Ukrainian art school housing hundreds bombed on Sunday; the conflict is turning into a war of attrition, according to Western governments
Ukrainian authorities said on Sunday that the Russian military bombed an art school housing around 400 people in Mariupol, and tearful evacuees from the devastated port city described how “battles took place in all the streets”, weeks after the siege.
The fall of Mariupol would allow Russian forces in southern and eastern Ukraine to unite. But Western military analysts say that even if the encircled city is taken, troops fighting one block at a time for control may be too exhausted to help secure Russian breakthroughs on other fronts.
Three weeks into the invasion, Western governments and analysts see the conflict turning into a war of attrition, with bogged down Russian forces launching long-range missiles at towns and military bases while Ukrainian forces carry out lightning attacks and seek to sever their supply lines.
Ukrainians “did not welcome Russian soldiers with a bouquet of flowers,” President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN, but with “weapons in hand.”
Moscow cannot hope to govern the country, he added, given Ukrainian enmity towards Russian forces.
The strike against the art school was the second time in less than a week that officials reported an attack on a public building where residents of Mariupol had taken refuge. On Wednesday, a bomb hit a theater where more than 1,000 people are believed to have taken refuge.
There was no immediate word on the victims of the school attack, which The Associated Press could not independently verify. Ukrainian officials have not given an update on the search for the theater since Friday, when they said at least 130 people had been rescued and another 1,300 trapped by rubble.
City officials and aid groups say food, water and electricity have run out in Mariupol and fighting has prevented aid convoys from entering. Communications are cut off.
The strategic Sea of Azov port has been bombarded for more than three weeks and has seen some of the worst horrors of war. City officials said at least 2,300 people had died, some of them buried in mass graves.
Some who were able to flee Mariupol hugged relatives in tears as they arrived by train on Sunday in Lviv, about 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the west.
“Battles took place in all the streets. Every house has become a target,” said Olga Nikitina, who was hugged by her brother as she got off the train. “Shots blew out the windows. The apartment was below zero.
Maryna Galla narrowly escaped with her 13-year-old son. She said she huddled in the basement of a cultural center with around 250 people for three weeks without water, electricity or gas.
“We left (the house) because shells hit the houses on the other side of the road. There was no roof. There were injuries,” Galla said, adding that her mother, father and grandparents stayed and “don’t even know we left.”
Surprisingly strong Ukrainian resistance dashed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hopes of a quick victory after he ordered an invasion of his neighbor on February 24. In recent days, Russian forces have entered Mariupol, cutting it off from the sea and devastating a huge steel plant. But taking the city could prove costly.
“Block-by-block fighting in Mariupol itself is costing the Russian military time, initiative and combat power,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of Warfare said in a briefing. .
In a stark assessment, the think tank concluded that Russia had failed in its initial campaign to quickly take the capital of kyiv and other major cities, and that its stalled invasion is creating the conditions for a “very violent and bloody”.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the Ukrainian resistance means “Putin’s forces on the ground are essentially at a standstill.”
“It had the effect that he moved his forces into a chipper,” Austin told CBS on Sunday.
In the big cities of Ukraine, hundreds of men, women and children were killed in the Russian bombardments. Millions of people have moved into underground shelters or fled the country.
In a video address to the Israeli parliament on Sunday, Zelenskyy urged lawmakers to take stronger action against Russia. accusing Putin of trying to implement a “final solution” against Ukraine. The term was used by Nazi Germany for its genocide of some 6 million Jews during World War II.
Zelenskyy also noted that a Russian missile hit Babi Yar – the spot in kyiv where more than 30,000 Jews were massacred in 1941 by the Nazis – and is now Ukraine’s main Holocaust memorial. “You know what this place means, where the Holocaust victims are buried,” added the president, who is Jewish.
In the hard-hit northeastern city of Sumy, authorities evacuated 71 orphaned babies through a humanitarian corridor, regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyy said on Sunday. He said the orphans, most of whom need constant medical care, would be taken out of the country.
At least 20 babies carried by Ukrainian surrogate mothers are stuck in a makeshift bomb shelter in Kyiv, waiting for their parents to enter the war zone to retrieve them. The infants – some only a few days old – are cared for by nurses trapped in the shelter by the constant shelling of Russian troops trying to surround the town.
Russian shelling has killed at least five civilians, including a 9-year-old boy, in the eastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest.
The UK Ministry of Defense said Russia’s failure to gain control of Ukrainian airspace “has significantly blunted their operational progress”, forcing them to rely on weapons launched from Russia.
At least 40 Ukrainian soldiers were killed on Friday by a Russian missile strike on their barracks in the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv, Mayor Oleksandr Senkevich said in televised remarks. The missiles were fired from the nearby Kherson region, leaving little time to react, he said.
Separately, the Russian Defense Ministry said a hypersonic Kinzhal missile hit a Ukrainian fuel depot in Kostiantynivka, a town near Mykolaiv. The Russian military said on Saturday it used a Kinzhal for the first time in combat to destroy an ammunition depot in the Carpathian Mountains in western Ukraine.
Russia said the Kinzhal, carried by MiG-31 fighter jets, has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (about 1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound. The Pentagon says it has yet to confirm its use in Ukraine.
Western analysts have played down the significance of the hypersonic weapon, saying it is “not a game-changer” but rather a “message of intimidation and deterrence” to Ukraine and the West, Valeriy said Akimenko, Senior Research Associate at the Center for Conflict Studies Research in England.
Major General Igor Konashenkov said Kalibr cruise missiles launched by Russian warships in the Caspian Sea were also involved in the attack on the Kostiantynivka fuel depot.
The UN has confirmed the death of 902 civilians during the war, but admits the true toll is likely much higher. It says nearly 3.4 million people have fled Ukraine.
Estimates of Russian deaths vary, but even conservative figures are in the thousands.
Russia would need 800,000 troops – almost all of its active-duty army – to control Ukraine for an extended period, according to Michael Clarke, former head of the Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank based UK.
“Unless the Russians intend to be completely genocidal – they could raze all the big cities, and the Ukrainians will rise up against the Russian occupation – there will only be constant guerrilla warfare,” he said. said Clarke.
Ukraine and Russia have held several rounds of negotiations but remain divided on several points. Zelenskyy said he was ready to drop Ukraine’s bid for NATO membership, but wanted security guarantees from Russia. Moscow is pushing for the full demilitarization of Ukraine.
Mariupol authorities said nearly 40,000 people left the city last week, most in their own vehicles, despite the shelling. This alone represents nearly 10% of the city’s pre-war population of 430,000.
The Mariupol city council said on Saturday that Russian soldiers forcibly moved several thousand residents, mostly women and children, to Russia. AP could not confirm the request.
Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine said on Sunday that 2,973 people had been evacuated from Mariupol since March 5, including 541 in the past 24 hours.
Some Russians have also fled their country amid a widespread crackdown on dissent. Russia has arrested thousands of anti-war protesters, muzzled independent media and cut off access to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.