LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian aircraft and artillery expanded their assault on Ukraine on Friday, hitting airfields in the west and a major industrial center in the east, as forces from Moscow attempted to regroup after recent losses and their assault was rapidly reducing overcrowded cities to rubble.
US intelligence officials have offered an assessment of the Russian air campaign, estimating that invading pilots fly an average of 200 sorties per day, compared to 5-10 for Ukrainian forces, which focus more on surface-to-air missiles, grenades rocket-powered and drones. to eliminate Russian planes.
New commercial satellite images have emerged capturing artillery fire over residential areas between Russian forces and the capital. Images from Maxar Technologies showed muzzle flashes and smoke from the big guns, as well as impact craters and burning houses in the town of Moschun outside kyiv, the company said.
In a devastated village east of the capital, villagers scaled toppled walls and swinging metal strips into the remains of a pool hall, restaurant and theater freshly destroyed by Russian bombs .
Russian President Vladimir Putin “created this mess, thinking he will be in charge here,” said 62-year-old Ivan Merzyk. When temperatures dip below freezing, villagers quickly spread plastic wrap or nail plywood over the blown windows of their homes.
“We’re not leaving here,” Merzyk said.
On the economic and political front, the United States and its allies decided to further isolate and sanction the Kremlin. President Joe Biden announced that the United States will significantly downgrade its trade status with Russia and also ban imports of Russian seafood, alcohol and diamonds.
The decision to revoke Russia’s most favored nation status was taken in coordination with the European Union and the Group of Seven countries.
“The free world is coming together to take on Putin,” Biden said.
On the ground, Kremlin forces appeared to be trying to regroup and regain momentum after encountering heavier casualties and stronger resistance than expected over the past two weeks. Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russia was trying to “reset and reposition” its troops, preparing for operations against kyiv.
“It’s ugly already, but it’s going to get worse,” said Nick Reynolds, a war analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank.
With the invasion in its 16th day, Putin said there had been “some positive developments” in the Russian-Ukrainian talks, but gave no details.
For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces had “reached a strategic turning point”, although he did not elaborate.
“It is impossible to say how many more days we will need to liberate our land, but it is possible to say that we will,” he said via video from Kyiv.
Zelenskyy said authorities were working to create 12 humanitarian corridors and trying to ensure food, medicine and other basics reached people across the country. Thousands of soldiers on both sides were reportedly killed in the invasion, along with Ukrainian civilians.
He accused Russia of kidnapping the mayor of a city, Melitopol, calling the kidnapping “a new stage of terror”. The Biden administration had warned before the invasion of Russian plans to detain and kill targeted people in Ukraine. Zelenskyy himself is likely a priority target.
So far, the Russians have made the greatest advances on the eastern and southern cities while struggling in the north and around kyiv.
Russia said it used high-precision long-range weapons to put military airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk in the west “out of service”. The Lutsk attack killed four Ukrainian servicemen, the mayor said.
Russian airstrikes also first targeted Dnipro, a major industrial hub in the east and Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, with around 1 million people. One person was killed, Ukrainian officials said.
In footage of the aftermath released by Ukraine’s emergency agency, firefighters extinguished a burning building and ash fell on bloody rubble. Smoke billowed from the broken concrete where the buildings once stood.
The shelling continued in Mariupol, where a deadly strike against a maternity hospital this week sparked international outrage and allegations of war crimes.
Relentless attacks have thwarted repeated attempts to send food and medicine and evacuate civilians from Mariupol, a city of 430,000 people. In a statement, the Mariupol mayor’s office said on Friday that the number of people killed during the siege which has now lasted 12 days had risen to 1,582.
In the face of relentless shelling, “the dead aren’t even buried,” the mayor’s office said.
Elsewhere, temperatures are expected to hit -13 degrees Celsius (8 Fahrenheit) in the eastern city of Kharkiv, which has come under heavy shelling.
About 400 apartment buildings in Kharkiv lost heat and Mayor Ihor Terekhov called on the remaining residents to descend to the metro or other underground shelters where blankets and hot food were distributed.
The latest assaults came a day after satellite photos appeared to show the huge armored column that had been stuck outside kyiv for more than a week had deployed near the capital.
Military analysts were divided on whether the Russian convoy maneuver signaled the imminent start of a siege of kyiv or if it was simply an effort to disperse some vehicles to more protected positions. The photos showed newly installed howitzers in firing position and staged armored units near Antonov Airport north of the city, according to Maxar.
The 40-mile (about 65 kilometer) line of tanks and other vehicles had massed outside kyiv early last week. Its advance appeared to stall amid reports of food and fuel shortages, muddy roads and attacks by Ukrainian troops with anti-tank missiles.
Mathieu Boulegue, a researcher at London-based Chatham House think tank, said the redeployment means the battle for kyiv is just hours or days away. He predicted an endless siege.
“It’s going to be a very long battle of attrition. This is going to be an excruciatingly deadly battle and siege, the likes of which we have rarely seen in modern history,” Boulegue said.
US officials saw the breakup of the convoy heading for kyiv as less significant. A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the US military assessment, said the convoy had made no substantial progress towards the town and the vehicle movements were not part of a tactical effort to advance on kyiv.
The Americans instead point to other forces that are heading towards kyiv from the northeast and are now about 20 to 30 kilometers (about 10 to 20 miles) east of the city center.
The United States also claims that Russia launched nearly 810 missiles at Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the United Nations political chief said the international organization had received credible reports that Russian forces were using cluster bombs in populated areas. The bombs scatter smaller explosives over a wide area and are banned in cities and towns under international law.
The Russians and Ukrainians held several rounds of talks near the Belarusian border, and the two countries’ foreign ministers met again on Thursday with no apparent progress. Various third countries have also tried to negotiate an end to the fighting.
Some 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began, according to the United Nations.
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