The southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol and a “corridor” between two eastern towns, Izyum and Volnovakha, are becoming the main battlefronts in Ukraine, an Interior Ministry adviser said on Thursday. .
“[Russia] withdraws its forces in the Kyiv region, but it is too early to say that the same thing is happening in the Chernihiv region,” adviser Vadym Denysenko said.
Russia said on Tuesday it would reduce operations in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions. The NATO chief said on Thursday it was a regrouping rather than a withdrawal.
Ukrainian forces are preparing for further Russian attacks in the southeastern region, where Moscow’s guns are now being trained after its assault on the capital kyiv was repelled, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday.
Five weeks into an invasion that blasted wasteland cities, US and European officials say Russian President Vladimir Putin was misled by his generals about the disastrous performance of the Russian military.
The fierce resistance of Ukrainian forces prevented Russia from capturing a major city, including the capital kyiv, which it attacked with armored columns from the northwest and east.
Moscow says it is now focused on “liberating” the Donbass region – two southeastern provinces partially controlled by separatists that Russia has backed since 2014.
In an early morning video address, Zelensky said Russian troop movements away from kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv were not a withdrawal but rather “the consequence of the work of our defenders”.
Ukraine was witnessing “a build-up of Russian forces for further strikes on Donbass and we are preparing for this”, he said.
Attempts to reach civilians in Mariupol
This includes Mariupol, once a city of 400,000, where most buildings have been damaged or destroyed in four weeks of constant Russian bombardment and siege.
A convoy of Ukrainian buses traveled to the port city on Thursday in an attempt to reach the trapped civilians, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
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She said 45 buses were on their way to the city after the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed Russia had agreed to open a safe corridor. All previous efforts to reach parts of Mariupol under Ukrainian control with aid or buses to evacuate civilians have failed.
The Russian military said it was committed to a localized ceasefire along the road from Mariupol to the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia from Thursday morning.
Civilians who have managed to leave the city have generally done so using private cars, but the number of roadworthy vehicles remaining in Mariupol has dwindled and fuel stocks are low.
The city’s mayor said this week that up to 170,000 residents were trapped in Mariupol without electricity and power.
The United Nations believes that thousands of people died there, many of whom are buried in unmarked graves.
“Everyone knows there is a humanitarian disaster there,” Zelensky told Belgian lawmakers in a videolink address on Thursday.
An intelligence update from the UK Ministry of Defense says heavy fighting continues in Mariupol and Ukrainian forces still control the center of the city.
Meanwhile, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine said the UN and its partners had delivered supplies to thousands of people in the northeast of the country but had been unable to reach some towns surrounded in the South.
Osnat Lubrani said Thursday that food rations from the humanitarian organization People in Need and the United Nations World Food Program will benefit nearly 6,000 people in Sumy and other areas such as Trostianets and Okhtyrka.
In addition, she added, basic household items from the UN refugee agency, including blankets and kettles, will support 1,500 people and sanitation kits will help provide emergency supplies. hygiene and drinking water to 6,000 people.
In the Russian parts of Mariupol, people sometimes come out of the caves to appear, ghostly, among the ruins.
A man identified only as Pavel placed a bowl and spoon in tribute on a makeshift grave, in a patch of grass outside a destroyed building, marked with a plain wooden cross.
“Our friend. March 16. Driving a car. A bullet hit him in the throat. He was dead in five minutes,” he said. “I was in the car. I took him home.”
Death toll rises in Mykolaiv
The death toll after a Russian missile strike Tuesday at the regional government headquarters in the southern city of Mykolaiv has risen to 20, Ukraine’s emergency services said Thursday.
The regional governor accused Russia of waiting for people to arrive for work before hitting the building.
Emergency services said they were still working at the scene.
Zelensky said his country’s defense against Russian invasion was at a “turning point” and urged the United States for more help.
“If we really fight together for freedom and for the defense of democracy, then we have the right to demand help in this difficult turning point. Tanks, planes, artillery systems. Freedom should not not be armed worse than tyranny,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address to the nation.
He also thanked the United States for providing Ukraine with the additional US$500 million in aid announced by Washington on Wednesday.
Putin ‘not fully informed’
The White House said the Russian president’s advisers failed to give him an accurate account of his military’s failures in Ukraine.
“We agree with the conclusion that Mr. Putin was not fully briefed by his Department of Defense at every turn over the past month,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Thursday that “neither the State Department nor the Pentagon have the real information about what’s going on in the Kremlin.”
New information has shown that some Russian soldiers in Ukraine refused to carry out orders, sabotaged their own equipment and accidentally shot down one of their own planes, the head of the British spy agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming.
“And even if Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what is going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime,” Fleming said in a speech at the Australian National University. from Canberra on Thursday.
“[Putin] minimized the economic consequences of the sanctions regime. He overestimated his army’s ability to secure a quick victory.”
Russia is able to cope with Western sanctions, according to an official of the lower house of the Russian parliament.
Vladimir Gutenev, chairman of the State Duma’s industry and trade committee, said Russia’s economy has become “increasingly resilient” in recent years and can cope with “serious” challenges from penalties.
The talks between Ukraine and Russia were to resume on Friday via video, according to the head of the Ukrainian delegation, David Arakhamia.