Ukraine aims to break Russia’s siege of Mariupol as Kyiv is hit by blasts
Ukraine said on Friday it was trying to break the siege of Russian forces in Mariupol, with fighting raging around the steel plant and the port of Illich, as the capital kyiv was rocked by some of the worst explosions. powerful in two weeks.
Russia said it struck overnight what it said was a factory in kyiv that made and repaired anti-ship missiles, in apparent retaliation for the sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet , Thursday.
Ukraine said one of its missiles sank the Moskva, in a powerful symbol of its resistance to a better-armed enemy. Moscow said the ship sank while being towed in rough seas after a fire caused by an explosion of munitions.
The US military now believes Moskva was hit by Ukrainian missiles.
And after more than a day in which the Pentagon said it could not confirm Ukrainian claims that they hit Russia’s Black Sea flagship, a senior US defense official said on Friday that he now believed that the Moskva had been hit by at least one, and probably two, missiles on Wednesday, creating the big fire on board.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an intelligence assessment.
The Moskva, a guided-missile cruiser, then sank while being towed to port on Thursday after sustaining heavy damage.
Moscow acknowledged that the ship had sunk but did not confirm that it had been attacked by Ukrainians. Russia previously said more than 500 sailors aboard the Moskva were evacuated after the explosion.
Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, saw the worst fighting of the war. Home to 400,000 people before the Russian invasion, the city was reduced to rubble in seven weeks of siege and bombardment. Thousands of civilians have died and tens of thousands are still trapped in the city.
“The situation in Mariupol is difficult and tough. The fights are happening right now. The Russian military is constantly calling in additional units to storm the city,” Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said.
“But so far the Russians have failed to fully capture it,” he said in a televised briefing. Mr Motuzyanyk said Russia had used long-range bombers to attack Mariupol for the first time since its February 24 invasion, and that elsewhere Russian forces were focusing their efforts on seizing the towns of Rubizhne and Popasna in the eastern Ukraine.
Moscow has said its main war objective is to capture Donbass, an eastern region of two provinces that are already partly held by Russian-backed separatists, after its invasion force was driven from the outskirts of kyiv at the beginning of the month.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 2,864 people were evacuated from conflict areas on Friday, including 363 people from Mariupol who used their own transport.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy recently made a direct appeal to US President Joe Biden for the United States to designate Russia as a “state sponsor of terrorism”, The Washington Post reported on Friday, citing people familiar with their conversation.
The list currently includes four countries: North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Syria. A White House spokesperson declined to respond specifically to the report, adding, “We will continue to consider all options to increase pressure on Putin.”
Mariupol is Russia’s main target in the Donbass and Moscow has said it hopes to capture it soon, making it the only major city captured so far.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it had captured the Illich steel plant. The report could not be confirmed.
The Ukrainian defenders are believed to be resisting mainly at Azovstal, another major steelworks. Both factories are owned by Metinvest – the empire of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessman and the backbone of Ukraine’s industrial east – which told Reuters on Friday it would never let its businesses run under Russian occupation.
“We believe in Ukraine’s victory and plan to resume production after the end of hostilities,” Metinvest told Reuters in a statement, adding that its sites had been damaged but it was impossible to say by how much during that the fighting continued.
Mr Motuzyanyk described Russia’s loss of the Moskva as significant. But he said he was not authorized to give information about the factory near kyiv, which Moscow said its missiles had hit.
The Moskva was by far the largest Russian ship in the Black Sea Fleet, equipped with guided missiles to shoot down aircraft and attack the shore. It had radar to provide air defense cover for the fleet. Moscow used its naval power to blockade Ukrainian ports and threaten a possible amphibious landing along the coast.
Without its flagship, its ability to threaten Ukraine from the sea could be crippled. It was the largest warship sunk during the conflict since the British torpedoed Argentine General Belgrano in the Falklands War in 1982.
Strikes on kyiv
The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces would step up strikes on kyiv. “The number and scale of missile strikes on targets in Kyiv will increase in response to any terrorist attacks or acts of sabotage on Russian territory by the nationalist regime in Kyiv,” the Defense Ministry said.
Kirill Kyrylo (38), a worker at a car repair shop in the Ukrainian capital, said he saw three explosions hit an industrial building, sparking a fire which was extinguished by firefighters. “The building was on fire and I had to hide behind my car,” he said, pointing to shards of glass from the repair shop and pieces of metal that had hovered over the burning building. .
Moscow reported that Russian villages in the Belgorod region near the border had been hit by Ukrainian shelling. Attacks in the area, a major staging ground for the Russian invasion, could not be confirmed. Russia initially described its goals in Ukraine as being to disarm its neighbor and defeat the nationalists there.
kyiv and its Western allies say these are bogus justifications for an unprovoked war of aggression that has driven a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes and resulted in the deaths of thousands. – Additional reports from Reuters