Ukraine retakes key Kyiv suburb; Battle for Mariupol rages

Kyiv, Ukraine — Ukrainian forces said they retook a strategically important Kyiv suburb early Tuesday as Russian forces pressured other areas near the capital and their assault on Mariupol’s embattled southern port raged unabated.

Explosions and gunfire shook Kyiv, and black smoke billowed from a spot in the north. Increased artillery fire was heard from the northwest, where Russia has been trying to encircle and capture several suburbs of the capital, a key target.

Residents sheltered at home or underground under a 35-hour curfew imposed by city authorities, which runs until Wednesday morning.

Russian forces also continued their siege of Mariupol after the southern port city’s defenders refused calls for surrender, with fleeing civilians reporting relentless bombardment and dead bodies in the streets. But the Kremlin’s ground offensive in other parts of the country made slow or no progress, repelled by deadly hit-and-run attacks by Ukrainians.

Ukrainian troops drove Russian forces out of the Kiev suburb of Makariv early Tuesday after a fierce battle, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said. The regained territory allowed Ukrainian forces to regain control of a key highway and prevent Russian troops from encircling Kyiv from the north-west.

Still, the Defense Ministry said Russian forces fighting toward Kyiv were able to partially take other northwestern suburbs, Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, some of which had been almost under attack since the Russian military invaded nearly a month ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces are increasingly concentrating their air force and artillery on Ukraine’s cities and the civilian population living there. The invasion of Moscow displaced nearly 3.5 million people from Ukraine, according to the United Nations, with another 6.5 million displaced within the country. The United Nations has confirmed over 900 civilian deaths, while saying the real number is likely much higher. Estimates of Russian deaths vary, but even conservative numbers are in the low thousands.

US and British officials say Kyiv remains Russia’s top target. The bulk of Moscow’s forces remain miles from the center, but rockets and artillery have destroyed homes and a large shopping center hit by strikes late Sunday, emergency officials said, killing eight people.

A senior US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the military’s assessment, said Russia has stepped up airstrikes over the past two days, conducting up to 300 in the past 24 hours and firing more than 1,100 missiles at the Ukraine fired since the beginning of the invasion.

US President Joe Biden, who is traveling to Europe later in the week to meet with allies, hinted Monday night that worse could be to come.

“Putin has his back against the wall,” Biden said. “He did not anticipate the scale or strength of our unity. And the more his back is against the wall, the harder he can apply the tactic.”

Biden repeated allegations that Putin was considering using chemical weapons.

As Russian forces try to pressure Kyiv, talks to end the fighting continued via video but failed to bridge the rift between the two sides. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Ukrainian television late Monday that he was ready to renounce a NATO bid by Ukraine — a key Russian demand — in exchange for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and a guarantee of Ukraine’s security – to consider.

Zelenskyy also suggested Kyiv is open to future discussions on the status of Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014, and regions of eastern Donbass held by Russian-backed separatists. But he said that was a different topic. Zelenskyy plans to speak to Italian lawmakers on Tuesday and Japanese lawmakers on Wednesday, part of a series of addresses to foreign lawmakers to rally support.

In Mariupol, where communications were crippled, movement restricted and many residents hidden, the fate of people at an art school razed on Sunday and a theater blown up four days earlier was unclear. More than 1,300 people were believed to be sheltering at the theater and an estimated 400 were at the art school.

Located on the Sea of ​​Azov, Mariupol is a major port for Ukraine and occupies a stretch of territory between Russia and Crimea. As such, it is a key target that has been under siege for more than three weeks and has seen some of the worst suffering of the war.

It’s not clear how close his capture might be. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that its forces were still defending the city, destroying a Russian patrol boat and an electronic warfare complex.

Over the weekend Moscow had offered safe passage from Mariupol – one corridor leading east to Russia, another west to other parts of Ukraine – in exchange for the city’s surrender before dawn on Monday. Ukraine flatly rejected the offer well before the deadline.

Before the war, Mariupol had about 430,000 inhabitants. Around a quarter are believed to have left in the first days of the war, and tens of thousands have fled the humanitarian corridors over the past week. Other attempts were thwarted by the fighting.

Mariupol officials said on March 15 that at least 2,300 people died in the siege, some of whom were buried in mass graves. There has been no official estimate since then, but after six more days of bombing, it is feared the number may be far higher.

For those who remain, conditions have become brutal. The attack cut off Mariupol’s electricity, water and food supplies, as well as communications with the outside world, and plunged residents into a struggle for survival. New commercial satellite images showed smoke rising from buildings newly hit by Russian artillery.

Those who made it out of Mariupol told about a devastated city.

“There are no more buildings there,” said 77-year-old Maria Fiodorova, who crossed the border into Poland on Monday after a five-day journey.

Olga Nikitina, who fled Mariupol for the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where she arrived on Sunday, said shots were fired from her windows and her apartment had fallen below freezing.

“Fighting took place on every street. Every house became a target,” she said.

A long line of vehicles stood on a road in Bezimenne, east of Mariupol, as residents of the besieged town sought shelter at a makeshift camp set up by Russian-backed separatists in the Donetsk region. An estimated 5,000 people from Mariupol have taken refuge in the camp. Many came in cars with signs that read “Children” in Russian.

A woman, who gave her name as Yulia, said she and her family took refuge in Bezimenne after a bomb attack destroyed six houses behind her home.

“So we got in the car at our own risk and drove off in 15 minutes because everything is destroyed there, there are bodies lying around,” she said. “They won’t let us through everywhere – there’s shooting.”

In all, more than 8,000 people fled to safer areas through humanitarian corridors on Monday, including about 3,000 from Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Russian shelling of a corridor wounded four children on a route leading out of Mariupol, Zelenskyy said.

Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency, called the speed and scale of people fleeing the danger in Ukraine “unprecedented in recent memory”.


Anna reported from Lemberg, Ukraine. Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau in Lviv and other AP journalists around the world contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Ukraine retakes key Kyiv suburb; Battle for Mariupol rages

Dais Johnston

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