KYIV, Ukraine: Ukraine said it retook a strategically important suburb of Kyiv on Tuesday, as Russian forces squeezed other areas near the capital and pressed their attack on the embattled southern port of Mariupol.
Explosions and bursts of gunfire shook Kyiv, and black smoke rose from a spot in the north. Intensified artillery fire could be heard from the northwest, where Russia has sought to encircle and capture several suburban areas of the capital, a crucial target.
Residents sheltered at home or underground under a 35-hour curfew imposed by city authorities that runs to Wednesday morning.
Russian forces also continued their siege of Mariupol after the southern port city’s defenders refused demands to surrender, with fleeing civilians describing relentless bombardments and corpses lying in the streets. But 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 Tuesday, Ukrainian troops drove 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.
Still, the Defence Ministry said Russian forces were able to partially take other northwest suburbs, Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, some of which had been under attack almost since Russia’s military intervention almost a month ago.
Russia’s attacks have driven more than 10 million people from their homes, almost a quarter of Ukraine’s pre-war population, according to the United Nations. The UN has confirmed 953 civilian deaths while saying the real toll is probably much higher.
Estimates of Russian military casualties in the grinding war have been hard to come by and vary, but even conservative figures by Western officials are in the low thousands. Russia has not given an update since it said March 2 that 498 soldiers had been killed in action in Ukraine. Russia’s pro-Kremlin Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, citing the Defence Ministry, briefly reported on Monday that almost 10,000 Russian soldiers had been killed.
Beyond the terrible human toll
The report was quickly removed, and newspaper blamed hackers. The Kremlin refused to comment on Tuesday.
Beyond the terrible human toll, the war has shaken the post-Cold War global security consensus, imperiled the global supply of key crops including wheat, and repeatedly raised worries it could set off a nuclear accident. Ukraine’s natural resources minister said wildfires near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant have been extinguished and radiation levels in the area are within norms. Fires are not uncommon in the area, but raise concern about the potential release of radiation from fallout from the 1986 explosion and fire at the plant.
Concerns have been expressed for safety at the decommissioned plant since it was seized by Russian forces last month. The power supply was temporarily cut amid fighting earlier this month, and Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency said on Monday that radiation monitors around the plant had stopped working.
Facing unexpectedly stiff resistance, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces are increasingly concentrating their air power and artillery on Ukraine’s cities and the civilians living there. A senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the military’s assessment, said Russia had increased its air sorties, carrying out as many as 300 over a 24-hour period.
US and British officials say Kyiv remains Russia’s primary objective. The bulk of Moscow’s forces remain miles from the centre, but missiles and artillery have destroyed apartment buildings and a large shopping mall, which was left a smoking ruin after being hit late Sunday by strikes that killed eight people, according to emergency officials.
Biden heads to Europe
US President Joe Biden, who is heading to Europe later in the week to meet with allies, suggested Monday evening that worse may be still to come.
“Putin’s back is against the wall,’’ Biden said. “He wasn’t anticipating the extent or the strength of our unity. And the more his back is against the wall, the greater the severity of the tactics he may employ.”
Biden reiterated accusations that Putin is considering resorting to using chemical or biological weapons, though Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that the United States has seen no evidence to suggest that use of such weapons was “imminent.”
Talks to end the fighting have continued by video but failed to bridge the chasm between the two sides. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Ukrainian television late Monday that he would be prepared to consider waiving any bid by Ukraine to join Nato — a key Russian demand — in exchange for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and a guarantee of Ukraine’s security.
Zelenskyy also suggested Kyiv would be open to future discussions on the status of Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014, and areas of the eastern Donbas region held by Russian-backed separatists. But he said that was a topic for another time.
As part of a series of addresses to foreign legislatures to drum up support for Ukraine, Zelenskyy spoke to Italian lawmakers on Tuesday, telling them that the besieged port of Mariupol had been utterly destroyed in the Russian onslaught. He also spoke to Pope Francis.
Biden’s warning rejected
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has rejected US President Joe Biden’s warning that Russia may be planning a cyberattack against the United States.
Asked about Biden’s comments, Peskov said Tuesday that “the Russian Federation, unlike many Western countries including the United States, does not engage in banditry on the state level.’’
Biden told a meeting of corporate CEOs on Monday that “evolving intelligence’’ indicated a cyberattack may be planned. He urged private companies to invest in their own security to counter cyberattacks.
Russian Nobel winner sells medal for refugees
Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov says he wants to auction off his 2021 Nobel Peace Prize medal to raise funds for Ukrainian refugees.
Muratov called on Tuesday in the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper, which he edits, for people to “share with refugees, the wounded and children who need urgent treatment what is dear to you and has a value for others.’’
Muratov is asking auction houses about the possibility of organising a sale.
Muratov said last year he was giving away his share of the Nobel prize money to causes including independent media, a Moscow hospice, and care for children with spinal problems. He said he wouldn’t keep any himself.
Greece’s foreign minister says he intends to personally escort humanitarian aid into the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Tuesday he had sent an official request to the Ukrainian side to facilitate the sending of humanitarian aid into the city, and an official request to the Russian side to let the delivery in. A sizeable Greek community lives in the Mariupol area.
A senior Serbian official says Belgrade will never impose sanctions or join the Western “hysteria’’ against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Serbia’s Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said Tuesday: “Serbia will never be part of the anti-Russian hysteria in which the property of Russian citizens and the property of the Russian Federation is stolen, just as we will not ban Russian media.’’
The Kremlin has refused to comment on a top tabloid newspaper’s reporting of Russian military casualties in Ukraine. The daily Komsomolskaya Pravda reported Monday that 9,861 soldiers have been killed in action in Ukraine and another 16,153 have been wounded. It cited the Russian defense ministry. The newspaper quickly removed the article from its website, describing it as the work of hackers.
The Dutch government has frozen nearly 400 million euros ($440 million) in funds linked to Russians targeted by sanctions following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag revealed the latest figures on frozen accounts in a letter to Parliament on Tuesday.
Ukraine’s natural resources minister says wildfires have been extinguished in the area of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which is under the control of Russian forces.
The fires have raised concern about the possible release of radiation from the plant, where a 1986 explosion and fire sent radioactive emissions across large parts of Europe.
A group of 20 Ukrainian children with cancer and leukemia has arrived in Paris as part of a rescue plan coordinated by French First Lady Brigitte Macron and Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska.
The children are accompanied by their parents as they flee the war with Russia. They arrived at Orly airport near the French capital on Monday evening.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is urging Italy to beef up sanctions against Russia and seize more assets from President Vladimir Putin and his allies as a way of pressuring Moscow into negotiating an end to the war.
Zelensky spoke to the Italian parliament Tuesday via video from Kyiv, as he has done with other foreign parliaments. Wearing a collared shirt and speaking through an Italian translator, Zelenskyy told Italian lawmakers that he had just spoken by phone to Pope Francis and that the pontiff had endorsed Ukraine’s right to defend itself.
A second superyacht belonging to Chelsea soccer club owner and sanctioned oligarch Roman Abramovich reportedly has docked in a resort in southwestern Turkey.
Turkey has not imposed economic sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine last month, nor has it frozen assets belonging to top Russian businessmen linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The private DHA news agency said Tuesday the Bermuda-registered Eclipse docked in the resort of Marmaris.