Russian shelling traps residents of Mariupol

Kyiv: Ukrainian forces dug in and Russia’s military lined up more firepower Sunday ahead of an expected showdown in eastern Ukraine that could become a decisive period in a war that has flattened cities, killed untold thousands and isolated Moscow economically and politically.
Experts say a full-scale offensive in the east could start within days, though questions remained about the ability of Russia’s depleted and demoralised forces to conquer much ground after Ukraine’s inspired defenders repelled their push to capture the capital, Kyiv.
On Sunday, Russian forces shelled Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the northeast and sent reinforcements toward Izyum to the southeast in attempts to break Ukraine’s defences, the Ukrainian military command said. The Russians also kept up their siege of Mariupol, a key southern port that has been under attack and surrounded for nearly 1 month.
A Russian Defence Ministry spokesman, Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov, said Russia’s military used air-launched missiles to hit Ukraine’s S-300 air defense missile systems in the southern Mykolaiv region and at an air base in Chuhuiv, a city not far from Kharkiv.
Russia’s sea-launched cruise missiles also destroyed the headquarters of a Ukrainian military unit stationed farther west in the Dnipro region, Konashenkov said. Neither the Ukrainian nor the Russian military claims could be independently verified.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed for stronger military and political support from the West, including NATO members that have funneled weapons and military equipment to Ukraine since Russia invaded but denied some requests for fear of getting drawn into the war.
In a late night video message, Zelenskyy argued that more than Ukraine’s future was at stake: Russia’s aggression was not intended to be limited to Ukraine alone and the entire European project is a target, he said.
Zelenskyy thanked the president of the European Union’s executive commission and Canada’s prime minister for a global fundraising event Saturday that brought in more than 10 billion euros (11 billion) to help Ukrainians who have fled the war.
In Mariupol, Russia was deploying Chechen fighters, reputed to be particularly fierce. Capturing the city on the Sea of Azov would give Russia a land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukriane eight years ago.
Residents have lacked food, water and electricity since Russian forces surrounded the city, making evacuations hard and supplying emergency relief even harder.
Zelenskyy has said he expects more evidence of atrocities to be found once Mariupol no longer is blockaded; Ukrainian authorities think an airstrike on a theater where civilians were sheltering killed hundreds.

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