With the invasion now in its third week, the US and its allies are preparing to step up their efforts to isolate and ratify Russia by revoking its most favorable trade regime. The move comes amid growing anger after a deadly airstrike hit a maternity hospital in Ukraine’s main port city, Mariupol, under an increasingly restrictive 10-day siege.
The new airstrikes in western Ukraine were probably a signal from Russia that no area was safe, with Western and Ukrainian officials saying Russian forces had struggled with more-than-expected resistance and supply and morale problems. So far, they have made the most progress in cities in the south and east, while stopping in the north and around Kyiv.
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Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and six others were injured in a series of airstrikes at the western airport in Lutsk, according to Yuri Pohuliako, head of the Volyn region. In Ivano-Frankivsk, residents were ordered to shelter after an air raid alert, said Mayor Ruslan Martsinkiv.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russia had used high-precision long-range weapons on Friday to shut down military airports in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk. He did not give details.
New satellite images, meanwhile, appeared to show a huge Russian motorcade outside the Ukrainian capital had spread to cities and forests near Kyiv, with artillery firing to fire in another potentially ominous move.
The 40-mile (64-kilometer) line of vehicles, tanks and artillery had gathered outside the city earlier last week, but its advance seemed to be halting as reports of food and fuel shortages circulated. U.S. officials said Ukrainian troops also targeted the convoy with anti-tank missiles.
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Satellite imagery by Maxar Technologies showed that the 40-mile (64-kilometer) line of vehicles, tanks and artillery outside Kyiv had been relocated, the company said. Armored units were seen in towns near Antonov Airport north of the city. Some vehicles were moving in the woods, Maxar said, with sliding cannons close enough to open fire.
The convoy was seen moving west around the city, trying to encircle it to the south, according to Jack Watling, a researcher at a British defense think tank at the Royal United Services Institute. “They are about halfway through now, so they can close to the south,” he told BBC radio.
He said they were probably preparing for a “siege instead of an attack” in Kyiv because of the continuing low morale and logistical problems.
The British Defense Ministry said that after making “limited progress” due to logistical accidents and Ukrainian resistance, Russian forces were trying to “reposition and reposition” their troops, prepared for operations against Kiev.
Moscow has also given new indications that it plans to bring fighters from Syria into the conflict.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia knew of “more than 16,000 applications” from Middle Eastern countries, many of them from people who said they had helped Russia against Islamic State, according to a Kremlin transcript.
Shoigu did not specify Syria and his numbers could not be confirmed. But since 2015, Russian forces have backed Syrian President Assad against various groups opposed to his rule, including Islamic State.
Responding to Shoigu, President Vladimir Putin approved the deployment of “volunteer” fighters and told his defense minister to help them “move to the battle zone.”
Increasing pressure on Moscow, the United States and other nations were ready later Friday to announce the lifting of Russia’s “most-favored-nation” trade regime, which would allow higher tariffs on some Russian imports. Western sanctions have already hit Russia hard, causing the ruble to plummet, foreign companies to flee and prices to rise sharply.
The Russian airstrikes also targeted for the first time the eastern city of Dnipro, a major industrial hub and Ukraine’s fourth largest city strategically located on the Dnieper River. Three raids took place in the early hours of Friday, killing at least one person, according to Ukrainian Interior Ministry spokesman Anton Herashenko.
The head of the Kyiv Region administration, Oleksiy Kuleba, said a rocket had hit the town of Baryshivka, about 20 kilometers east of Kiev’s main Boryspil International Airport. He reported significant damage to homes, but no immediate casualties.
In Syria, Russia has supported the government in imposing long, brutal sieges on opposition-controlled cities, wreaking havoc in residential areas and causing widespread civilian casualties.
This story – along with the ongoing siege of the port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov – has raised fears of similar bloodshed in Ukraine.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said the Russian-backed fighter jets had advanced up to 800 meters east of Mariupol, further north and west, further squeezing the city that has the Sea of Azov to the south. Konashenkov said the advance was being carried out by fighters from the separatist-controlled Donetsk region, the typical Russian battle line in the east.
Ukrainian authorities plan to send aid to Mariupol, where about 430,000 people live, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a video message.
Repeated previous attempts failed as aid and rescue convoys became the target of Russian bombing, although residents have become more desperate in search of food and fuel.
More than 1,300 people lost their lives in the 10-day siege of the city, Verestsuk said. “They want to destroy the people of Mariupol. They want to make them starve,” he added. “It’s a war crime.”
Residents do not have heating or telephone service and many do not have electricity. Nighttime temperatures are regularly below zero and daytime temperatures hover just above it. The corpses are buried in mass graves. The streets are full of burnt cars, broken windows and broken trees.
“They have a clear mandate to hold Mariupol hostage, to ridicule it, to bomb it constantly and to bomb it,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video conference address to the nation on Thursday. He said the Russians had launched a tank attack right where there was supposed to be a humanitarian corridor.
Grocery stores and pharmacies were emptied days ago by intruders to procure supplies, according to local Red Cross official Sasha Volkov. A black market works for vegetables, meat is not available and people steal gasoline from cars, Volkov said.
Places protected from bombing are hard to find, with basements intended for women and children. Residents, Volkov said, turned against each other: “People started attacking each other for food.”
Vereshchuk also announced efforts to set up new humanitarian corridors to help people in occupied or under Russian attack around the cities of Kherson in the south, Chernihiv in the north and Kharkiv in the east.
About 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began, the International Organization for Migration said on Friday. Some 100,000 people have been evacuated in the past two days from seven Russian-occupied cities in the north and center of the country, including the suburbs of Kiev, