LVIV, UKRAINE (AP) – Ukrainian forces said they retook a strategically important suburb of the capital yesterday, while Russia’s attack on the embattled southern port of Mariupol raged unabated, with fleeing civilians describing relentless bombardments and corpses lying in the streets.
While Russian forces carried on with the siege of Mariupol after the southern port city’s defenders refused demands to surrender, the Kremlin’s ground offensive in other parts of the country advanced slowly or not at all, knocked back by lethal hit-and-run attacks by the Ukrainians.
Early yesterday, Ukrainian troops forced Russian forces out of the Kyiv suburb of Makariv after a fierce battle, Ukraine’s Defence Ministry said. The regained territory allowed Ukrainian forces to retake control of a key highway and block Russian troops from surrounding Kyiv from the northwest.
But the Defence Ministry said Russian forces battling toward Kyiv were able to partially take other northwest suburbs, Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, some of which had been under attack almost since Russia’s military invaded late last month.
In Mariupol, with communications crippled, movement restricted and many residents in hiding, the fate of those inside an art school flattened last Sunday and a theatre that was blown apart four days earlier was unclear. More than 1,300 people were believed to be sheltering in the theatre, and 400 were estimated to have been in the art school.
Perched on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol is crucial port for Ukraine and lies along a stretch of territory between Russia and Crimea. As such, it is a key target that has been besieged for more than three weeks and has seen some of the worst suffering of the war.
Over the weekend, Moscow had offered safe passage out of Mariupol – one corridor leading east to Russia, another going west to other parts of Ukraine – in return for the city’s surrender before daybreak on Monday. Ukraine flatly rejected the offer well before the deadline.
Mariupol had a prewar population of about 430,000. Around a quarter were believed to have left in the opening days of the war, and tens of thousands escaped over the past week by way of the humanitarian corridors. Other attempts have been thwarted by the fighting.
Mariupol officials said on March 15 that at least 2,300 people had died in the siege, with some buried in mass graves. The number is feared to be far higher after six more days of bombardment.
For those who remain, conditions have become brutal. The assault has cut off Mariupol’s electricity, water and food supplies and severed communication with the outside world, plunging residents into a fight for survival. Fresh commercial satellite images showed smoke rising from buildings newly hit by Russian artillery.