Russia is again targeting Kiev; Zelensky condemns ‘suicide war’

Thunderstorms resounded in the capital Kiev and in Ukraine’s eastern combat zone on Friday, a day after Russia’s main warship in the Black Sea sank while being towed to port, marking a humiliating setback for Moscow.

Russia’s defense ministry threatened intensified missile attacks after its flagship missile cruiser Moscow went down Thursday after what Ukraine and the United States said was a missile attack and what Moscow claimed was an unintentional fire on board.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said on Friday that in Kiev a plant manufacturing and repairing Ukrainian missiles was attacked. 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.

However, departing Russian troops left behind thousands of landmines and 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 hundreds of civilians by accusing Russia of war crimes.

Elsewhere, the fighting intensified. Heavy explosions were heard Friday in Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine, Kherson in the south and in the northeastern city of Kharkiv ahead of an expected major Russian attack in the industrial eastern heartland known as the Donbas. A Ukrainian official said seven people were killed and dozens injured in a Russian attack Thursday on buses carrying civilians out of the war-torn east.

An intensified bombardment also hit Severodonetsk in the eastern Luhansk region. In the small town, with a pre-war population of about 100,000, the streets were 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 the fought southern port city of Mariupol.

On Friday, the fight for the city centered on street fights around a giant metal plant and the port area, said spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, Oleksandr Motuzyanyk. 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.

Ukraine said out-competing defenders still held on to Mariupol, which Moscow is determined to conquer to create a land bridge between Russian-controlled territory and the Crimean peninsula, seized by Russia in 2014. But analysts predicted the city’s fall could be close.

In his nightly speech to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the endurance and courage of Ukrainian defenders as the war entered its eighth week – an invasion that the Ukrainian leader described as “absurd” and “suicidal”.

He also mocked the loss of Moscow without referring to the flagship by name, declaring that Ukrainian forces with their actions had shown 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 and capable of transporting long-range cruise missiles, sank while being towed to port on Thursday 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.” Russia has acknowledged that there was a fire on board, but not an attack.

The ship’s loss is likely to force changes in how the Russian navy operates in the Black Sea, an important staging post for Moscow’s expected offensive in Ukraine’s eastern and southern coasts, analysts said. 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. ”

But a think tank in Washington, Institute for the Study of War, said in its latest analysis that while Moscow’s losses would reduce Russia’s ability to carry out cruise missile attacks, it is “unlikely to provide a decisive blow to Russian operations as a whole. . “

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 eastern offensive.

Zelensky, in his overnight speech, lied back to the beginning of the invasion, as he said Russia expected to do short work of oppressing 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.”

When Moscow promised renewed strikes in the capital, Moscow 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 Kyiv’s nationalist regime committing any terrorist act or sabotage on Russian territory,” 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 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. Anumita Kaur of Washington contributed to this report.

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