LVIV, UKRAINE (AP) – Air raid sirens blared over Ukraine’s capital yesterday as officials said they were bolstering defences in key cities threatened by Russian forces.
Thousands of people are thought to have been killed, both civilians and soldiers, in almost two weeks of fighting since President Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded. Russian troops have laid siege to several cities, trapping civilians inside them with little or no food, water or medicine.
Repeated efforts to establish safe evacuation routes out of several urban areas have failed, though a few thousand people managed to flee the northeastern city of Sumy via a safe corridor on Tuesday.
Residents of the encircled port city of Mariupol were not so lucky: Some of the worst desperation of the war is unfolding there, but an attempt to evacuate civilians and deliver badly needed supplies failed, with Ukrainian officials saying Russian forces had fired on the convoy before it reached the city.
In the northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces are placing military equipment among residential buildings and on farms, the Ukrainian general staff said. And in the south, it said Russians dressed in civilian clothes are advancing on the city of Mykolaiv, a Black Sea shipbuilding centre of a half-million people.
In Kyiv, back-to-back air alerts yesterday morning urged residents to get to bomb shelters as quickly as possible over fears of incoming Russian missiles. An all-clear was given for each alert soon afterward.
Such alerts are intermittent, keeping people on edge. Kyiv has been relatively quiet in recent days, though Russian artillery has pounded the outskirts.
Kyiv regional administration head Oleksiy Kuleba said the crisis for civilians was growing in the capital, with the situation particularly critical in the city’s suburbs. In the south, Russian troops have advanced deep along Ukraine’s coastline in an effort that could establish a land bridge to Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
The city of Mariupol has been surrounded by Russian soldiers for days and a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the encircled city of 430,000. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Mariupol is in a “catastrophic situation”. The highest-ranking woman at Ukraine’s UN Mission Natalia Mudrenko told the Security Council that the people of Mariupol have “been effectively taken hostage” by the siege.
Her voice shook with emotion as she described how a six-year-old died shortly after her mother was killed by Russian shelling. “She was alone in the last moments of her life,” she said.
Authorities in Mariupol planned to start digging mass graves for all the dead. The shelling has shattered buildings, and the city has no water, heat, working sewage systems or phone service.