Russian forces appeared to make headway in their slow push toward Kyiv on Saturday, while continuing to pound the capital and other Ukrainian cities with aircraft and artillery assaults.
Air raid sirens were heard across most Ukrainian cities early Saturday morning, urging people to seek shelters in Kyiv, as well as the western city of Lviv, Kharkiv, Cherkasy and the Sumy region in the northeast of the country, local media reported.
The massive 40-mile convoy that had stalled on its way to the capital has begun to spread out around Kyiv, satellite photos show, with forces now within 20 miles of the city’s center from the northeast.
The photos showed howitzers newly set up in firing position, and armored units staged near the Antonov Airport north of the city, according to Maxar Technologies.
Satellite images on Friday appeared to show heavy shelling in the suburbs of Kyiv, as Russia inched closer toward the capital. The images from Maxar Technologies showed impact craters and burning residential buildings as well as muzzle flashes from Russian big guns.
Moscow expanded its assault across Ukraine Friday, targeting strategic airfields and industrial centers and devastating cities. US defense officials estimated that Russian pilots are averaging 200 military operations per day, compared to five to 10 for Ukraine’s outgunned forces, who have been limited to surface-to-air missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and drones to take out enemy aircraft.
Russian forces appeared to have made their biggest gains in cities in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russia is trying to “reset and reposture” its troops, gearing up for operations against Kyiv.
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“It’s ugly already, but it’s going to get worse,” said Nick Reynolds, a warfare analyst at Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank.
By the sixteenth day of the invasion, thousands of soldiers on both sides are believed to have been killed, along with many Ukrainian civilians.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainian authorities were working to establish 12 humanitarian corridors and trying to ensure food, medicine and other basics get to people across the country.
A total of 7,144 people were evacuated from four Ukrainian cities on Friday, Zelensky said in a televised address – a notably lower number than managed to leave in each of the two previous days. Nearly 40,000 people fled a number of cities through humanitarian corridors on Thursday, on top of the 35,000 who fled on Wednesday, Ukrainian authorities said.
Zelensky accused Russia of refusing to allow people out of the besieged city of Mariupol, and said Ukraine would try again to deliver food and medicine there on Saturday. The city has been without power or water for over a week.
A deadly strike on a maternity hospital earlier this week in Mariupol sparked international outrage and war-crime allegations. In a statement, the Mariupol mayor’s office said Friday that the death toll of the 12-day siege had risen to 1,582.
Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, doubled-down on false claims Friday before the UN Security Council that a photo of a pregnant woman fleeing the bombed maternity hospital was fake. Ukrainian ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya replied with a photo of the mother and her “healthy daughter,” Veronika, who was born Thursday night.
The Mariupol mayor said “the dead aren’t even being buried,” as residents hunker down from relentless shelling.
Zelensky accused Russian soldiers of acting like “ISIS terrorists” after they abducted the mayor of the city of Melitopol.
Video shared by Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection, allegedly showed Mayor Ivan Fedorov with his head covered in a black plastic bag being led out of an office building by Russian soldiers. Melitopol, a city with a population of 150,000 during peacetime, has been in Russian hands since Feb. 26.
“They have transitioned into a new stage of terror, in which they try to physically liquidate representatives of Ukraine’s lawful local authorities,” Zelensky said in a video address Friday night.
Ukrainian officials accused Russia of shelling a cancer hospital and residential buildings in Mykolaiv, a southern city of about 475,000 people located 292 miles south of Kyiv where Russian forces have escalated their siege.
The hospital’s top doctor, Maksim Beznosenko, said that hundreds of patients were laid up in the hospital at the time of the shelling, but nobody was killed. The building was damaged and several windows were blown out in the attack.
The UN says it has verified 26 attacks on medical centers, medical workers or ambulances since the invasion began, with 12 people confirmed killed.
Russia said it used long-range weapons to bomb military airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk in the west, putting them “out of action,” according to officials. The attack on Lutsk killed four Ukrainian servicemen, the city’s mayor said.
Dnipro, Ukraine’s fourth-largest city with about 1 million residents, was also targeted by airstrikes for the first time on Friday, killing one person, according to Ukrainian officials. Photos of the aftermath released by Ukraine’s emergency agency showed firefighters dousing flames of burning buildings and ash falling like snow onto blood-stained rubble.
So far, the UN estimates that over 2.5 million people have fled the Ukraine, with more than 1.5 million crossing the border into NATO member state Poland. Temperatures are expected to plummet into the single digits over the weekend in cities such as Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city which is under heavy Russian bombardment.
Delegates from Russia and Ukraine have held multiple rounds of talks near the Belarus border. The two countries’ foreign ministers met again Thursday with no apparent progress. Several third countries have also made attempts to broker a stop to the fighting.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday there had been “certain positive developments” in peace talks with Ukraine, but provided no further details.
Zelensky meanwhile said his country’s forces had “reached a strategic turning point,” in the fighting, although he did not elaborate.
The US and its allies moved to further isolate and sanction the Kremlin, as President Biden announced it would downgrade its “most favored nation” trade status with Russia and ban imports of Russian seafood, alcohol and diamonds days after it halted imports of Russian oil and gas.
“The free world is coming together to confront Putin,” Biden said.
With Post wires