Ukrainian resistance has halted much of Russia’s advance, but has not forced Moscow’s forces to retreat, a Western official said.
KIU, Ukraine – Ukrainian leaders have accused Russia of capturing 15 rescuers and drivers from a humanitarian convoy trying to deliver desperately needed food and other supplies to the bloodied port city of Mariupol, which also came under naval attack after weeks of air and ground strikes.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky estimates that 100,000 civilians remain in Mariupol, the site of some of the most severe devastation in the war, while Russia continues its nearly month-long offensive, bombing cities and towns. Those who came out described the destroyed city.
“They have been bombing us for the last 20 days,” said 39-year-old Victoria Totzen, who fled to Poland. “For the past five days, planes have been flying over us every five seconds, dropping bombs everywhere – on homes, kindergartens, art schools, everywhere.”
Zelensky, speaking late Tuesday in his nightly video address to his nation, accused Russian forces of blocking the convoy with help, despite agreeing to the route early.
“We are trying to organize stable humanitarian corridors for the people of Mariupol, but almost all our attempts, unfortunately, are thwarted by the Russian occupiers, shelling or deliberate terror,” said Zelensky.
The Red Cross confirmed that a convoy of humanitarian aid trying to reach the city could not enter.
The convoy’s attempt to help came at a time when Russian Navy ships had joined several weeks of Russian air and ground strikes on Mariupol, U.S. officials said.
A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to assess the Pentagon, said Russian ships in the Sea of Azov had added to the shelling of Mariupol. The official said there were about seven Russian ships in the area, including a minesweeper and a pair of landing craft.
One exhausted survivor of Mariupol was shaking her hands when she arrived by train in the western city of Lviv.
“There is no connection with the world. We couldn’t ask for help, – says Yulia Kritka, who was helped by volunteers to deal with her husband and son. “People don’t even have water there.”
US President Joe Biden is due to travel to Europe for Thursday’s NATO emergency summit on Russia’s invasion and increasingly hostile stance towards the West, where NATO members and other European allies are strengthening their defenses.
Biden travels to Brussels and Poland, which have taken in more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees since the February 24 invasion. He is expected to seek unity among the Western allies and announce additional sanctions as part of a series of economic and financial sanctions against Russia.
Responding to CNN, what Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved in Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov replied: “Well, first, not yet. He has not yet reached. ” But he insisted that the military operation was “strictly in line with plans and objectives that had been developed in advance.”
Putin’s goals remain to “get rid of Ukraine’s military potential” and “ensure Ukraine’s transition from an anti-Russian center to a neutral one,” Peskov said.
In the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, the city was shaken by explosions and queues, and from the northwest was heard heavy artillery fire, where Russia sought to surround and capture several suburbs of the capital.
Ukrainian forces have regained one suburban town of Makarov this week, but have partially lost three other northwestern suburbs, Ukraine’s defense ministry said.
A video released by Ukrainian police shows them inspecting damage in Makarov, including the city police station, which, according to the officer, struck a direct blow to the roof. Police drove past destroyed homes and on a road killed by shelling. The city seemed almost deserted.
A Western official, who discussed military assessments on condition of anonymity, said Ukraine’s resistance had halted much of Russia’s advance but had not sent Moscow’s forces to retreat.
“We have seen signs that the Ukrainians are now a little more offensive,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington. He said this was especially true in southern Ukraine, including near Kherson, where “attempts were made to regain territory.”
Many Western military experts warn against overconfidence in Ukraine’s long-term chances in Russia’s much stronger and larger military. Russia’s practice in past wars in Chechnya and Syria has been to reduce resistance to strikes that have leveled cities, killed countless civilians and sent millions to flee.
But Russian forces were unprepared and often acted poorly against Ukrainian resistance.
The United States estimates that Russia lost just over 10 percent of its total combat capability at the start of the battle, including troops, tanks and other equipment.
Western officials say Russian forces are facing severe shortages of food, fuel and equipment for cold weather, leaving some soldiers suffering from frostbite.
The invasion has expelled more than 10 million peoplealmost a quarter of Ukraine’s population, according to the United Nations.
Thousands of civilians are believed to have died. Estimates of the losses of the Russian military vary widely, but even conservative figures for Western officials are in the thousands.
Putin’s troops are facing unexpectedly fierce resistance that has left most of Moscow’s ground forces miles from central Kiev, and they are slowly advancing in a clear effort to cut off militants in eastern Ukraine. The Russians are increasingly concentrating their aircraft and artillery on Ukrainian cities and civilians.
Negotiations to end the fighting continued on video. Zelensky said talks with Russia were “step by step, but they are moving forward.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said he sees progress in the talks.
“Based on my contact with various actors, elements of diplomatic progress are becoming in the spotlight on several key issues,” he said. He did not provide any details.
The Western official, however, said there were no signs that Moscow was willing to compromise.
In the latest update of Mariupol officials on March 15, they said at least 2,300 people had died during the blockade. Data from the city show that the real victims are much higher, and the bodies lie unresolved. Over the past week, air strikes have destroyed a theater and art school where many civilians were hiding.
Zelensky said in his address that more than 7,000 people were evacuated from Mariupol on Tuesday. Those who remain suffer “in inhumane conditions, in a complete blockade, without food, without water, without medicine and under constant shelling, under constant bombing,” he said.
Before the war, 430,000 people lived in Mariupol.
Located on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol is an important port for Ukraine and lies in the area between Russia and Crimea. The siege cut off the city from the sea and allowed Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimea.
It is unclear what part of the city Russia occupies, and fleeing residents say fighting continues street by street.
In addition to the horrific human casualties, the war has shaken the global consensus on security since the end of the Cold War, jeopardized global supplies of major crops and raised concerns that could lead to a nuclear accident.
Anna reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanov of Lviv and other AP journalists around the world contributed to the report.