Monday, May 23

Russia hits Kyiv, Lviv; presses offensive in ruins of Mariupol


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KYIV/MARIUPOL — Russia’s warplanes bombed Lviv and its missiles struck Kyiv and Kharkiv on Saturday, as Moscow followed through on a threat to launch more long-range attacks on Ukrainian cities after its Black Sea Fleet’s flagship was sunk.

In besieged Mariupol, scene of the war’s heaviest fighting and worst humanitarian catastrophe, Russian troops pressed recent advances, hoping to make up for their failure to capture Kyiv by seizing their first big prize of the war.

Moscow said its planes had struck a tank repair factory in the capital, where an explosion was heard and smoke seen in the southeastern Darnytskyi district. Kyiv’s mayor said at least one person had died and medics were fighting to save others.

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Ukraine’s military said Russian warplanes that took off from Belarus had also fired missiles at the Lviv region near the Polish border, where four cruise missiles were shot down by Ukrainian air defenses.

In Mariupol, Reuters journalists in Russian-held parts of the city reached the Ilyich steel works, which Moscow claimed to have captured on Friday, one of two giant metals plants where defenders have held out in underground tunnels and bunkers.

The factory was reduced to a silent ruin of twisted steel and blasted concrete, with no sign of defenders present. Outside, at least half a dozen civilian bodies lay scattered on nearby streets, including a woman in a pink parka and white shoes.

Someone had spraypainted “mined” on a fence by an obliterated filling station forecourt. In a rare sign of life, one red car drove slowly down an otherwise empty street, the word “children” scrawled on a card taped to the windshield.

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The governor of Kharkiv province in the east said at least one person had died and 18 were injured in a missile strike. In Mykolaiv, a city close to the southern front, Russia said it had struck a military vehicle repair factory.

The attacks followed Russia’s announcement on Friday that it would intensify long-range strikes in retaliation for unspecified acts of “sabotage” and “terrorism,” hours after it confirmed the sinking of its Black Sea flagship, the Moskva.

Kyiv and Washington say the ship was hit by Ukrainian missiles. Moscow says it sank after a fire.

A month and a half into President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia is trying to capture territory in the south and east after withdrawing from the north following a massive assault on Kyiv that was repelled at the capital’s outskirts.

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Russian troops that pulled out of the north left behind towns littered with bodies of civilians, evidence of what US President Joe Biden this week called genocide – an attempt to erase Ukrainian national identity.

Russia denies targeting civilians and says the aim of its “special military operation” is to disarm its neighbor, defeat nationalists and protect separatists in the southeast.

‘EVACUATE WHILE STILL POSSIBLE’

Ukraine said its troops are still holding out in the ruins of Mariupol, where the defense is concentrated around Azovstal, another huge steel works that has yet to yield.

“The situation in Mariupol is difficult… Fighting is happening right now. The Russian army is constantly calling on additional units to storm the city,” defense ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told a televised briefing.

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The owner of both of Mariupol’s giant steel factories, Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akhmetov, vowed to rebuild the city.

“Mariupol is a global tragedy and a global example of heroism. For me, Mariupol has been and will always be a Ukrainian city,” Akhmetov told Reuters.

If Mariupol falls it would be Russia’s biggest prize of the war so far. It is the main port of the Donbas, a region of two provinces in the southeast which Moscow demands be fully ceded to separatists.

Ukraine says it has so far held off Russian advances elsewhere in the Donbas. One person was killed and three wounded in shelling in Luhansk, one of the Donbas provinces, Governor Serhiy Gaidai said in an online post.

A gas pipeline was damaged in the frontline towns of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk, which were without gas and water, Gaidai said. Buses were available for those willing to leave. “Evacuate, while it is still possible.”

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Ukraine gained the upper hand in the early phase of a war that many Western military experts had predicted it would quickly lose. It has successfully deployed mobile units armed with anti-tank missiles supplied by the West against huge Russian armored convoys confined to roads by muddy terrain.

But Putin appears determined to capture more Donbas territory to claim victory in a war that has left Russia subject to increasingly punitive Western sanctions and with few allies.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said about 2,500-3,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed so far, compared to up to 20,000 Russian troops.

Moscow has given no updates on its military casualties since March 25, when it said 1,351 had died. Western estimates of Russian losses are many times higher, while there are few independent estimates of Ukraine’s losses.

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Ukraine says civilian deaths are impossible to count, estimating tens of thousands have been killed in Mariupol alone.

Overall, around a quarter of Ukrainians have been driven from their homes, including a tenth of the population that has fled abroad.

“The successes of our military on the battlefield are really significant, historically significant. But they are still not enough to clean our land of the occupiers. We will beat them some more,” Zelenskiy said in a late-night video address on Friday.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Reuters journalists in Mariupol, and Reuters bureaux worldwide Writing by Peter Graff Editing by John Stonestreet and Frances Kerry)

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