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Russian troops bombard the vital Ukrainian port of Odessa, the Mariupol plant

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Russian forces have attacked the vital port of Odessa, Ukrainian officials said Tuesday, as part of an apparent attempt to cut supply lines and arms shipments. At the other end of the south coast, they bombed a steel plant where Ukrainian fighters are denying Moscow full control of another critical port.

Days after the dramatic rescue of what some officials described as the last civilians trapped at the Mariupol facility, authorities said about 100 remain in the network of underground tunnels being bombed. The strikes come as the cruel toll of war continues to take shape. Ukrainians say they found the bodies of 44 civilians in the rubble of a building in the northeast that was destroyed weeks ago.

Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday that a day earlier Russian forces fired seven missiles from the air at the key Black Sea port of Odessa, hitting a shopping center and a warehouse. One person was killed and five injured, the military said.

Ukraine claimed that at least some of the ammunition used was Soviet-era, making them unreliable for aiming. But the Center for Defense Strategies, a Ukrainian think tank tracking the war, said Moscow has used some precision weapons against Odessa: Kinzhal, or “Dagger,” hypersonic air-to-surface missiles.

Ukrainian, British and American officials warn that Russia is rapidly depleting its stockpile of precision weapons and may not be able to build more quickly, raising the risk that less precise missiles will be deployed as the conflict unfolds.

Since President Vladimir Putin’s forces failed to take Kyiv in the early days of the war, he has said his focus is the country’s eastern industrial heartland, the Donbass — but one general has suggested Moscow’s goals include targeting Ukraine to cut off all of their Black Sea coast.

That would give him a swathe of land that would link Russia to both the Crimean Peninsula, which it captured in 2014, and Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova.

Even if the goal of separating Ukraine from the Black Sea coast is missed – and there seems to be a lack of forces to do so – the ongoing missile attacks on Odessa reflect the city’s importance as a strategic transport hub. The Russian military has repeatedly targeted the city’s airport, claiming it destroyed several batches of Western weapons that were key to the Ukrainian resistance.

Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port, is also a major gateway for grain shipments, and Russia’s blockade is already threatening the world’s food supply. And the city is also a cultural jewel dear to Ukrainians and Russians alike, and aiming has symbolic meaning too.

The strikes came on the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin marked his country’s biggest patriotic holiday, without any major new battlefield victories to boast of. On Monday, he watched as troops marched in formation and military equipment rolled past in a Victory Parade in Moscow’s Red Square to celebrate the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany in 1945.

A symbol of Russia’s troubles is the city of Mariupol, where Russian forces have been trying for weeks to end the resistance of the Ukrainian defenders, who are waging their last stand.

Petro Andryushchenko, adviser to the city’s mayor, estimated in a social media post that at least 100 civilians are trapped in underground bunkers at Azovstal Mill. Ukrainian and Russian authorities earlier said a convoy escorted a third evacuation of hundreds of civilians from the factory to safety in a government-controlled city over the weekend.

Separately, Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Tuesday that these civilians were people “who the Russians did not single out for evacuation.” It wasn’t immediately clear how the two officers knew this, and militants who were still at the plant have yet to confirm it.

Earlier, Ukrainian and Russian officials said all civilians had been evacuated from the facility.

As Russian forces scramble to gain ground in the Donbass, military analysts suspect an attack on Odessa could serve to stoke concerns about southwestern Ukraine, forcing Kyiv to deploy more forces there. That would draw them away from the Eastern Front while their military counter-offensives near the city of Kharkiv to push the Russians back across the border there.

Kharkiv and the surrounding area have been under sustained Russian attacks since the war began in late February. Dozens of bodies were found in a five-storey building that collapsed in March in Izyum, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Kharkiv, the regional administration head Oleh Synehubov said in a social media message on Tuesday.

“This is another terrible war crime committed by the Russian occupiers against the civilian population!” said Synehubov.

Izyum lies on a key route into the eastern industrial region of Donbass, which is now the focus of the Russian war in Ukraine. Synehubov did not say exactly where the building was located.

Also on Tuesday, Ukraine’s military warned that Russia could attack the country’s chemical industry. The claim was not immediately explained in the report. But Russian shelling has previously targeted oil depots and other industrial sites during the war.

Meanwhile, satellite photos on Monday showed intense fires in Russian-controlled territory in southern Ukraine. A cause for the fires was not immediately clear. However, images from Planet Labs showed thick smoke billowing east of Vasylivka, a town flanked by nature reserves.

Also, satellite imagery analyzed by The Associated Press showed two ships off Ukraine’s Snake Island on Monday afternoon.

One of the ships seen in the Planet Labs PBC images appeared to be a landing craft. Ukraine has repeatedly attacked Russian positions there recently, suggesting that Russian forces may be trying to re-occupy or remove personnel from the Black Sea island.

In Washington, President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan measure to reinstate the World War II-era “Lend-Lease” program that helped defeat Nazi Germany to strengthen Kyiv and Eastern European allies.

Elsewhere on the diplomatic front, Western powers continued to rally around the embattled Kyiv government. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock traveled to the Kiev suburb of Bucha where the bodies of many civilians were found, some killed at close range after Russian forces withdrew last month.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said he was speaking to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of the most Putin-friendly leaders in the European Union who has defied calls by many bloc members to ban oil imports from Russia.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://abc13.com/russia-ukraine-war-mariupol-steel-plant/11833907/ Russian troops bombard the vital Ukrainian port of Odessa, the Mariupol plant

Dais Johnston

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