LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia has moved to impede the flow of Western weapons to Ukraine by bombing train stations and other supply targets across the country as the European Union mulls the opportunity to further punish Moscow with a ban on oil imports.
Heavy fighting also raged on Wednesday at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol which was the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the crumbling southern port city, according to the mayor. A Russian official denied that troops from Moscow stormed the factory, but the commander of the main Ukrainian military unit inside said Russian soldiers entered the territory of the factory.
The Russian military said it used sea-launched and air-launched missiles to destroy electrical installations at five train stations across Ukraine. Artillery and aircraft also hit troop strongholds and fuel and ammunition depots.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of “using missile terrorism tactics in order to sow fear throughout Ukraine”.
Air raid sirens sounded in cities across the country on Wednesday night and attacks were reported near the capital Kyiv; in Cherkasy and Dnipro in central Ukraine; and in Zaporizhzhia in the southeast. In Dnipro, authorities said a railway facility was hit. Videos on social media suggest a bridge was attacked.
There was no immediate word on the casualties or the extent of the damage.
Responding to the strikes in his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “All these crimes will be answered, legally and practically – on the battlefield.
The wave of attacks comes as Russia prepares to celebrate Victory Day on May 9, marking the Soviet Union’s defeat by Nazi Germany. The world is watching whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the opportunity to declare victory in Ukraine or expand what he calls “the special military operation.”
A declaration of total war would allow Putin to introduce martial law and mobilize reservists to compensate for the heavy troop losses.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the speculation “nonsense”.
Meanwhile, Belarus, which Russia used as a base for its invasion, announced the start of military exercises on Wednesday. A senior Ukrainian official said the country would be ready to act if Belarus joined the fighting.
The attacks on railway infrastructure were aimed at disrupting the delivery of Western weapons, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu complained that the West was “loading Ukraine with weapons”.
A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, said that while the Russians attempted to strike critical infrastructure around the western city of Lviv, specifically targeting paths iron, there was “no appreciable impact” on Ukraine’s effort. to replenish his forces. Lviv, near the Polish border, has been a major gateway for weapons supplied by NATO.
The influx of arms into Ukraine has helped its forces thwart Russia’s initial attempt to seize kyiv and looks certain to play a central role in the growing battle for Donbas, the eastern industrial region that Moscow now says that is its main objective.
Ukraine has urged the West to increase arms supplies ahead of this potentially decisive clash.
In addition to supplying arms to Ukraine, Europe and the United States have sought to punish Moscow with sanctions. The top EU official on Wednesday called on the 27-nation bloc to ban imports of Russian oil, a crucial source of revenue.
“We will ensure that Russian oil is phased out in an orderly manner, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimize the impact on global markets,” the president said. of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in the European Parliament. in Strasbourg, France.
The proposal must be approved unanimously by EU countries and is expected to be debated fiercely. Hungary and Slovakia have already declared that they will not participate in any oil sanctions. An exemption could be granted to them.
The EU is also talking about a possible embargo on Russian natural gas. The bloc has already approved a cut in coal imports.
The Russian economy is heavily dependent on oil and natural gas exports.
In Mariupol, Mayor Vadym Boychenko said Russian forces were targeting the already destroyed Azovstal plant with heavy artillery, tanks, planes, warships and “heavy bombs that pierce concrete from 3 5 meters thick”.
“Our brave guys are defending this fortress, but it’s very difficult,” he said.
Ukrainian fighters said on Tuesday that Russian forces had begun storming the factory. But the Kremlin denied. “There is no aggression,” Peskov said.
Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment defending the plant, said Russian forces had entered the territory of the plant.
Prokopenko said in a video that the incursions continued for a second day, “and there are heavy and bloody battles.”
“The situation is extremely difficult, but despite everything, we continue to carry out the order to hold the defence,” he added.
His wife, Kateryna Prokopenko, told The Associated Press: “We don’t want them to die. They will not surrender. They are waiting for the bravest countries to evacuate them.
Meanwhile, the United Nations said more than 300 civilians were evacuated Wednesday from Mariupol and other nearby communities. The evacuees arrived in Zaporizhzhia, about 230 kilometers to the northwest, where they were receiving humanitarian aid.
Over the weekend, more than 100 people – including women, the elderly and 17 children – were evacuated from the factory during a ceasefire in an operation overseen by the UN and the Red Cross. But the attacks on the factory soon resumed.
The Russian government said on the Telegram messaging app that it would open another evacuation corridor from the factory at certain times from Thursday to Saturday. But there was no immediate confirmation of those arrangements by other parties, and many such assurances from the Kremlin fell through, with Ukrainians blaming continued Russian fighting.
It is not known how many Ukrainian fighters were still inside, but the Russians put their number at around 2,000 in recent weeks, and 500 were reportedly injured. A few hundred civilians also remained there, the Ukrainian side said.
Mariupol, and the plant in particular, have come to symbolize the misery inflicted by war. The Russians pulverized most of the city in a two-month siege that trapped civilians with little food, water, medicine or heat.
Falling the city would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free up troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbass.
Anna reported from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Associated Press reporters Yesica Fisch in Zaporizhzhia, Inna Varenytsia and David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.
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