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Friday, May 27, 2022

Ukraine claims battlefield successes as Mariupol evacuation falls apart | Ukraine

Ukraine claimed to have destroyed more Russian forces on Saturday, as the Kremlin continued to bomb civilian targets on the tenth day of its invasion, and a plan to evacuate residents from the besieged city of Mariupol fell apart because of hostilities.

The defence ministry in Kyiv said its soldiers had shot down an enemy helicopter and a warplane, capturing its pilot. They also launched a successful counter-attack in the Kharkiv region, seizing equipment. The city, Ukraine’s second biggest, has been under ferocious Russian bombardment.

Russia’s military machine controls much of south-eastern and southern Ukraine, including the city of Kherson and its surrounding province. Residents flooded into its main square on Saturday and protested peacefully and noisily against occupation.

They waved Ukrainian flags and even hijacked a Russian armoured personnel carrier, taking it for a spin, to loud applause. Similar large-scale anti-Russian demonstrations took place in Melitopol, where Russian soldiers fired into the air, and the Azov Sea port of Berdyansk.

It is too early to say whether Vladimir Putin’s ambitious plan to conquer Ukraine and topple its pro-western government is grinding towards failure. But there is no doubt Ukraine’s continued ability to fight back has defied his apparent assumption of a swift and largely unopposed Russian military victory.

Speaking to the BBC, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, reinforced the message that Moscow’s campaign was faltering and said Ukraine “can absolutely win against Russia”. He observed: “The war has already not gone as Russian president Vladimir Putin might have planned.”

US officials point to the fact that Ukrainian aircraft are still operational this weekend, together with some air defence units. It is a scenario most had believed unlikely when Moscow’s so-called “special operation” began last week. Russia has forbidden the word “war” and made its use a criminal offence.

“The Ukrainians still have a significant majority of their air combat power available to them, both fixed-wing and rotary wing, as well as unmanned systems and surface-to-air systems,” a US official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

With its land invasion apparently stalled, and with little progress made in the advance of a Russian super-column towards Kyiv, Moscow is increasingly turning to indiscriminate shelling and bombing of civilians. The objective, Kyiv believes, is to spread panic and terror.

Multiple cities were hit on Saturday. They included Bila Tserkva, south of the capital, and Kharkiv, where residents spent another night in underground shelters and metro stations. There was fierce fighting in Bucha, just north-west of Kyiv, with reports of civilian casualties.

Footage shows aftermath of Russian airstrike in Ukraine's Bila Tserkva – video
Footage shows aftermath of Russian airstrike in Ukraine’s Bila Tserkva – video

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Moscow’s “terror tactics” were designed to force capitulation. In a video address on Friday night, he berated Nato members for failing to enforce a no-fly zone over the country, saying it gave a “green light for further bombing of Ukrainian cities and villages”.

Zelenskiy attacks Nato'weakness' for refusing no-fly zone over Ukraine – video
Zelenskiy attacks Nato ‘weakness’ for refusing no-fly zone over Ukraine – video

In Moscow, Vladimir Putin warned that Russia would consider any third-party declaration of a no-fly zone as participation in the war, and even claimed Ukraine’s leadership was calling into question the future of the country’s statehood, saying that “if this happens, it will be entirely on their conscience”.

A desperate humanitarian disaster has been unfolding in Mariupol, where an apparent agreement to evacuate 200,000 people from the port city fell apart because of what Kyiv said was continuous Russian shelling. About 500 people managed to escape from the nearby town of Volnovakha.

At least 200,000 people remained trapped in Mariupol on Saturday without heat, electricity and water. “Everything has been hit. Apartment blocks, shops, the hospital. It’s like world war two,” Anatoliy Lozar, a volunteer defender, told the Observer. He added: “We won’t give up. We will fight to the very last man.”

Lozar said civilians were paying a terrible price for Russian aggression. “I saw a car pull up outside a hospital and a mother run out with a wounded child. I have no idea whether the child lived or died. We can’t even collect our dead. The morgue has no electricity.” Médicins Sans Frontières said medicines had run out, with locals drinking snow and rainwater.

Russia fails to observe ceasefire in Mariupol and Volnovakha, say Ukrainian officials – video
Russia fails to observe ceasefire in Mariupol and Volnovakha, say Ukrainian officials – video

The city’s mayor, Vadym Boychenko, said supplies of food were critically low. “They want to wipe Mariupol and Mariupol residents off the face of the earth,” he said, describing indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and hospitals.

In other parts of the country the Russian military suffered setbacks. Ukrainian self-defence units shared video of what they said was a Russian pilot who had ejected from a plane in the Chernihiv region, north of Kyiv. On Thursday Russian bombs levelled an apartment block in the city, killing 47.

The pilot has previously bombed civilians in Syria, local commanders said, saying they would send him to The Hague for trial. His co-pilot died. Another video shows the downing of a Russian military helicopter, which crashed in a fireball seconds after a missile strike.

“Russia has a clumsy 20th-century army. Ukraine is using 21st-century weapons like Stingers and Javelins,” Olena Chebeluik, a historian in Lviv, said. She added: “We are fighting in small mobile groups. Our fighters can hide. They know the territory. Locals support them.”

The Ukrainian offensive in the Kharkiv region was possible because of “low morale” among occupying forces and a lack of preparation by Russian reserves, Ukraine’s armed forces said. Some separatist units had also pulled back to the Donetsk and Luhansk region after Ukrainian units stormed and seized the rebel-held town of Horlivka.

Ukraine’s military claims that 10,000 Russian soldiers have been killed. Moscow puts the figure at 500. On Saturday the defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said 66,224 Ukrainians living abroad had returned home to fight – the equivalent of 12 brigades. ‘“Ukrainians, we are invincible!” he said.

Outside Lviv’s main recruitment office, instructor Vitaly Glyuk said Ukraine had taken the initiative against a more powerful opponent. “The Russians are getting a bit exhausted. We are now going forward. It’s our time,” he said. He added: “We have been fighting this monster for 300 years already.”

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