LVIV, UKRAINE (AP) – Russian forces appeared to make progress from northeast Ukraine in their slow fight to reach the capital, Kyiv, while tanks and artillery pounded places already under siege with shelling so heavy it prevented residents of one city from burying the growing number of dead.
In past offensives in Syria and Chechnya, Russia’s strategy was to crush armed resistance with sustained airstrikes and shelling that leveled population centres. That kind of assault has cut off Ukraine’s southern port city of Mariupol, and a similar fate could await Kyiv and other parts of the country if the war continues.
In Mariupol, unceasing barrages have thwarted repeated attempts to bring in food and water and to evacuate trapped civilians.
Mariupol’s death toll has passed 1,500 in 12 days of attack, the mayor’s office said.
Continued shelling forced crews to stop digging trenches for mass graves, so the “dead aren’t even being buried”, the mayor said.
Russian forces have hit more than a dozen hospitals since they invaded Ukraine on February 24, according to the World Health Organization.
Ukrainian officials reported yesterday that heavy artillery damaged a cancer hospital and several residential buildings in Mykolaiv, a city 489 kilometres west of Mariupol.
The conflict has already sent 2.5 million people fleeing the country. Thousands of soldiers on both sides are believed to have been killed along with many Ukrainian civilians.
On the ground, the Kremlin’s forces appeared to be trying to regroup and regain momentum after encountering tough resistance and amassing heavy losses over the past two weeks.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said Russia is trying to reset and “re-posture” its troops, gearing up for operations against Kyiv.
Russian forces were blockading Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, even as efforts have been made to create new humanitarian corridors around it and other urban centers so aid can get in and residents can get out.
The Russians also stepped up attacks on Mykolaiv, located 470 kilometres south of Kyiv, in an attempt to encircle the city.
As part of a multi-front attack on the capital, the Russians’ push from the northeast appeared to be advancing, a United States (US) defence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Combat units were moved up from the rear as the forces advanced to within 30 kilometres of Kyiv.