Thunderstorms resounded over Ukraine’s eastern combat zone and in its capital on Friday as Russia intensified its attacks, and experts predicted it could soon take control of the fought port city of Mariupol, a crucial prize that will help the country consolidate territorial gains.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the targets included a factory in Kiev that manufactured and repaired Ukrainian missiles. The capital, which was heavily bombed at the beginning of the war, had enjoyed a period of relative calm after Russian forces broke off an offensive in the northern part of Ukraine earlier this month.
The renewed attacks came the day after Russia was humiliated by the sinking of its main warship in the Black Sea and was widely seen as a prelude to a massive attack in the industrial eastern heartland known as the Donbas.
Heavy explosions shook the cities of Kramatorsk in the east, Kherson in the south and Kharkiv in the northeast on Friday. A Ukrainian official said 10 people were killed, including an infant, in a Russian attack on Thursday on buses carrying civilians out of Kharkiv.
An intensified bombardment also hit Severodonetsk, a city in the eastern Luhansk region with a pre-war population of about 100,000. The streets emptied during a thunderclap of strikes.
At the city hospital, an elderly woman lay on a hospital bed, almost motionless but with open eyes. An elderly man sitting next to her said a grenade had fallen near her nine days earlier.
“She’s in shock,” he said.
Ukraine’s armed forces, meanwhile, claimed to have repulsed Russian attacks on two cities, Popasna and Rubizhne, near Mariupol.
Mariupol has been under Russian attack since the earliest days of the war, and municipal authorities say more than 20,000 civilians have died – a figure that could not be independently verified. The head of the UN World Food Program warned that civilians in the city would be “starved to death”, and predicted that the humanitarian crisis would worsen in the coming weeks.
On Friday, the fight for the city centered on street fights around a giant metallurgical plant and the port area, according to Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk.
Officials said shotgun defenders still held on to Mariupol, which Moscow is determined to conquer to create a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which it captured in 2014.
In a speech to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the endurance and courage of his warriors as the war entered its eighth week. He described the Russian invasion as “absurd” and “suicidal”.
He also mocked the loss of Moscow, Russia’s flagship missile cruiser, which went down Thursday after an apparent missile attack.
Without mentioning the ship by name, he stated that Ukrainian forces had shown by their actions that Russian warships go “only to the bottom.”
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov also mocked Russia over the shipwreck. tweeting that “we have another dive site in the Black Sea now.”
The 12,500-ton warship, named after Russia’s capital, which had the capacity to transport long-range cruise missiles, sank while being towed to port after being damaged in still-controversial circumstances.
Ukrainian officials claim that their forces hit the ship – a claim backed by a senior US defense official on Friday, who said Moscow “was hit by two Ukrainian Neptune missiles.” Russian officials, who have acknowledged there was a fire on board but not an attack, said the ship sank while being towed to port.
Analysts said the ship’s loss would likely force changes in how the Russian navy operates in the Black Sea, an important scene for the looming offensive. In an assessment on Friday, the British military intelligence service said that Moscow had served a crucial role as a command vessel and air defense hub.
Combined with Ukraine’s attack in late March on the landing ship Saratov, Russia has “now suffered damage to two major naval assets” since the invasion on February 24, the British assessment said, adding that these two episodes “are likely to make Russia revise its maritime position in the Black Sea. ”
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington, said in its latest analysis that the loss of Moscow would reduce Russia’s ability to carry out cruise missile attacks, but that it is “unlikely to provide a decisive blow to Russian operations as a all.”
Other Russian vessels have moved rapidly off the coast of southern Ukraine, at least for now, Western military officials said. But the Pentagon said that on land, dozens of Russian battalion tactical groups are in place for the expected offensive.
Zelensky lied back to the start of the invasion, where he said Russia expected to do brief work to suppress Ukraine.
After marking 50 days under attack, he called the country’s defense “an achievement of millions of Ukrainians, of all those who on February 24 made the most important decision of their lives – to fight.”
Meanwhile, Russia threatened with several attacks on Kiev.
Although the capital had been relatively calm for the past two weeks, the inhabitants were still struggling with the thousands of landmines left behind by Russian troops.
Investigators have also gathered evidence of mass atrocities committed during a month-long occupation of some of Kyiv’s satellite cities and suburbs. Western governments have cited reports of rape and execution-like killings of civilians by accusing Russia of war crimes, and Ukrainian police said the bodies of more than 900 civilians have been discovered in the region.
When Russia promised more attacks on the capital, Russia did not cite the sinking of Moscow – although it acknowledged the loss of the warship – but instead said it was responding to attacks on Russian territory.
“The number and scale of missile attacks on targets in Kiev will increase in response to the Kyiv nationalist regime committing any act of a terrorist nature or sabotage on Russian territory,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov was quoted as saying by the RIA news agency.
Russian authorities had on Thursday accused Ukraine of a cross-border helicopter attack on residential buildings in the village of Klimovo in the Russian Bryansk region.
In a speech on the BBC, former CIA director David H. Petraeus described Russia’s admission that the ship sank as a “rare moment of truth”, but said the facts surrounding the vessel’s loss would have “come out” eventually.
Bulos reported from Severodonetsk, King from Warsaw and Linthicum from Mexico City. Times staff writer Anumita Kaur in Washington contributed to this report.