Russia bombs vital port of Odessa, targeting supply lines

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ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Russian troops pounded the vital port of Odessa, Ukrainian officials said Tuesday, in an apparent effort to disrupt supply lines and arms deliveries that have been critical to the defense of kyiv.

Ukraine’s ability to thwart a larger and better-armed Russian army surprised many observers, who had anticipated a much quicker conflict. With the war now in its 11th week and kyiv bogging down Russian forces and even mounting a counter-offensive, Ukraine’s foreign minister appeared to suggest the country could expand its goals beyond simply pushing back Russia in areas it or its allies held on February 24 Invasion Day.

One of the most dramatic examples of Ukraine’s ability to prevent Russia from winning easy victories has been Mariupol, where Ukrainian fighters remain locked in a steel mill, denying full Russian control of the city. The regiment defending the factory said on Tuesday that Russian warplanes continued to shell it.

In recent days, the United Nations and the Red Cross have staged a spectacular rescue of what some officials have said are the last civilians trapped in the factory. But on Tuesday, two officials said around 100 were still in the complex’s underground tunnels. Others said it was impossible to confirm.

In another heartbreaking example of the gruesome toll the war continues to take, Ukrainians said they found the bodies of 44 civilians in the rubble of a building in the northeast that was destroyed weeks ago.

Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday that Russian forces fired seven missiles a day earlier from the air at Ukraine’s largest port, Odessa, hitting a shopping center and a warehouse. One person was killed and five others injured, the army said.

Footage overnight showed a burning building and rubbish – including an abandoned tennis shoe – in a heap of destruction in the Black Sea town. At daybreak, Mayor Gennady Trukhanov visited the warehouse and said it “has nothing in common with military infrastructure or military objects”.

Ukraine alleged that at least some of the munitions used dated back to the Soviet era, making them unreliable for targeting. But the Center for Defense Strategies, a Ukrainian think tank that tracks the war, said Moscow used precision weapons against Odessa: Kinzhal, or “Dagger,” hypersonic air-to-surface missiles.

Ukrainian, British and American officials warn that Russia is rapidly depleting its stockpile of precision weapons and may not be able to build more soon, raising the risk of more inaccurate rockets being delivered. used as the conflict continues.

Since President Vladimir Putin’s forces failed to take kyiv at the start of the war, he has said he is focusing on the eastern industrial heartland of Donbas – but one general has suggested Moscow’s goals also include the reduction of Ukraine’s maritime access to both the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Azov.

It would also give him a sliver of territory that would link Russia to both the Crimean peninsula, which it seized in 2014, and Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova.

Even if he fails to separate Ukraine from the southern coast – and it appears to lack the forces to do so – the continued missile strikes on Odessa reflect the city’s importance as a hub strategic. The Russian military has repeatedly targeted the city’s airport and claimed to have destroyed several batches of Western weapons.

Odessa is also a major gateway for grain shipments, and Russia’s blockade is already threatening global food supplies. Beyond that, the city is a cultural gem, dear to Ukrainians and Russians alike, and aiming for it also has symbolic significance.

In Mariupol, the Russians also shelled the Azovstal steelworks, the Azov regiment said, targeting the sprawling complex 34 times in the past 24 hours. Attempts to storm the factory also continued, he added.

Meanwhile, Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the city’s mayor, estimated in a social media post that at least 100 civilians remained trapped in the factory complex. Donetsk Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said the remaining civilians were people “whom the Russians did not select” to be evacuated.

The two officials did not say how they knew there were still civilians in the complex – a maze of tunnels and bunkers spread over 11 square kilometers (4 square miles). Sviatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov regiment, told The Associated Press that he could not confirm that civilians remained. Mayor Vadym Boichenko also said there was no way to find out.

As Russian forces struggle to gain ground in Donbass, military analysts suggest striking Odessa could fuel concerns over southwestern Ukraine, forcing kyiv to station more forces there. This would drive them away from the eastern front as the Ukrainian military mounts counter-offensives near the northeastern city of Kharkiv in a bid to push the Russians back across the border.

Kharkiv and its surroundings have come under sustained Russian attack since the start of the war. In recent weeks, gruesome images have borne witness to the horrors of these battles, with charred and mutilated bodies strewn across a street.

Dozens of bodies were found in a five-storey building that collapsed in March in Izyum, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Kharkiv, Oleh Synehubov, the head of the regional administration, said on Tuesday.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, meanwhile, appeared to express growing confidence – and expanded goals – amid the stalled Russian offensive.

“In the first months of the war, victory for us looked like a withdrawal of Russian forces to the positions they occupied before February 24 and paying for the damages inflicted,” Dmytro Kuleba said in an interview with the Financial Times newspaper. . “Now, if we are strong enough on the military front and win the Battle of Donbass, which will be crucial for the next dynamics of the war, of course, the victory for us in this war will be the liberation of the rest of our territories .”

This seems to indicate that Ukraine wants to try to take back Crimea as well as the regions of Donbass taken by Russia and the separatists it supports.

But the comments seemed to reflect political ambitions more than battlefield realities: many analysts agree that if Russia is not able to make quick gains, the Ukrainian military is not strong enough to push back the Russians .

Also on Tuesday, Ukraine’s military warned that Russia could target the country’s chemical industries. The claim was not immediately explained in the report. But Russian bombings have already targeted oil depots and other industrial sites during the war.

In Washington, President Joe Biden on Monday signed a bipartisan measure to revive the World War II “Lend-Lease” program, which helped defeat Nazi Germany, to bolster kyiv and its Europe allies from ballast.

Elsewhere on the diplomatic front, Western powers have continued to rally behind the beleaguered government in kyiv. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited the kyiv suburb of Bucha, where the bodies of civilians – some tied up, burned or shot at close range – were found after Russian forces withdrew.

“We owe it to the victims that we don’t just memorialize them here, but hold the perpetrators accountable,” she said.

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Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, 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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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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