Kyiv, Ukraine (AFP) – Ukrainian forces resisted persistent Russian efforts to occupy Mariupol and claimed to have retaken a strategic Kyiv suburb on Tuesday, launching a defense so stubborn that it raised fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin would escalate the war to new heights. .
“Putin is up against the wall,” said US President Joe Biden, who heads to Europe this week to meet allies. “The more he puts his back against the wall, the more intense the tactics he might use.”
Biden repeated accusations that Putin was considering resorting to the use of chemical or biological weapons, although Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States had seen no evidence to suggest such an escalation was imminent.
The warnings came as attacks continued in and around Kyiv and Mariupol, and people fled the battered and besieged coastal city.
The hands of an exhausted Mariupol survivor shook as she arrived by train in the western city of Lviv.
“There is no connection with the world. We could not ask for help,” said Julia Kretzka, who was helped by volunteers out with her husband and son. “People don’t even have water there.”
Explosions and gunfire rocked Kyiv, and heavy artillery was heard from the northwest, as Russia sought to encircle and capture many of the capital’s suburbs.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said, early Tuesday, that the Ukrainian forces expelled the Russian forces from the Makarev suburb of Kyiv after a fierce battle. The recaptured territory allowed Ukrainian forces to regain control of a major highway and prevented Russian forces from surrounding Kyiv from the northwest.
However, the Defense Ministry said that Russian forces have partially captured other northwest suburbs of Bucha, Hostomil and Irpin, some of which have been attacked almost since the Russian invasion about a month ago.
A Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said that the Ukrainian resistance halted much of the Russian advance but did not send Moscow’s forces to retreat.
Western officials say Russian forces are facing serious shortages of food, fuel and cold-weather equipment, causing some soldiers to suffer frostbite. Ukrainians reported that hungry soldiers looted shops and homes for food.
The invasion displaced more than 10 million people from their homesnearly a quarter of Ukraine’s population, according to the United Nations.
It is believed that thousands of civilians were killed. Estimates of Russian military casualties vary widely, but even conservative figures by Western officials are less than thousands.
On Monday, the pro-Kremlin newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, reported the death of nearly 10 thousand Russian soldiers. The report was quickly removed, and the newspaper blamed the hackers. The Kremlin declined to comment. The Western official said the figure was a “reasonable estimate”.
Facing unexpectedly stiff resistance that left the bulk of Moscow’s ground forces within miles of central Kyiv, Putin’s forces increasingly focused their air power and artillery on Ukrainian cities and civilians.
Talks about ending the fighting continued by video. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he would be willing to consider giving up any attempt by Ukraine to join NATO – a key Russian demand – in exchange for a ceasefire, withdrawal of Russian forces and a guarantee of Ukraine’s security.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he saw progress in the talks.
“Through my outreach to various actors, elements of diplomatic progress are emerging on many key issues,” he said, and the gains are enough to end hostilities now. He did not give details.
But the Western official said there were no indications that Moscow was ready to make concessions.
In the latest update from Mariupol officials, they said on March 15 that at least 2,300 people had died in the siege. But there are fears the losses could be much higher. Over the past week, airstrikes destroyed a theater and an art school where many civilians were sheltering.
Thousands managed to escape from Mariupol, as the bombing cut off electricity, water and food, cutting off contact with the outside world.. On Tuesday, the city council said that more than 1,100 people who fled the siege were in a convoy of buses heading to the northwestern city of Mariupol.
But the Red Cross said a humanitarian aid convoy that was trying to reach the city with much-needed supplies was still unable to enter.
Perched on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol is an important port of Ukraine and is located on an expanse of land between Russia and Crimea. The blockade cut off the city from the sea and allowed Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea.
But it was not clear how large the city was controlled by Russia, with fleeing residents saying fighting continued street after street.
A senior US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to give the Pentagon’s assessment, said Russian ships in the Sea of Azov were bombing Mariupol. The official said there are about seven Russian ships in that area, including a minesweeper and two landing gear.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said forces defending the city destroyed a Russian patrol boat and an electronic warfare complex. Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian forces “continue to repel Russian attempts to occupy” Mariupol.
Those who survived Mariupol told of a destroyed city.
“They’ve bombed us for the past 20 days,” said 39-year-old Victoria Tutsen, who fled to Poland. “For the past five days, planes have been flying over us every five seconds and dropping bombs everywhere – on apartment buildings, kindergartens, art schools everywhere.”
Besides the heavy casualties, the war shook the global security consensus after the Cold War, endangered global supplies of key crops, and raised fears that it could lead to a nuclear accident.
Forest fires broke out near the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but Ukraine’s Minister of Natural Resources said the fires were extinguished and radiation was within normal levels. Chernobyl in 1986 was the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
In a series of letters to foreign legislatures, Zelensky urged Italian lawmakers to tighten sanctions against Moscow, noting that many wealthy Russians had homes in the country.
“Don’t be a haven for killers,” he said from Kyiv.
Anna reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press writer Juras Karamanu in Lviv, and other AP journalists around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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