KYIV, Ukraine – Strikes on cities across Ukraine on Monday left a patchwork of death and destruction, including one that blew a once bustling shopping center in Kiev into a smoldering ruin with one of the most powerful explosions to hit the city since Russia’s Soviet Union war against Ukraine began.
In the besieged and devastated southern port of Mariupol, residents braced for new attacks after the Ukrainian government rejected a Russian ultimatum to surrender the city.
“A neighbor said that God left Mariupol. He was afraid of everything he saw,” said Nadezhda Sukhorukova, a resident who recently escaped, adding, “my city is dying a painful death.”
The violence set the stage for new talks between the United States and its allies on how to step up pressure on Russia, with President Biden speaking by phone with leaders of Germany, Italy, France and Britain before heading to Brussels on Wednesday for meeting NATO leaders. The alliance could adopt Poland’s proposal to create an international peacekeeping force for Ukraine, an idea that US officials are questioning.
In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Monday summoned US Ambassador John J. Sullivan to warn that Mr Biden’s recent statements — last week he called President Vladimir V. Putin, a “murderous dictator” and a “pure thug” — had brought “Russian-American relations to the point of breaking”. And in Washington, Mr. Biden urged the private sector to bolster digital defenses, in light of information that Russia could launch cyber-attacks.
The fiery destruction of the sprawling shopping mall in the capital’s Kiev on Monday was the most dramatic example of Russian forces targeting artillery, missiles and bombs at both civilian and military targets after failing to quickly regain control of the large conquer cities of Ukraine after the 24th invasion.
Britain’s defense intelligence agency said on Monday that most of Russia’s armed forces were more than 24 miles from central Kiev and that taking the capital remained “Russia’s main military objective”.
As the Ukrainians managed to push back Russian forces, frustrating that goal, Russia resorted to long-range missiles and other weapons to bombard cities and towns, exacting an increasing toll of physical destruction and civilian casualties.
The Ukrainian government also accused the Russians of attacking civilians in other ways, including hijacking a much-needed aid convoy near Kharkov and forcibly transferring thousands of children to Russia.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said the children had been relocated from the eastern Donbas region, where the two sides have been fighting for control of two separatist areas since 2014. Oleg Nikolenko, the spokesman for the ministry, said in a statement that 2,389 children were taken from their parents in one day, March 19. The claim could not be independently confirmed.
In Kharkiv, victims of Russian shelling included Boris Romantschenko, 96, who had survived the Nazi concentration camps of Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen and Mittelbau-Dora. He died Friday when a projectile hit his apartment building, the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorial Foundation said Monday.
In the southern city of Kherson, Russian forces who have taken control of the city since March 2 violently responded Monday to protesters in the main square shouting at them to leave, according to videos and photos verified by DailyExpertNews. The troops’ earlier response to regular protests has been sporadic gunfire in the air, but that turned into sustained gunfire for nearly a minute, firing directly at the crowd — which dispersed — and using flash grenades.
In Kiev, city officials said at least eight people were killed after a Russian missile hit the Retroville shopping center in the northern part of the city around midnight. The toll was expected to rise. The blast was so powerful that debris blew hundreds of feet in all directions, shaking buildings and flattening part of the mall, a sports store called Sport City.
About eight hours after the strike, firefighters were still fighting flames as soldiers and emergency services searched the rubble. Six bodies covered in plastic layers on the sidewalk next to one of the mall’s sliding glass doors.
Closer to the crater left by the explosion, the damage was too extensive to recognize much more than mangled metal, concrete and smoldering car engines blown from wrecked vehicles. One firefighter told another that he had found “a hand, a leg and other bits” deeper in the rubble.
The Retroville shopping center housed a multiplex movie theater, a fitness club and fast food outlets such as McDonald’s and KFC, and an H&M outlet, though it had been closed since the start of the war. An office building next door was still standing, but all the windows were shattered and it was inflamed.
A soldier at the scene said a unit of Territorial Defense Forces volunteers had stationed at the mall and some had died along with guards.
While Kiev has been bombed for weeks, the extent of destruction around the mall was greater than anything The Times has seen within the city limits.
Roksana Tsarenko, 27, an accountant, stood on the edge of the rubble field, surveying the chaos. She had last been to the mall a month ago to watch “Marry Me,” starring Jennifer Lopez. “You lead a normal life, and then suddenly life isn’t normal anymore,” she said.
Now all of Kiev is involved in the defense of the capital, a once thriving metropolis turned into a fortress.
Elsewhere in the city, Oleg Sentsov, a filmmaker who was imprisoned for years in Russia for opposing the annexation of Crimea in 2014, said he had evacuated his family and then joined the territorial defense already operating in the suburbs of Crimea. Kiev fought.
“The Ukrainian people have been reborn,” said Mr. Sentsov, dressed in camouflage clothing.
“Of course the war is terrible,” he added, “and many people die, but there is a feeling that our nation is being born and our ties with Russia are being severed.”
War between Russia and Ukraine: important developments
Russia on Monday set a sunrise deadline for the surrender of Ukrainian soldiers defending the strategic southern port of Mariupol, the main city lying between the eastern parts of Ukraine controlled by Moscow and the Crimean peninsula that Russia occupied in 2014.
The city is cut off from water, electricity and communications, and the fierce fighting has made it almost impossible to escape. The city is less than 65 kilometers from the Russian border, and any attempt to create a continuous land bridge stretching from Russia to Crimea would depend on Mariupol’s control.
A Ukrainian official accused Russian troops of shooting at buses evacuating women and children from the city. Four children were injured, one seriously, Oleksandr Staruch, the head of Zaporizhzhya’s regional state administration, said Monday.
Russia has repeatedly denied hitting civilian targets, even despite mounting evidence of houses, offices and other buildings being razed to the ground. An airstrike last week destroyed a theater in Mariupol and one on Sunday hit a school in the city; each had been used to protect hundreds of civilians.
In a rare first-hand account, Ms. Sukhorukova, a Mariupol resident who managed to escape, described what she called a living “hell” with terrifying attacks at night — the near-constant roar of airplanes and sounds of explosions overhead. as she sat underground in the dark .
“The dead lie in the entrances, on the balconies, in the courtyards. And you’re not scared at all,” Ms Sukhorukova wrote on Facebook in a series of posts after she escaped late last week. “Because the biggest fear is night shelling. Do you know what night shelling looks like? Like death.”
Few first-person accounts exist of what the estimated 300,000 people trapped in the city endured. The only international journalists left were a team from The Associated Press, but they said on Monday they had to flee after learning Russian troops were looking for them.
The blasts sounded like “a huge hammer pounding the iron roof and then a terrible rattle, as if the ground was being cut with a huge knife, or a huge iron giant in forged boots walks on your land and steps on houses, trees, people. said Ms. Sukhorukova.
As she took to the streets in search of water, her hair tangled from days without baths, she said she dreamed of two things: “not getting shot and taking a hot shower before I die.”
It’s not clear how Poland’s plan for a peacekeeping mission to Ukraine could work, given repeated statements by United States and NATO officials that they would not send troops to defend Ukraine. In the past, such missions were only deployed after the fighting ended.
On Thursday, Mr Biden will attend a European Council summit and a G7 meeting convened by Germany to discuss further sanctions against Mr Putin, as well as aid for the more than three million people who have fled Ukraine.
On Friday, he will visit Poland, a NATO member bordering Ukraine and Russia and the country’s main refugee destination. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there are no plans for Mr Biden to travel to Ukraine.
Andrew E. Kramer reported from Kiev and Neil MacFarquhar From New York. Reporting contributed by Megan Special in Krakow, Poland, Carlotta Gallo in Kiev, Marc Santora in Lviv, Glenn Thrush and John Ismay in Washington, Anton Trojanovskic in Istanbul, Ivan Nechepurenko† Dmitriy Khavin† Haley Willis and Ainara Tiefenthaler.