Ukrainian defenders dig in as Russia boosts firepower; over 10,000 killed in Mariupol

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned Sunday in his nightly address to the nation that the coming week would be as crucial as any during the war.

Published: 12th April 2022 10:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th April 2022 10:31 AM   |  A+A-

Ukrainian tanks move in a street in Irpin, in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, April 11, 2022. (Photo | AP)


KYIV: A showdown looms in Ukraine as Russia appointed a new military commander and looked to concentrate its attacks on the eastern part of the country, while Ukraine's president said his troops will hold their ground, and urged Western leaders, in particular President Joe Biden, to do more.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned Sunday in his nightly address to the nation that the coming week would be as crucial as any during the war, saying "Russian troops will move to even larger operations in the east of our state."

Zelenskyy also said that Ukraine's fate as the war shifts south and east depends on whether the United States will help match a surge in Russian weaponry in the regions.

"To be honest, whether we will be able to (survive) depends on this," said Zelenskyy said in a "60 Minutes" interview that aired Sunday night, speaking through a translator.

"Unfortunately, I don't have the confidence that we will be receiving everything we need."

Zelenskyy said he was grateful to Biden for U.S. military aid to date but added that he "long ago" forwarded a list of specific items Ukraine desperately needed and that history would judge Biden's response.

"He has the list," Zelenskyy said.

"President Biden can enter history as the person who stood shoulder to shoulder with the Ukrainian people who won and chose the right to have their own country. (This) also depends on him."

Experts have said that the next phase of the battle may begin with a full-scale offensive.

The outcome could determine the course of the conflict, which has flattened cities, killed untold thousands and isolated Moscow economically and politically.

Questions remain about the ability of Russia's depleted and demoralized forces to conquer much ground after their advance on the capital, Kyiv, was repelled by determined Ukrainian defenders.

Britain's Defense Ministry reported Sunday that the Russian forces were trying to compensate for mounting casualties by recalling veterans discharged in the past decade.

In his Sunday night address, Zelenskyy also accused Russia of trying to evade responsibility for war crimes in Ukraine.

"When people lack the courage to admit their mistakes, apologize, adapt to reality and learn, they turn into monsters. And when the world ignores it, the monsters decide that it is the world that has to adapt to them," Zelenskyy said.

"The day will come when they will have to admit everything. Accept the truth," he added.

In Washington, a senior U.S. official said that Russia has appointed Gen.

Alexander Dvornikov, one of its most seasoned military chiefs, to oversee the invasion.

The official was not authorized to be identified and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Until now, Russia has had no central war commander on the ground.

The new battlefield leadership comes as the Russian military prepares for what is expected to be a large, focused push to expand control in Ukraine's east.

Russia-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region since 2014 and declared some territory there as independent.

Dvornikov, 60, gained prominence as head of the Russian forces deployed to Syria in 2015 to shore up President Bashar Assad's government during the country's devastating civil war.

U.S. officials say he has a record of brutality against civilians in Syria and other war theaters.

Russian authorities do not generally confirm such appointments and have said nothing about a new role for Dvornikov, who received the Hero of Russia medal, one of the country's highest awards, from President Vladimir Putin in 2016.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," played down the significance of the appointment.

"What we have learned in the first several weeks of this war is that Ukraine will never be subjected to Russia," Sullivan said.

"It doesn't matter which general President Putin tries to appoint."

Western military analysts say Russia's assault has increasingly focused on a sickle-shaped arc of eastern Ukraine, from Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, in the north to Kherson in the south.

The narrower effort could help Russia's problem, earlier in the war, of spreading its offensive too widely over too great a geographic area.

"Just looking at it on a map, you can see that they will be able to bring to bear a lot more power in a lot more concentrated fashion," by focusing mainly on eastern Ukraine, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday.

Newly released Maxar Technologies satellite imagery showed an 8-mile (13-kilometer) convoy of military vehicles headed south through Ukraine to Donbas, recalling images of a convoy that got stalled on roads to Kyiv for weeks before Russia gave up on trying to take the capital.

On Sunday, Russian forces shelled government-controlled Kharkiv and sent reinforcements toward Izyum to the southeast in a bid to break Ukraine's defenses, the Ukrainian military command said.

