A month of war, always defiant. With its government still standing and its troops outnumbered battling Russian forces in bloody stalemates in several places, Ukraine is scarred, wounded, mourning its dead but far from beaten as it prepares for a second month of bombing, fighting, casualties and resistance.
When, on February 24, Russia launched its force to invade Ukraine in the biggest European offensive since World War II and raised the prospect of nuclear escalation if the West intervened, a lightning-fast overthrow of the democratically elected Ukrainian government seemed possible.
But with Wednesday marking a full four weeks of fighting, Russia is instead mired in an increasingly attritional, costly and uncertain military campaign, with countless deaths, with no immediate end in sight, and hemmed in by biting Western sanctions. hard on its economy and its currency. .
US President Joe Biden and his key allies, meeting in Brussels and Warsaw this week, will discuss possible new sanctions and additional military assistance to Ukraine.
To see: Russians destroy Chernobyl lab and radiation monitors have stopped working, says Ukraine
Repeatedly repelled by fleeing Ukrainian units armed with Western-supplied weapons, Russian troops bombard targets from afar, falling back on tactics they previously used to reduce cities to rubble in Syria and Chechnya . The main Russian strategic objectives have still not been achieved: the capital kyiv has been hit several times but has not been taken or even surrounded.
More shelling and gunfire rocked the city again on Wednesday, with plumes of black smoke rising from the western outskirts, where the two sides have battled for control of several suburbs. A shopping center and buildings were hit, injuring four people, the city administration reported.
To the south, the port city of Mariupol has seen the worst ravages of war, under weeks of siege and bombardment. So far, the defense of Ukrainian forces has prevented its fall. This frustrates the Russian goal of opening another permanent and secure land link from the Crimean peninsula, seized from Ukraine in 2014, to Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said 100,000 civilians remain in the shattered city which has been battered by air, land and sea. Repeated efforts to deliver desperately needed food and other supplies to those caught trapped have often failed.
“They bombed us for the past 20 days,” said Viktoria Totsen, 39, who fled Mariupol for Poland. “For the past five days, planes were flying over us every five seconds and dropping bombs everywhere – on apartment buildings, kindergartens, art schools, everywhere.”
To see: Flight from Ukraine: “Putin’s goal is to break us and destroy our sense of freedom.
Zelenskyy, speaking in his nightly video address to his nation on Tuesday, said efforts to establish stable humanitarian corridors for Mariupol residents are almost all “thwarted by Russian occupiers, by bombing or deliberate terror”. .
He accused Russian forces of seizing a humanitarian convoy. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the Russians were holding 11 bus drivers and four rescue workers and their vehicles captive.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross traveled to Moscow on Wednesday for expected talks with Russian foreign and defense officials on prisoners of war, conduct of hostilities, delivery of aid and other humanitarian issues. “The devastation caused by the conflict in recent weeks, as well as eight years of conflict in Donbass, has been immense,” said ICRC President Peter Maurer.
A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to give the Pentagon’s assessment, said Russian ships in the Sea of Azov helped bomb Mariupol. The hands of an exhausted survivor from Mariupol trembled as she arrived by train in the western city of Lviv. “There is no connection with the world. We couldn’t ask for help,” said Julia Krytska, who was helped by volunteers to get by with her husband and son. “People don’t even have water there.”
Russian forces also shelled and destroyed a bridge in the encircled city of Chernihiv, which crossed the Desna River and connected the city to Kyiv, regional governor Viacheslav Chaus said on Wednesday. Deliveries of humanitarian aid and evacuations of civilians passed through this bridge. Local authorities have warned of a humanitarian disaster in the town, with no water or electricity.
But as Biden began a four-day trip to Europe on Wednesday to step up pressure on Russia, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin had yet to achieve his goals in Ukraine. Putin’s goals remain to “get rid of Ukraine’s military potential” and to “ensure that Ukraine moves from an anti-Russian center to a neutral country”, Peskov said.
Western officials say Ukrainian resistance has halted much of Russia’s advance and Russian forces face severe shortages of food, fuel and cold weather gear, leaving some soldiers to suffer chilblains. Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday that the war in northern Ukraine was largely “static”, with Russian forces trying to reorganise.
“We’ve seen indications that the Ukrainians are going a bit more on the offensive now,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters separately in Washington. He said that was especially true in southern Ukraine, including near Kherson, where “they tried to regain territory.”
The much more powerful and larger Russian military has many Western military experts warning against overconfidence in Ukraine’s long-term chances. Russia’s practice in past wars in Chechnya and Syria has been to crush resistance with strikes that leveled cities, killing countless civilians and driving millions away. But Russian forces appeared ill-prepared and often performed poorly against Ukrainian resistance.
The United States estimates that Russia has lost just over 10% of the overall combat capability it had at the start of the fight, including troops, tanks and other materiel.
The invasion has driven more than 10 million people from their homes, nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s population, according to the United Nations.
Thousands of civilians are said to have died. Estimates of Russian military casualties vary widely, but even conservative figures from Western officials are in the low thousands.
Talks to end the fighting continued via video. Zelenskyy said negotiations with Russia are moving “step by step, but they are moving forward.” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he sees progress “showing up on several key issues” and that the gains are enough to end hostilities now. He gave no details.
In their latest March 15 update, Mariupol officials said at least 2,300 people had died in the siege. Accounts from the city suggest the true toll is much higher, with bodies not recovered. Airstrikes last week destroyed a theater and an art school where many civilians had taken refuge.
Zelenskyy said more than 7,000 people were evacuated from Mariupol on Tuesday. Those who remain suffer “in inhumane conditions, under total blockade, without food, without water, without medicine and under constant shelling, under constant shelling”, he said. Before the war, 430,000 people lived in Mariupol.
Perched on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol is a crucial port for Ukraine and spans a strip of territory between Russia and Crimea. It is unclear how much of the city Russia holds, with fleeing residents saying fighting continues street by street.
Further west, in the seaside city of Odessa, street musicians played under cloudless skies on Tuesday as barricades lined the streets and couples parted at the train station in tears, as the residents were preparing for a possible escalation of the Russian onslaught.
Affectionately known as the Pearl of the Black Sea, Odessa was awash in bittersweet air – sandbags and security forces clashing with romantic jazz blaring from the station’s loudspeakers. “I can’t understand what happened,” said Igor Topsi, a 56-year-old musician who has been playing drums on the streets of Odessa for more than three decades. At Central Station, a young man on the platform says goodbye over the phone to his girlfriend sitting inside the train. Only a window separated them.