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Ukraine repels some attacks, but battle rages on at the steel mill

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian forces said on Thursday they had repulsed Russian attacks in the east and recaptured some areas, despite Moscow’s efforts to stem the flow of Western arms into Ukraine by bombing train stations and other supply targets across the country.

Heavy fighting also raged at the Azovstal Steelworks in Mariupol, which was the last stronghold of the Ukrainian resistance in the devastated southern port city, the Ukrainian military reported. A Russian official previously denied troops were storming the plant, but the commander of Ukraine’s main internal unit said Russian soldiers had entered the factory’s area.

“With the support of aircraft, the enemy resumed the offensive to take control of the plant,” the General Staff said in Kyiv, adding that the Russians “were trying to destroy Ukrainian units.”

West of Mariupol, Ukrainian forces made some gains on the border of southern Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, where Russian troops were reportedly trying to launch a counteroffensive, and repelled 11 Russian attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the military said.

According to Ukrainian officials, five people have been killed and at least 25 others injured in the last 24 hours when several eastern towns came under shelling.

The Russian military said it used sea and air-launched missiles to destroy power plants at five train stations across Ukraine on Wednesday. Artillery and aircraft also hit troop bases and fuel and ammunition depots. Videos on social media suggested a bridge was attacked there.

Smoke rises from the Azovstal metallurgical combine in Mariupol, in the territory under the government of the Donetsk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine.
Smoke rises from the Azovstal metallurgical combine in Mariupol, in the territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.
AP

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of “recourse to missile terrorism tactics to instill fear in Ukraine.”

In response to the strikes, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address: “All these crimes will be answered legally and very practically – on the battlefield.”

The spate of attacks comes as Russia prepares to celebrate Victory Day on May 9, marking the Soviet Union’s defeat at Nazi Germany. The world is waiting to see if Russian President Vladimir Putin will take the opportunity to declare victory in Ukraine or expand what he calls the “military special operation.”

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows damage at the Azovstal Steelworks in Mariupol, Ukraine.
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows damage at the Azovstal Steelworks in Mariupol, Ukraine.
AP

A total declaration of war would allow Putin to institute martial law and mobilize reservists to offset significant troop losses.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the speculation as “nonsense”.

Meanwhile, Belarus, which used Russia as a base for its invasion, announced the start of military exercises on Wednesday. A senior Ukrainian official said the country stands ready to act if Belarus joins the fighting.

The UK Ministry of Defense said it did not believe the drills posed a threat to Ukraine at this time, but that Moscow would likely use them “to pin down Ukrainian forces in the north and prevent them from engaging in the battle for the… Donbass,” the eastern industrial heartland that is Russia’s declared war target.

The attacks on rail infrastructure were intended to disrupt supplies of Western arms, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu complained that the West was “filling Ukraine with weapons”.

A senior US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, said that while the Russians have attempted to hit critical infrastructure around the western city of Lviv, particularly railroads, it “didn’t hit any significant impact” on Ukraine’s efforts to bolster its forces. Lviv, near the Polish border, was an important gateway for NATO-supplied weapons.

Arms pouring into Ukraine helped its forces thwart Russia’s initial attempt to seize Kyiv and certainly appear to play a central role in the growing struggle for Donbass.

Ukraine has urged the West to ramp up arms supplies ahead of what could be a crucial clash.

Volunteers help a man after his arrival from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol at a center for displaced people in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.
Volunteers help a man after his arrival from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol at a center for displaced people in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.
AP

In addition to arms sales to Ukraine, Europe and the US have tried to punish Moscow with sanctions. The EU’s top official on Wednesday called on the 27-nation bloc to ban Russian oil imports, a crucial source of revenue.

“We will ensure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly manner so that we and our partners can secure alternative supply routes and minimize the impact on global markets,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

The proposal requires the unanimous approval of EU countries and is likely to be hotly debated. Hungary and Slovakia have already declared that they will not participate in oil sanctions. You could be granted an exemption.

The EU is also talking about a possible embargo on Russian natural gas. The bloc has already approved a coal import shutdown.

Russia’s economy is heavily dependent on oil and natural gas exports.

In Mariupol, Mayor Vadym Boychenko said that Russian forces would attack the already destroyed Azovstal plant with heavy artillery, tanks, planes, warships and “heavy bombs penetrating 3 to 5 meters thick concrete”.

“Our brave boys are defending this fortress, but it’s very difficult,” he said.

Ukrainian soldiers carry a coffin containing remains of soldier Ruslan Borovyk, who was killed by Russian troops in a battle, people stand kneeling in the background, at St. Michael's Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers carry a coffin containing remains of soldier Ruslan Borovyk, who was killed by Russian troops in a battle, people stand kneeling in the background, at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine.
AP

Ukrainian militants said Tuesday Russian troops had begun storming the plant. But the Kremlin denies it. “There is no attack,” Peskov said.

Denys Prokopenko, commander of Ukraine’s Azov regiment defending the plant, said in a video that the incursions continued “and there are heavy, bloody battles”.

“The situation is extremely difficult, but despite everything, we continue to carry out the order to maintain the defense,” he added.

His wife Kateryna Prokopenko told The Associated Press: “We don’t want them to die. You will not surrender. They are waiting for the bravest countries to evacuate them.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations said more than 300 civilians were evacuated from Mariupol and other nearby communities on Wednesday. The evacuees arrived in Zaporizhia, some 220 kilometers northwest, where they received humanitarian aid.

Over the weekend, more than 100 people – including women, the elderly and 17 children – were evacuated from the plant during a ceasefire in an operation overseen by the UN and the Red Cross. But attacks on the facility soon resumed.

The Russian government said in the Telegram messaging app that it will open another evacuation corridor from the plant at certain times from Thursday to Saturday. But there was no immediate confirmation of these agreements from other parties, and many previous such assurances by the Kremlin have fallen through, with Ukrainians blaming continued Russian fighting.

It was unclear how many Ukrainian fighters were still inside, but the Russians put the number at around 2,000 in recent weeks, and 500 were reportedly injured. Several hundred civilians also stayed there, the Ukrainian side said.

People with children wait at a center for displaced people in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, after arriving from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
People with children wait at a center for displaced people in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, after arriving from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
AP

Mariupol, and the plant in particular, has become a symbol of the misery caused by the war. The Russians pulverized most of the city in a two-month siege that trapped civilians with little food, water, medicine or warmth.

The city’s fall would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimea peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbass.

https://nypost.com/2022/05/05/ukraine-repels-some-attacks-but-combat-rages-at-steel-mill/ Ukraine repels some attacks, but battle rages on at the steel mill

JACLYN DIAZ

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