Kyiv, Ukraine — Ukraine says it has recaptured a strategically important suburb of Kyiv early Tuesday, as Russian forces press on other areas near the capital and their relentless fury attacks the besieged southern port of Mariupol.
Explosions and a flurry of shots shook Kyiv, and black smoke poured from somewhere in the north. Intensified artillery fire was heard from the northwest, where Russia sought to encircle and capture several suburbs of the capital, which was an important goal.
Residents took refuge in their homes or underground under a 35-hour curfew imposed by city officials until Wednesday morning.
Russian forces also continued to lay siege to Mariupol after the defenders of the southern port city refused to surrender and fleeing civilians described incessant shelling and corpses lying in the streets. But the Kremlin’s ground offensive in other parts of the country is moving slowly or not at all, fighting off deadly Ukrainian lightning strikes.
On Tuesday morning, Ukrainian forces pushed Russian troops out of the Kyiv suburb of Makarov after a fierce battle, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said. The reclaimed territory allowed Ukrainian forces to regain control of a key highway and prevent Russian troops from encircling Kyiv from the northwest.
The Defense Ministry also said that Russian forces had managed to partially occupy other northwestern suburbs, Bucha, Gostomel and Irpen, some of which have been under attack almost since the beginning of the Russian military invasion there for almost a month.
The Russian invasion has driven more than 10 million people from their homes, according to the United Nations, equaling the population of Portugal and nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s pre-war population. The UN has confirmed the deaths of more than 900 civilians, saying the true losses are likely much higher. Estimates of the death of the Russian military vary, but even the most modest figures are estimated at several thousand.
In addition to the horrendous loss of life, the war has shaken global security consensus since the end of the Cold War and has repeatedly raised fears that it could trigger a nuclear accident. The Minister of Natural Resources of Ukraine said that forest fires near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine have been extinguished, and radiation levels in the area are within normal limits. Fires in the area are not uncommon, but there are concerns about the possible release of radiation from the 1986 explosion and factory fire.
Concerns have been raised about the safety of the abandoned factory, as it was taken over by Russian forces last month. Power was temporarily cut off due to fighting earlier this month, and on Monday Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency said radiation monitors around the plant had stopped working.
Faced with unexpected resistance, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces are increasingly focusing their aircraft and artillery on Ukrainian cities and the civilian population living there.
US and UK officials say Kyiv remains Russia’s top target. The bulk of Moscow’s forces remain miles from the centre, but rockets and artillery have destroyed apartment buildings and a large shopping mall, which was left in ruins after Sunday night strikes that killed eight people, emergency officials said.
A senior U.S. Department of Defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the military’s assessment, said that Russia had increased the number of sorties over the past two days, to 300 in 24 hours, and fired more than 1,100 missiles into Ukraine since the attack. the invasion began.
US President Joe Biden, who will travel to Europe at the end of the week to meet with allies, hinted late Monday that the worst could still be ahead.
“Putin is standing against the wall,” Mr. Biden said. He did not foresee the size or strength of our unit. And the more his back is to the wall, the more severe tactics he can apply.
Mr. Biden repeated accusations that Mr. Putin planned to use chemical or biological weapons, although Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that the United States saw no evidence that the use of such weapons was “imminent.”
As Russian forces tried to pin down Kyiv, talks to end hostilities continued via video link but failed to bridge the gap between the two sides. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told his country’s television on Monday that he was ready to consider Ukraine’s withdrawal from NATO membership – Russia’s key demand – in exchange for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and guarantees for Ukraine’s security.
Zelenskiy also suggested that Kyiv would be open to future negotiations over the status of Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014, and areas of eastern Donbas held by pro-Russian separatists.
As part of a series of calls to foreign legislatures to rally support for Ukraine, Mr. Zelenskiy on Tuesday addressed Italian lawmakers, telling them that the besieged port of Mariupol had been completely destroyed in a Russian attack. He also spoke to Pope Francis.
Mariupol officials announced on 15 March that at least 2,300 people had died in the siege, and they haven’t reported it since. Mr. Zelensky said 117 children had died in the war so far.
Some people managed to escape from Mariupol, where Russian bombardments cut off electricity, water and food for several weeks, as well as cut off communication with the outside world. The city council said Tuesday that more than 1,100 people who fled the besieged city were on their way in a bus convoy to another city northwest of Mariupol.
But the Red Cross said a humanitarian convoy trying to reach the besieged city with badly needed supplies still couldn’t get in.
Located on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol is an important port for Ukraine and occupies a strip of territory between Russia and Crimea. As such, it is a key target that has been under siege for over three weeks and has endured some of the worst suffering of the war.
It’s unclear how close his capture might be. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that its forces were still defending the city and had destroyed a Russian patrol boat and an electronic warfare complex. The UK Ministry of Defense said its intelligence showed “Ukrainian forces continue to repel Russian attempts to occupy” the city.
More than 8,000 people, including about 3,000 from Mariupol, fled through humanitarian corridors to safer areas on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
In total, more than 3.5 million people fled Ukraine, and another 6.5 million became internally displaced persons.
Matthew Saltmarsh, spokesman for the UN refugee agency, called the speed and scale of the flight of people from Ukraine “unprecedented in recent times.”