LVIV, Ukraine – By firing rockets and bombs from land, air and – probably for the first time – from warships in the Sea of Azov, Russian forces expanded their bombardment on the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Sunday and have thousands of residents were forcibly evicted from the country, according to city officials and witnesses.
Among the newly-destroyed buildings was an art school, where about 400 residents took shelter, according to city officials who claimed the school had been bombed by Russian forces targeting civilians. The number of victims was unknown.
In the fourth week of the Russian attack on land, the coastal city — a strategic port that would give Russia control over much of Ukraine’s southern coast — has increasingly become a stark symbol of Russian frustration that its superior manpower and weaponry are swift capitulation of the country. And it has become a symbol of Russia’s brutality, with its forces increasingly targeting civilian sites with long-range missiles to crush the public’s mind and crush Ukraine’s military resistance.
The city has been without food, water, electricity or gas since the first days after the February 24 invasion. But the situation worsened even more over the weekend, with reports of raging street fighting and Russian troops successfully capturing three neighborhoods. On Sunday morning, the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian regiment that has attracted far-right fighters from around the world and is tasked with defending the city, said four Russian naval vessels fired on the city. Largely cut off from the outside world, the toll on the citizens there is difficult to estimate.
Last week, a Mariupol theater, which housed hundreds of people, was reduced to rubble. The word “children” was written in large letters on the sidewalk, clearly visible from the air. Even now, the fate of most of those people remains unknown.
“The beleaguered Mariupol will go down in the history of responsibility for war crimes,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a speech to the nation late Saturday night.
“The terror perpetrated by the occupiers in this peaceful city will be remembered for centuries to come.”
In a video address to Israeli lawmakers on Sunday, Mr. Zelensky seemingly compared the suffering of his people to that of the Jews during the Holocaust — a analogy that some Israeli lawmakers criticized as going too far.
“Our people are now wandering the world in search of safety,” the Ukrainian president said in the speech, broadcast before crowds in a public square in Tel Aviv, “as you once did.”
Mr. Zelensky is Jewish, but has been called a “little Nazi” by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who falsely claimed that the Ukrainian government is pro-Nazi. He has made the “de-Nazification” of Ukraine a justification for the invasion.
Israel has tried to act as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia, providing aid to the besieged country and taking in refugees, but has refused to supply Ukraine with weapons such as its vaunted Iron Dome missile defense system or even defensive equipment such as helmets. Israel’s attitude has angered Mr. Zelensky.
“It is possible to mediate between countries,” said Mr. Zelensky in his 10-minute speech, “but not between good and evil.”
Ukrainian officials said on Sunday that an attack by a Russian tank on a retirement home in the city of Kreminna in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region on March 11 killed 56 people. access impossible.
“They just modified the tank, placed it in front of the house and started firing,” said Serhiy Haidai, a Ukrainian official who oversees the Luhansk regional government.
Despite four days of negotiations last week between Ukraine and Russia, there was little evidence of progress towards peace. Still, Mr. Zelensky reiterated his desire to deal diplomatically with the Russians, telling DailyExpertNews on Sunday that “without negotiations, we cannot end this war.”
As Russian forces pushed into the center of Mariupol, some 4,500 residents were forcibly moved across the nearby Russian border, according to Pyotr Andryuschenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol. Without resources in Russia to rely on, they would have been at the mercy of people who took them across the border, he said.
The recently evacuated residents of Mariupol also told DailyExpertNews that they had been in contact with people who had been detained in basements and crossed the border against their will.
“What the occupiers are doing today is known to the older generation, who experienced the horrific events of World War II, when the Nazis forcibly captured people,” said Mariupol mayor Vadym Boychenko.
Moscow officials did not address these claims directly, but said on Friday that thousands of Ukrainians had “expressed a desire to escape” to Russia.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russia said it had used advanced long-range missiles to hit three military facilities, including a training center in the northern city of Ovruch and a large fuel depot near the southern city of Mykolaiv.
Major General Igor Konashenkov, the spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry, said on Sunday that Russia had used a Kinzhal hypersonic missile — fast enough to evade interception — to hit the fuel depot. It was the same type of missile that Russia claimed to have first used on Saturday to attack an ammunition depot in western Ukraine.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, admitted on Sunday that Russia had used Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, but did not specify where or when.
Cruise missiles launched from the Black Sea on Sunday also destroyed the workshops of a military factory in the northern city of Nizhyn, General Konashenkov said.
There was no immediate comment from Ukrainian officials and the claims could not be independently verified.
The aerial bombardment fitted into a picture of a bloody stalemate that Western military experts are now describing, with Russia increasingly turning to long-range missiles as its ground campaign has been choked by Ukrainian resistance, and as Russian forces even appear to be losing ground around Kiev, the capital.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Russia’s military campaign had “essentially stalled” after suffering heavy casualties, which is typical of Russia’s strategy to keep its soldiers “into a wood chipper”.
War Between Russia and Ukraine: Important Things to Know
“Russian generals are running out of time, ammunition and manpower,” Ben Hodges, the former commander of the US military in Europe, wrote last week.
“The Russians are in trouble and they know it,” Hodges wrote.
Russian commanders initially planned airborne and mechanized operations to quickly capture Kiev, Kharkov, Odessa and other major Ukrainian cities. Their hope was to install leaders loyal to Moscow.
It is now clear that the plan has failed, analysts said.
Britain’s defense intelligence agency said on Sunday that Russian forces are still in the process of encircling towns and occupying territory in the south around Kherson. But it said Russia had “stepped up indiscriminate shelling of urban areas, resulting in widespread destruction and large numbers of civilian casualties.”
This, Mr Hodges said, had been deliberate.
“These attacks confirm that they have precision capabilities, as we assumed,” he said in an email. “Which also confirms that their use of indiscriminate strikes in cities is not because they lack precision munitions. It is intentional, also as we had assumed.”
A stalemate is not the same as a ceasefire or ceasefire.
Some of World War I’s deadliest battles were fought in stalemates that opponents failed to break, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, pointed out a recent investigation of the invasion of Ukraine by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
Even if the Russian invaders find military success entering Mariupol, the cost could limit the impact of a Russian victory.
“If and when Mariupol eventually falls, the Russian forces besieging now may not be strong enough to drastically change the course of the campaign by attacking westward,” the institute’s analysis said, adding that continuing the campaign bombing of Ukrainian cities was likely.
The Russian invasion has resulted in the fastest-moving exodus of European refugees since World War II. According to Marek Magierowski, the Polish ambassador to the United States, more than two million Ukrainians have invaded Poland, where the government has been working frantically to provide support.
The ambassador told DailyExpertNews’s State of the Union on Sunday that Poland had already integrated tens of thousands of Ukrainian children into its school system, thanks in part to a new law that allows Ukrainians to obtain Polish ID cards, business permits, health care and insurance.
The efforts represent a sharp departure from the Polish government, which has resorted to increasingly extreme measures to prevent colored migrants fleeing conflicts in Africa and the Middle East from crossing the border.
But Polish officials are discussing longer-term efforts to relocate the largely white Ukrainians to other European countries, the Polish ambassador said.
“We have done our utmost to receive the Ukrainian refugees, to receive them in our homes,” said Mr Magierowski.
“But of course two million people. It’s a huge number.”
Valerie Hopkins reported from Lviv, Ukraine; Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland; and Catherine Porter of Toronto. Ivan Nechepurenko contributed from Istanbul, Chris Cameron from Washington and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.