ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) – Russian forces maintained their barrage on southern Ukraine, hitting the main Black Sea port of Odessa with cruise missiles and shelling steel mills along the coast in Mariupol, where the Ukrainian fighters remained trapped.
ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) – Russian forces maintained their barrage on southern Ukraine, hitting the main Black Sea port of Odessa with cruise missiles and shelling steel mills along the coast in Mariupol, where Ukrainian fighters remained trapped underground after the last civilians arrived. towards safety.
Moscow was aiming to complete its conquest of Mariupol in time for Victory Day celebrations on Monday. But he faced strong resistance elsewhere.
In a sign of the unexpectedly effective defense that sustained the fighting into its 11th week, the Ukrainian army razed Russian positions on a Black Sea island that was captured in the early days of the war and is become a symbol of resistance.
Western military analysts also said a Ukrainian counteroffensive was advancing around the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv. The Ukrainian military said retreating Russian forces destroyed three bridges on a road northeast of the city in an attempt to slow the Ukrainian advance.
Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II has turned into a punitive war of attrition that has killed thousands, forced millions to flee their homes and destroyed large swaths of some cities.
Ukrainian leaders have warned the attacks will only get worse as Victory Day approaches, when Russia celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 with military parades. Russian President Vladimir Putin is believed to want to proclaim some sort of triumph in Ukraine when he addresses troops in Red Square on Monday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Saturday that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his people “embodied the spirit of those who prevailed in World War II.” He accused Putin of trying to “distort history in an attempt to justify his unprovoked and brutal war against Ukraine”.
“As war rages once again in Europe, we must strengthen our resolve to stand up to those who now seek to manipulate historical memory in order to advance their own ambitions,” Blinken said in a statement as the United States and the United Kingdom commemorate the Allied victory in Europe. .
The heaviest fighting in recent days has been in eastern Ukraine, where both sides are entrenched in a fierce battle to capture or reclaim territory. Moscow’s offensive has focused on Donbass, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.
The governor of the Luhansk region, one of the two that make up Donbass, said a Russian strike had destroyed a school in the village of Bilogorivka where 90 people were seeking refuge in the basement. Governor Serhiy Haidai, who posted photos of the burning rubble on Telegram, said 30 people had been rescued. Emergency services later reported that two bodies had been recovered and more could still be buried under the rubble. Rescue work was suspended overnight but was due to resume on Sunday.
Haidai also said two boys aged 11 and 14 were killed by Russian shelling in the town of Pryvillia, while two girls aged 8 and 12 and a 69-year-old woman were injured.
Moscow has also sought to sweep across southern Ukraine both to cut the country off from the sea and to create a corridor to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, long sheltered by Russian troops. But he struggled to achieve those goals.
On Saturday, six Russian cruise missiles fired from planes hit Odessa, where a curfew is in place until Tuesday morning. Videos posted on social media showed thick black smoke rising above the Black Sea port city as sirens wailed.
Odessa City Council said four of the missiles hit a furniture business, with the shock waves and debris severely damaging high-rise apartment buildings. The other two missiles hit Odessa airport, whose runway had already been destroyed in a previous Russian attack.
Air raid sirens sounded repeatedly early Sunday, the city council said.
Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed Ukraine targeting Russian-held Snake Island in an effort to obstruct Russian efforts to control the Black Sea. An image taken early Saturday by Planet Labs PBC showed most of the buildings on the island had been destroyed by Ukrainian drone attacks, as well as what appeared to be a Serna-class landing craft against the north beach of the Isle.
The image matches Ukrainian military video showing a drone hitting the Russian vessel, engulfing it in flames. Snake Island, located about 35 kilometers (20 miles) off the coast, featured in a memorable incident early in the war when Ukrainian border guards stationed there defied Russian orders to surrender, allegedly using a colorful language.
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters took a stand against a full Russian takeover of the strategically important city, which would give Moscow a land bridge to the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Ukraine in a 2014 invasion.
Satellite photos taken by Planet Labs PBC on Friday showed widespread devastation at the sprawling seaside steelworks of Azovstal, the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the city. The buildings had gaping holes in the roofs, including one under which hundreds of fighters were probably hiding.
After rescuers evacuated the last civilians on Saturday, Zelenskyy said in his evening speech that the focus would be on extracting the wounded and medics: “Of course, if everyone sticks to the agreements. Of course, if there are no lies.
He added that work would also continue on Sunday to secure humanitarian corridors allowing residents of Mariupol and surrounding towns to leave.
The situation at the factory has caught the world’s attention, with the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross desperately trying to organize evacuations.
In recent days, fighters inside have described bringing out small groups of civilians who had been hiding there for weeks. The fighters said via social media that they and the Russians had used a white flag system to stop fighting to get civilians out.
But Russian forces stepped up fire on the mill with mortars, artillery, truck-mounted rocket systems, aerial bombardment and shelling from the sea, making evacuation operations difficult.
Three Ukrainian fighters were reportedly killed and six others injured during an evacuation attempt on Friday. Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment, said his troops waved white flags and he accused Russian forces of firing an anti-tank weapon at a vehicle.
It remains unclear what will happen to the estimated 2,000 fighters in Azovstal, both those still fighting and the hundreds who are believed to be injured. In recent days, the Ukrainian government has contacted international organizations to try to guarantee them safe passage. The fighters have repeatedly sworn not to surrender.
Zelenskyy said officials were trying to find a way to evacuate them. He acknowledged the difficulty, but said: “We don’t give up hope, we don’t stop. Every day we search for a diplomatic option that might work.
Russian forces probed the plant and even entered its maze of tunnels, according to Ukrainian officials.
Kharkiv, which was the first Soviet capital in Ukraine and had a population of about 4 million before the war, remained a key target of Russian bombardment in the northeast. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said on Saturday that the Russian military also touched large arms shipments from the United States and other Western countries with Iskander missiles in the region. His claims could not be independently verified.
But Western military analysts said Ukrainian forces were making progress in securing positions around the town. The Ukrainian army said it had regained control of five villages and part of a sixth.
A Washington-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War, said Ukraine may be able to push Russian forces out of Kharkiv’s artillery range in the coming days, offering respite to the city and an opportunity to build momentum for the defenders. “in a successful and wider counter-offensive.”
Zelenskyy expressed outrage over Russian missile attacks that destroyed a museum in the Kharkiv region and hit Odessa, “where almost every street has something memorable, something historical.” He said Russian forces had destroyed or damaged about 200 cultural heritage sites.
“Every day of this war, the Russian military is doing something that leaves you speechless,” he said. “But the next day he does something that makes you feel that in a new way.”
Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Elena Becatoros and Jon Gambrell, Associated Press