On Saturday, Ukraine hoped to evacuate more civilians from the besieged Mariupol steel plant as Russian forces launched new bombardments across the country ahead of Victory Day celebrations in Moscow.
The Azovstal steel mill is the last holdout of Ukrainian resistance in the devastated port city, and its fate has symbolic significance in the larger battle unleashed by Russia’s invasion.
Despite earlier talk of a truce to allow trapped civilians to flee the complex, Ukraine’s defense minister said Russian forces had resumed their assault on the site.
Vice Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Saturday that rescuers would try to evacuate more civilians.
Ukrainian forces have launched their own counter-offensive.
To slow the Ukrainian advance, Russian forces were forced to demolish three road bridges near Tsyrkuny and Ruski Tyshky outside Kharkiv, according to the defense ministry.
According to British intelligence, Ukrainian forces armed with advanced weaponry provided by Western allies were able to destroy at least one of Russia’s most advanced tanks, the T-90M.
Russia’s campaign in Ukraine has met stiff opposition, prompting Kyiv’s western allies to slap massive economic sanctions on the Russian economy and Putin’s inner circle.
However, as Victory Day approaches, Ukrainian officials fear more intense missile and artillery bombardments, as Moscow seeks symbolic victories.
A missile struck a technical college in Kostiantynivka, in the eastern region of Donetsk, causing a fire and at least two deaths, according to the Ukrainian rescue service.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donetsk region, said there had been “massive bombardments” along the frontline. Strikes were also reported in Ukraine’s north, near Kharkiv, and in the south, near Mikoleyev, a key Russian target.
According to CBS News’ senior foreign affairs correspondent and “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan, a “war of attrition” has begun in Ukraine, with Russian forces making a grinding push using heavy artillery shelling in the country’s south and east, as well as deep strikes further west into Ukraine, in an attempt to disrupt logistical supply lines used by the West. Predicting when Russia’s offensive will end is difficult, according to a European official in Washington.
Long term, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal is to take control of the larger Donbas region, where Ukrainians and Russians have been fighting since 2014, as well as the land bridge connecting mainland Ukraine to Russian-occupied Crimea. However, Russian forces, which are pushing from the east, south, and north of Izium in eastern Ukraine, are not making much progress on the ground, according to a European official.
“The conflict in Ukraine is taking a heavy toll on some of Russia’s most capable units and most advanced capabilities,” according to the United Kingdom Defense Intelligence.
“It will take considerable time and expense for Russia to reconstitute its armed forces following this conflict,” it said, warning that sanctions on advanced components would make Russia’s re-arming more difficult.
Meanwhile, the West is increasing arms deliveries to Ukraine’s defenders.
The total value of US weaponry sent to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began now stands at $3.8 billion.
Biden had urged Congress to approve a $33 billion package, including $20 billion in military aid, in order to “strengthen Ukraine on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.”
On Sunday, the G7 leaders, including Biden, will meet via videoconference with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to discuss Western support for Kyiv.
“There will be no going back in time.”
As civilian evacuations continued, Zelensky said on Friday that “diplomatic options” were being considered to rescue Ukrainian soldiers from the Mariupol steelworks.
According to the Russian defense ministry, 50 people, including 11 children, were evacuated from the site.
They were handed over to the UN and Red Cross, who are assisting in the operation, and the “humanitarian operation” will continue on Saturday, according to the statement.
Around 200 civilians, including children, are believed to be trapped in the tunnels and bunkers beneath Azovstal, alongside Ukrainian soldiers fighting for their lives.
Russia announced a three-day daytime ceasefire at the plant beginning Thursday, but the Ukrainian army said Russian “assault operations” by ground and air had continued.
The Azov battalion of Ukraine, which is leading the defense at Azovstal, said one Ukrainian fighter was killed and six were injured when Russian forces opened fire during an attempt to evacuate people by car.
Since failing to capture Kyiv early in the war, Russia has refocused its offensive on Ukraine’s south and east.
Taking complete control of Mariupol would allow Moscow to build a land bridge connecting the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and separatist, pro-Russian regions in the east.
Separatists in those areas claimed to have removed Ukrainian and English language traffic signs for Mariupol and replaced them with Russian ones.
Locals want proof that “Russia has returned here forever,” according to Denis Pushilin, head of the breakaway region of Donetsk.
In neighboring Lugansk, Ukrainian officials said on Friday that Russian forces had nearly encircled Severodonetsk, Ukraine’s easternmost city, and were attempting to storm it.
Kherson in the south remains Russia’s only significant city captured since the war began.
A senior Russian parliament official visiting the city on Friday also stated that Russia would remain in southern Ukraine “forever.”
“This should go without saying. There will be no going back in time “said Andrey Turchak
As European countries sought to restrict Russian assets abroad, Italian authorities impounded a mega yacht amid speculation that it belonged to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Scheherazade” is estimated to be worth $700 million. Financial investigators were able to “establish significant economic and business links” between the owner and “eminent Russian government figures.”
Researchers at Russian dissident Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation have linked the yacht to Putin.
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