Kyiv – Russia has thrown its military might against Ukrainian cities and towns and sent more troops into the war, trying to divide the country in two in a potentially key battle for control of the eastern industrial center of coal mines and factories.
The fighting unfolded along a boomerang-shaped front hundreds of miles long in what is known as Donbass. If he succeeds, it will give President Vladimir Putin victory after a failed attempt by Moscow’s forces to storm the capital, Kyiv, and greater than expected casualties.
In Mariupol, a devastated port city in Donbass, Ukrainian troops said Russian troops dropped heavy bombs to level what was left of a sprawling steel plant – believed to be the last focus of defenders – and hit a hospital. in which hundreds have stayed.
The Ukrainian General Staff said on Wednesday that Russia continues to carry out offensives in various places in the east, while its forces are investigating weaknesses in Ukrainian lines. The General Staff said in a statement that the victory of the latest resistance at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol remains a top priority for Russia.
The eastern cities of Kharkiv and Kramatorsk came under deadly attack. Russia also said it had fired missiles at areas around Zaporizhia and the Dnieper west of Donbass.
A spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said Moscow forces had bombed a number of Ukrainian military sites, including troop concentrations and missile warheads, in or near several towns or villages. These allegations cannot be verified independently.
Both sides described Monday’s attack as a new phase in the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said the Russian military is throwing everything it has into battle, with most of its fighting forces now concentrated in Ukraine and just across the border from Russia.
“They have achieved almost everyone and everything that is capable of fighting us against Ukraine,” he said in his evening video address to the nation.
Despite claims that they are hitting only military targets, the Russians continue to attack residential areas and kill civilians, he said.
“The Russian army in this war is forever recorded in world history as the most barbaric and inhuman army in the world,” Zelensky said.
Weeks ago, after unsuccessful pressure from Russia to take over Kyiv, the Kremlin announced that its main goal was to take over the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbass, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years.
Russia’s victory in Donbass would deprive Ukraine of its concentrated industrial assets, including mines, metallurgical plants and heavy equipment factories.
A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessments of the war, said the Russians had added two more combat units, known as battalion tactical groups, to Ukraine in the previous 24 hours. That brought the country’s total units to 78, all to the south and east, up from 65 last week, the official said.
That would mean 55,000 to 62,000 troops, based on what the Pentagon said at the start of the war was the typical unit strength of 700 to 800 troops. But accurately determining Russia’s combat capability at this stage is difficult.
A European official, who also wished to remain anonymous to discuss military assessments, said Russia also has 10,000 to 20,000 foreign fighters in Donbas. They are a mix of mercenaries from the Russian private group Wagner and Russian proxy fighters from Syria and Libya, according to the official.
As Ukraine presented Monday’s attacks as the start of a long-dangerous offensive in the east, some observers noted that an escalation has been going on there for some time and questioned whether it was really the beginning of a new offensive.
The US official said the offensive in Donbass had begun in a limited way, mainly in the area southwest of Donetsk and south of Izyum.
Justin Crump, a former British tank commander now with the strategic consulting firm Sibylline, said the Ukrainian comments could be partly an attempt to persuade the Allies to send more weapons.
“What they’re trying to do by positioning this, I think, is … focus people’s minds and efforts by saying, ‘Look, the conflict started in Donbass,'” Crump said. “This puts some pressure on NATO and EU suppliers to say, ‘Guys, we’re starting to fight now. We need that now. “
President Joe Biden is expected to announce a new package of weapons in the coming days, which will include additional artillery and ammunition, according to a U.S. official who is not authorized to comment publicly or speak on condition of anonymity.
Canada and the Netherlands also plan to send more heavy weapons, their prime ministers said.
Journalists from the Associated Press in Kharkov reported that at least four people were killed and three were injured in a Russian attack on a residential area of the city.
An explosion also shook Kramatorsk, killing at least one person and injuring three, according to AP journalists at the scene.
An unspecified number of people were injured in the southern town of Bashtanka when Russian forces shelled the hospital, destroying the reception and dialysis wards, regional council chief Hana Zamazeeva said on Facebook.
Eyewitness accounts and official reports give a broad picture of the extent of Russia’s progress. But independent reporting in parts of Donbass held by Russian forces and separatists is severely limited, making it difficult to understand what is happening in many places on the ground.
Military experts say the Russians aim to encircle Ukrainian troops from the north, south and east.
The key to the campaign is the capture of Mariupol, which will deprive Ukraine of a vital port and complete the land bridge between Russia and the Crimean peninsula taken from Ukraine in 2014. This would also free Russian troops to move elsewhere to Donbass.
Several thousand Ukrainian soldiers, according to Russians, remained hidden in the sprawling steel mine in Mariupol, representing what was considered the last big pocket of resistance in the city.
Russia issued a new ultimatum to Ukrainian defenders to surrender on Wednesday after the previous ultimatum was ignored. Russia’s Defense Ministry has said those who surrender will be allowed to live and receive medical treatment. There was no immediate response from Ukrainian troops, but they have repeatedly promised not to give up.
The deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, who was among the troops remaining in Mariupol, said the Russian military had dropped heavy bombs on the steel plant and hit an “improvised” hospital.
Sergei Taruta, a former governor of the Donetsk region and a resident of Mariupol, also reported the bombing of the hospital, which he said housed 300 people, including wounded soldiers and civilians with children.
The reports could not be confirmed independently.
Zelenski said the Kremlin had not responded to a proposal to exchange Viktor Medvedchuk, a jailed pro-Russian party leader, for defenders of Mariupol.
Associated Press journalists Mstislav Chernov and Felipe Dana in Kharkiv; Yesica Fisch in Kramatorsk, Ukraine; Danica Kirk in London; and Robert Burns and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report, as did other PA officials around the world.
Follow the coverage of the war by the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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Russia is hitting Ukrainian cities, pouring more troops into the war
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