that its forces fired missiles at a suburban factory that produces Ukrainian weapons, in retaliation for what it claimed were attempted Ukrainian assaults on border towns inside Russia.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said a military plant was destroyed in the Kyiv attack, one of 16 targets hit in cities including Odessa, Poltava and Mykolaiv. The ministry claimed a repair shop for military equipment in Mykolaiv was destroyed.

In Lviv, an air raid lasting more than an hour was carried out by Russian Su-35 planes, the country’s more advanced fighter jets, according to regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy. Four guided missiles were destroyed by antiaircraft defenses, he added.

In Ukraine’s northeast, one person was killed and 18 were injured after a rocket strike in Kharkiv on Saturday, according to the provincial governor. Images captured after the attack showed Ukrainian servicemen walking amid the rubble, firefighters trying to extinguish multiple fires, and emergency workers treating an injured woman.

The governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Synyehubov, said on the Telegram messaging app that a rocket fired by Russian forces “hit one of the central districts of Kharkiv again” early Saturday. He pleaded with residents to be “extremely careful” at a time when Russian forces “continue to terrorize the civilian population of Kharkiv and the region.”

Russia appeared to be on the verge of capturing the devastated port city of Mariupol, which a regional leader mourned had been “wiped off the face of the earth.” According to a top Russian military official, the only remaining area under Ukrainian forces was the Azovstal steel plant, one of the largest metallurgical factories in Europe.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seemed to acknowledge as much on Saturday. In an address to the nation, a translation of which was posted on an official government website, Zelensky said that “the situation in Mariupol remains as severe as possible. Just inhuman.”

He said that Ukraine had continually sought military and diplomatic solutions since the blockade of Mariupol began, but that finding one had been extremely difficult.

Zelensky added: “Russia is deliberately trying to destroy everyone who is there in Mariupol.” On Saturday, Russia gave a deadline for surrender in Mariupol of 6 a.m. Moscow time on Sunday (11 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday), Russian state news reported.

Zelensky told Ukrainian media outlets that negotiations between Ukraine and Russia could end if Russian forces killed all of the Ukrainians defending the city. He noted that the situation in Mariupol is “very difficult,” acknowledging that “many people have disappeared” from the city. He reiterated that the wounded who remained blocked from leaving Mariupol needed to get out.

Mariupol has been under weeks of heavy bombardment and siege by Russian forces, and analysts are predicting it will be the first major Ukrainian city to fall in the coming days. Control of the Sea of Azov hub is strategically important to the Kremlin because it would connect Russian-annexed Crimea with Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said nine humanitarian corridors were to have been open Saturday, linking urban areas in the country’s south and east to relatively safer areas deeper inland in the north and west.

More than 1,400 people were evacuated through humanitarian corridors on Saturday despite persistent Russian shelling that made it difficult to carry out efforts in various parts of Ukraine, Vereshchuk said.

Those seeking to flee shelling in Mariupol and other cities had to use their own transportation because bad weather is preventing the use of evacuation buses. Parts of the roads leading to Zaporizhzhia, a city farther up the Dnieper River, have been washed out, she said.

Zaporizhzhia received nearly 1,400 people from hard-hit areas of the southeast who traveled in their own vehicles, Vereshchuk said through Telegram.

Advertisement Nearly 70 people were evacuated from the eastern region of Luhansk in the face of Russian shelling. Vereshchuk said the density of shelling prevented the evacuation of people from the eastern city of Lysychansk.

The United Nations has renewed calls for safe passage out of Mariupol, which the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, Martin Griffiths, called “an epicenter of horror.” As many as 100,000 people are believed to still be in the city, which had a population of roughly 450,000 before the war began.

In Kherson, a city that was quickly seized by Russian forces during the first week of the invasion of Ukraine, recent satellite imagery showed that at least 824 grave plots were dug between Feb. 28 and April 15, according to an analysis by the Center for Information Resilience, a London-based nonprofit. The burial site is on the city’s outskirts, just east of the airport.

Advertisement Kherson is about 400 miles south of Kyiv and is home to a port on the Dnieper River close to the Black Sea, making it a strategically important site in the conflict.

Many of Kherson’s 280,000 residents have fled the city since the invasion. But the occupying Russian forces have also faced resistance and civilian protests in the city and appeared to have lost control of part of it late last month, according to the U.S. Defense Department, which said Kherson had become contested territory.

In areas that Russian forces have withdrawn from, a gruesome portrait has emerged of the horrors that residents faced...