Fighting for Ukraine’s cities thundered in their suburbs on Tuesday, with Ukraine’s military saying it drove Russian troops out of a strategically important Kiev neighborhood, while Russian forces took partial control of three northwestern suburbs where fighting has been raging for weeks.
A senior US defense official said Tuesday that Russian ground forces were still largely stuck outside the capital, but Russian ships have spent the last 24 hours shelling the already devastated southern port city of Mariupol from the shore.
Civilians who made the dangerous escape from Mariupol described their escape through street gunfire and past dead bodies as Russian forces attempted to subdue the city. One woman who found out said planes flew overhead “and dropped bombs everywhere”.
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More than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the war began on February 24, and millions more have been displaced within the country, the United Nations said.
Here are some important things to know about the conflict:
WHY ARE UKRAINE SUBURBS BECOME BATTLEFIELDS?
The suburbs could be a hindrance to Ukraine’s cities or a gateway for Russian troops, particularly near the capital, Kyiv – which is said to be Moscow’s top military target.
After a bitter battle, Ukrainian troops regained control of the Makariv suburb on Tuesday, allowing Ukrainian forces to retake a key westbound highway and preventing Russian troops from encircling the capital from the northwest, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said.
But the ministry said Russian forces were able to partially take the north-western suburbs of Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, some of which had been under attack for weeks.
WHAT HAPPENED IN MARIUPOL?
The Russian attack has turned life in Mariupol into a struggle for survival.
Electricity, water and food supplies were cut off, as were communications with the outside world. It is unclear how many remain in the city, with a pre-war population of 430,000. About a quarter are believed to have fled early in the war, and tens of thousands more have fled via humanitarian corridors in the past week.
Many escape attempts were foiled by Russian attempts to force Mariupol into submission. The British Ministry of Defense announced on Tuesday that Moscow had failed. But Russia now controls the land corridor from Crimea, the peninsula it annexed in 2014, and blocks Ukraine’s access to the Sea of Azov.
Those who made it out of Mariupol described a devastated landscape.
“There are no more buildings there,” says 77-year-old Maria Fiodorova, who fled to Poland.
“They have been bombing us for the last 20 days,” said Viktoria Totsen, 39, who also fled to Poland. “For the last five days, planes have been flying overhead every five seconds and dropping bombs everywhere – on apartment buildings, kindergartens, art schools, everywhere.”
WHAT DID THE AP DIRECTLY OBSERVE OR CONFIRM?
Explosions and gunfire shook Kyiv, and heavy artillery fire was heard from the north-west, where Russia has attempted to encircle and capture several suburbs of the capital. Black smoke could be seen in the distance to the north.
In Lviv, families exchanged tearful goodbyes as women and children boarded trains bound for Poland, while men of military age stayed behind and were prevented from leaving the country. An air raid siren could be heard over the city.
WHAT ARE RUSSIA’S LATEST MILITARY MOVEMENTS?
A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide the US military assessment, said Tuesday Russian ships in the Sea of Azov shelled Mariupol from the shore for the past day.
The official said the US, in contrast, saw no signs of ships in the northern Black Sea firing at Odessa like they had done over the weekend. The official said the US believes Russia has about 21 ships in the Black Sea and about seven in the Sea of Azov.
According to the official, Russian ground forces were still largely deadlocked outside of Kyiv. And, the official said, Russia is struggling to keep its troops supplied with food and fuel. There is evidence that some troops lack proper cold-weather gear and are suffering from frostbite.
A Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said Ukraine’s resistance almost halted Russia’s advance, but Russian troops had not withdrawn.
A day after US President Joe Biden repeated allegations that Putin was considering using chemical or biological weapons, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US had seen no evidence such an escalation was imminent.
— Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
WHAT’S THE LATEST ABOUT SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIA?
Biden plans to announce fresh sanctions on Russia Thursday while he is in Brussels for meetings with NATO and European allies, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said. He didn’t want to give details.
Several large corporations have broken off business relations with Russia in recent weeks. French energy giant TotalEnergies said Tuesday it would halt all purchases of Russian oil and petroleum products by the end of 2022. The company said in a statement that it was “gradually phasing out its activities in Russia” and stressed “the existence of alternative sources of Europe’s supply” of oil.
WERE THERE NEW DIPLOMATIC TALKS?
Talks are ongoing, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has not been granted a face-to-face meeting with Putin, as he requested.
Zelenskyy said he was ready to drop an offer 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.
The Kremlin calls on Ukraine to disarm and declare itself neutral. Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday he could not provide details of the ongoing talks because releasing them would damage the negotiations.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “elements of diplomatic progress are emerging on several key issues.” He said the gains were enough to end hostilities now. He did not give details.
French President Emmanuel Macron discussed a possible ceasefire with both Putin and Zelenskyy on Tuesday, the French Presidency said in a statement. They “didn’t reach an agreement,” the statement said, but Macron “remains convinced of the need to continue his efforts” and he “stands with Ukraine.”
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