The Russians also kept up their siege of Mariupol, a key southern port that has been under attack and surrounded for nearly 1 ½ months.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov, said Russia's military used air-launched missiles to hit Ukraine's S-300 air-defense missile systems in the southern Mykolaiv region and at an air base in Chuhuiv, a city not far from Kharkiv.

Sea-launched Russian cruise missiles destroyed the headquarters of a Ukrainian military unit stationed farther west in the Dnipro region, Konashenkov said.

Neither the Ukrainian nor the Russian military claims could be independently verified.

The airport in Dnipro, Ukraine's fourth-largest city, was also hit by missiles twice on Sunday, according to the regional governor.

On Sunday night, Zelenskyy again called on Western countries to provide more assistance to Ukraine.

During talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Zelenskyy said, he discussed "how to strengthen sanctions against Russia and force Russia to seek peace."

"I am glad to note that the German position has recently changed in favor of Ukraine. I consider it absolutely logical," Zelenskyy said.

The president of the European Commission said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that Ukraine's response to a questionnaire she recently handed to Zelenskyy will enable her to decide whether to recommend the nation as a candidate to join the EU.

The process normally takes years, but Ursula von der Leyen has said Ukraine's application could take just weeks to consider.

"Yesterday, somebody told me: You know, when our soldiers are dying, I want them to know that their children will be free and be part of the European Union,'" von der Leyen said.

Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian forces of committing war crimes against civilians, including airstrikes on hospitals, a missile attack that killed at least 57 people at a train station and other violence discovered as Russian soldiers withdrew from the outskirts of Kyiv.

A day after meeting with Zelenskyy in Kyiv, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer announced that he will meet Monday in Moscow with Putin.

Austria, a member of the European Union, is militarily neutral and not a member of NATO.

Ukraine has blamed Russia for killing civilians in Bucha and other towns outside the capital where hundreds of bodies, many with their hands bound and signs of torture, were found after Russian troops retreated.

Russia has denied the allegations and falsely claimed that the scenes in Bucha were staged.

In Mariupol, Russia was deploying Chechen fighters, reputed to be particularly fierce.

Capturing the city on the Sea of Azov would give Russia a land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine eight years ago.

Residents have lacked food, water and electricity since Russian forces surrounded the city and frustrated evacuation missions.

Ukrainian authorities think an airstrike on a theater that was being used as a bomb shelter killed hundreds of civilians, and Zelenskyy has said he expects more evidence of atrocities to be found once Mariupol no longer is blockaded.

The Institute for the Study of War, an American think tank, predicted that Russian forces will "renew offensive operations in the coming days" from Izyum, a town southeast of Kharkiv, in the campaign to conquer the Donbas, which comprises Ukraine's industrial heartland.

But in the view of the think tank's analysts, "The outcome of forthcoming Russian operations in eastern Ukraine remains very much in question."

The mayor of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol said on Monday that more than 10,000 civilians have died in the Russian siege of his city, and that the death toll could surpass 20,000, with corpses that were "carpeted through the streets."

Speaking by phone Monday to The Associated Press, Mayor Vadym Boychenko also said Russian forces brought mobile cremation equipment to the city to dispose of the bodies, and he accused Russian forces of refusing to allow humanitarian convoys into the city in an attempt to conceal the carnage.

Russian forces have taken many bodies to a huge shopping center where there are storage facilities and refrigerators, Boychenko said.

"Mobile crematoriums have arrived in the form of trucks: You open it, and there is a pipe inside and these bodies are burned," he said.

The mayor's comments emerged as Russia claimed that it destroyed several Ukrainian air-defense systems in what appeared to be a renewed push to gain air superiority and take out weapons Kyiv has described as crucial ahead of an expected broad new offensive in the east.

In one strike, Moscow said it hit four S-300 launchers near the central city of Dnipro that had been provided by a European country it did not name.

Slovakia gave Ukraine just such a system last week but denied it had been destroyed.

Russia previously reported two strikes on similar systems in other places.

The failure to win full control of Ukraine's skies has hampered Moscow's ability to provide air cover for troops on the ground, limiting their advances and likely exposing them to greater losses.

With their offensive in many parts of the country thwarted, Russian forces have relied increasingly on bombarding cities, a strategy that has left many urban areas flattened and killed thousands of people.

Ukrainian authorities accuse Russian forces of committing atrocities, including a massacre in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv, airstrikes on hospitals and a missile attack that killed at least 57 people last week at a train station.

