Russia renews attacks on Kyiv and fights to seize Mariupol

Thunderous blasts echoed across Ukraine’s eastern battle zone and in its capital Friday as Russia intensified its attacks and experts predicted it could soon take control of the embattled port city of Mariupol, a crucial prize that would help it consolidate territorial gains.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the targets included a factory in Kyiv that made and repaired Ukrainian missiles. The capital, which was heavily bombarded at the outset of the war, had enjoyed a period of relative calm after Russian forces broke off an offensive in Ukraine’s north at the beginning of this month.

The renewed attacks came a day after Russia was humiliated by the sinking of its most important warship in the Black Sea and were widely seen as a prelude to a massive onslaught in the industrial eastern heartland known as the Donbas.

Powerful explosions Friday shook the cities of Kramatorsk in the east, Kherson in the south and Kharkiv in the northeast. A Ukrainian official said 10 people were killed, including an infant, in a Russian strike Thursday on buses ferrying civilians out of Kharkiv.

Intensifying bombardment also hit Severodonetsk, a city in the eastern Luhansk region with a prewar population of about 100,000. The streets emptied amid a thunderclap of strikes.

At the city hospital, an older woman lay on a hospital bed, nearly motionless, but with her eyes open. An elderly man sitting by her side said a shell had fallen near her nine days earlier.

“She’s in shock,” he said.

Ukraine’s armed forces, meanwhile, claimed to have repelled Russian attacks on two towns, 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 United Nations World Food Program warned that civilians in the city are being “starved to death,” and predicted the humanitarian crisis will worsen in the coming weeks.

By Friday, the fight for the city centered on pitched street battles around a giant metallurgy plant and the port area, according to the Defense Ministry spokesman, Oleksandr Motuzyanyk.

Officials said outgunned defenders were still holding on in Mariupol, which Moscow is determined to capture in order to create a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized in 2014.

In an address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised the perseverance and courage of his fighters as the war entered its eighth week. He described the Russian invasion as “absurd” and “suicidal.”

He also mocked the loss of the Moskva, Russia’s flagship missile cruiser that went down Thursday following an apparent missile strike.

Without referring to the ship by name, he declared that Ukrainian forces had shown by their actions that Russian warships go “to the bottom only.”

The Ukrainian defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, also taunted Russia over the sinking, tweeting that “we have one more diving spot in the Black Sea now.”

The 12,500-ton warship, which was named for Russia’s capital and which had the capacity to carry long-range cruise missiles, sank while it was being towed to port after it was damaged under circumstances that are still in dispute.

Ukrainian officials claim their forces hit the ship — an assertion backed by a senior U.S. defense official Friday, who said the Moskva “was struck by two Ukrainian Neptune missiles.” Russian officials, who have acknowledged that there was a fire on board, but not an attack, said the ship sunk while being towed to port.

Analysts said the ship’s loss would probably force changes in how the Russian navy operates in the Black Sea, a major staging ground for the looming offensive. In an assessment Friday, British military intelligence said the Moskva had served a crucial role as command vessel and air defense node.

Combined with Ukraine’s attack in late March on the landing ship Saratov, Russia “has now suffered damage to two key naval assets” since the Feb. 24 invasion, the British assessment said, adding that those two episodes “will likely lead Russia to review its maritime posture 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 the Moskva would reduce Russia’s ability to conduct cruise missile strikes, but that it is “unlikely to deal a decisive blow to Russian operations as a whole.”

Other Russian vessels have swiftly moved away from the southern Ukraine coastline, 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.

Zelenskyy harkened back to the start of the invasion, in which he said Russia expected to make short work of subduing Ukraine.

Marking 50 days under attack, he called the country’s defense “an achievement of millions of Ukrainians, of everyone who on Feb. 24 made the most important decision of their life — to fight.”

Meanwhile, Russia threatened more strikes on Kyiv.

Though the capital had been relatively calm the last two weeks, residents were still contending with the thousands of land mines left behind by Russian troops.

Investigators have also been collecting evidence of mass atrocities committed during a monthlong occupation of some of Kyiv’s satellite towns and suburbs. Western governments have cited accounts of rape and execution-style killings of civilians in accusing Russia of war crimes, and Ukrainian police said the bodies of more than 900 civilians have been discovered in the region.

In vowing more attacks on the capital, Russia did not cite the sinking of the Moskva — though it did acknowledge the warship’s loss — but instead said it was responding to attacks on Russian territory.

“The number and scale of missile strikes against targets in Kyiv will increase in response to the Kyiv nationalist regime committing any acts of a terrorist nature or sabotage on Russian territory,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, according to the RIA news agency.

Russian authorities on Thursday had accused Ukraine of a cross-border helicopter attack on residential buildings in the village of Klimovo, in Russia’s Bryansk region.

Speaking 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 facts surrounding the vessel’s loss would have “come out” eventually.

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