Russia has mounted increased attacks on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, but military forces have made little ground in the last week.
Russia Bombs Kyiv Mall
Russia continued what appears to be nothing more than senseless attacks on civilian infrastructure and neighborhoods as its war on Ukraine marked its 26th day Monday.
On Sunday, Russia launched a missile strike on a major shopping center in Kyiv, leaving much of the area in rubble and killing at least eight people in what has been described as one of the strongest bombings of Ukraine’s capital since the beginning of the invasion.
The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, imposed a curfew on the city, requiring all residents of the capital to stay at home or in shelters from 8 p.m. Monday to 7 a.m. Wednesday and mandating that all stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and government offices close on Tuesday.
Klitschko insisted that the shopping center attack is “not a coincidence.”
“Putin wants to starve the civilians to make them pressurize their leaders,” he said in a statement.
With this latest strike, residents in the capital are worried that if Russian forces continue to close in, Kyiv could see attacks like those Kharkiv and Mariupol, where Russia has launched an onslaught on civilian populations to make up for slow progress in the regions. That concern is especially heightened as British defense officials have warned that Kyiv remains Russia’s “primary military objective,” adding that troops are expected to prioritize an attempt to encircle the city in the coming weeks.
Mariupol Refuses to Surrender
Furthering their major military objectives, Russian officials on Sunday offered an ultimatum to the strategic southern port city Mariupol: if the city surrenders, Russia will allow civilians to leave and humanitarian aid to enter.
Ukrainian officials rejected the ultimatum on Monday, though President Volodymyr Zelensky said he would be open to negotiations to end the fighting.
The stability of the situation on the ground, however, remains unclear. According to reports, hundreds of thousands of civilians are still trapped in the city with no electricity and rapidly diminishing supplies of food and water.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian military and city officials have said that the battle has devolved into street-to-street guerrilla fighting, and Russian forces have encircled the city and are currently occupying all civilian neighborhoods. A top E.U. diplomat went as far as to accuse Russia of committing “a massive war crime” in its attack of Mariupol.
The future of Mariupol is highly significant because if Russia seizes the city, it would mark its first real strategic victory in a war that has resulted in stalemates on many other fronts.
While Russia has ramped up shelling in recent days, a U.S. defense official told reporters that Russian forces have shown almost no signs of advancing into Ukraine over the last week. The Russian military remains stalled around many areas and has failed to take control over any major cities.
Potential New Fronts & Ongoing Refugee Crisis
Ukrainian officials are looking out for possible new fronts in the war. Specifically, because Russia has been more successful in the south, where Mariupol is, authorities are closely watching that region. There are also concerns that Russian and possibly Belarussian troops might try to open a new front along Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus.
The worries over new areas of attack come as millions of people are already being displaced and fleeing the country.
The U.N. reported Sunday that more than 10 million — or 1 in 4 people in Ukraine — have been displaced since the beginning of the invasion. On Monday, the agency said that more than 3.4 million refugees have fled Ukraine in the same period and described the situation as the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
As the crisis continues with more refugees anticipated, European cities accepting the fleeing Ukrainians are beginning to hit their capacity. In the Polish capital of Warsaw, the mayor is now warning that the city of 1.8 million is on the brink as over 300,000 refugees have sought safety there.
Ongoing Negotiations & Diplomatic Efforts
Amid the continued fighting and tensions, Zelensky on Sunday renewed his calls for peace talks, though the two sides still appear to be far apart.
Speaking to CNN, the Ukrainian leader said he would reject any peace agreement that requires Ukraine to recognize the independence of the two Russian-backed separatist regions. To end the fighting, he said Ukraine would need “security guarantees, sovereignty, restoration of territorial integrity, real guarantees for our country.”
Zelensky also emphasized the importance of negotiations.
“I think that without negotiations we cannot end this war,” he said. “But if these attempts fail, that would mean … a third world war.”
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is making his biggest diplomatic push so far. On Monday, he traveled today to meet with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and Britain. He is expected to go to Brussels to meet with NATO and E.U. leaders on Wednesday before heading to Poland on Friday.
One of the most significant topics of discussion at those summits will likely be Poland’s proposal to launch an international peacekeeping mission in Ukraine. Although NATO has undertaken these missions in Europe before, they were done after fighting had ended.
Already, the U.S. has rejected that idea. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. said Sunday that America has ruled out any military participation.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)
Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished
The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.
Settlers Get Ready to Move in
On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.
“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.
The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.
The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.
In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”
“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.
In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.
Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land
On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.
Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.
The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s
“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”