In Bucha on Monday, the work of exhuming bodies from a mass grave in a churchyard resumed.

Galyna Feoktistova waited for hours in the cold and rain in hopes of identifying her 50-year-old son, who was shot and killed more than a month ago, but eventually she went home for some warmth.

"He's still there," her surviving son, Andriy, said.

In Mariupol, about 120,000 civilians are in dire need of food, water, warmth and communications, the mayor said.

Only those residents who have passed the Russian “filtration camps” are released from the city, Boychenko said.

He said improvised prisons were organized for those who did not pass the “filtering,” while at least 33,000 were taken to Russia or to separatist territory in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the UN children's agency said that nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian children have fled their homes in the six weeks since Russia's invasion began, and the United Nations has verified that 142 children have been killed and 229 injured, though the actual numbers are likely much higher.

Elsewhere, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he met Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow for talks that were "very direct, open and tough."

In a statement released by his office, Nehammer said his primary message to Putin was "that this war needs to end, because in war both sides can only lose."

Nehammer said he also raised the issue of war crimes committed by the Russian military and said those responsible "will be held to account."

Austria is a member of the European Union and has backed the 27-nation bloc's sanctions against Russia, though it so far has opposed cutting off deliveries of Russian gas.

The country is militarily neutral and is not a member of NATO.

In other developments, the head of the separatist rebel government in Donetsk said Ukrainian forces have lost control of the port area of Mariupol.

"Regarding the port of Mariupol, it is now under our control," Denis Pushilin, president of the Donetsk People's Republic, told Russian state television, according to Russian news agencies.

The claim could not immediately be confirmed.

The mayor said fighting continues.

"It is difficult, but our heroic military holds on," Boychenko said.

"There are fights in the port. Yesterday, our heroic warriors knocked out several positions of equipment and, accordingly, rebuffed the infantry."

Russia has appointed a seasoned general to lead its renewed push in the eastern Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014 and have declared independent states.

Both sides are digging in for what could be a devastating war of attrition.

Russian forces will likely try to encircle the Donbas region from the north and the south as well as the east, said retired British Gen.

Richard Barrons, co-chair of the UK-based strategic consulting firm Universal Defence & Security Solutions.

The ground in that part of Ukraine is flatter, more open and less wooded — so the Ukrainian ambush tactics used around Kiev may be less successful, Barrons said.

"As to the outcome, it's finely balanced right now," Barrons said.

If the Russians learned from their previous failures, concentrated more force, connected their air force to ground forces better and improved their logistics, "then they might start to overwhelm the Ukrainian positions eventually, although I still think it would be a battle of enormous attrition."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleaded for more Western aid, saying his forces need heavier firepower.

In a video address to South Korean lawmakers on Monday, Zelenskyy specifically requested equipment that can shoot down Russian missiles.

But those armaments could increasingly come under attack as Russia looks to shift the balance in the 6-week-old war.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj.Gen.Igor Konashenkov said the military used cruise missiles to destroy the four launchers Sunday on the southern outskirts of Dnipro.

He said the military also hit such systems in the Mykolaiv and Kharkiv regions.

The Russian claims could not be independently verified.

The Pentagon said it had seen no evidence to support Russia's claims.

A senior US defense official said Russia did conduct an airstrike Sunday on the airport in Dnipro, destroying some equipment, but the official said the US has seen no indication that an air-defense system was knocked out.

Lubica Janikova, spokeswoman for Slovakia's prime minister, denied Monday that the S-300 system it sent Ukraine had been destroyed.

She said any other claim is not true.

Questions remain about the ability of depleted and demoralised Russian forces to conquer much ground after their advance on Kyiv was repelled by determined Ukrainian defenders.

Britain's Defense Ministry said on Monday that Ukraine has already beaten back several assaults by Russian forces in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which make up the Donbas, resulting in the destruction of Russian tanks, vehicles and artillery.

Western military analysts say Russia's assault increasingly is focusing on an arc of territory stretching from Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, in the north, to Kherson in the south.

A residential area in Kharkiv was struck by incoming fire on Monday afternoon.

Associated Press journalists saw firefighters putting out the fire and checking for victims following the attack, and saw that at least five people were killed, including a child.

Oleh Synyehubov, the regional governor of Kharkiv, said earlier Monday that Russian shelling had killed 11 people over the last 24 hours.


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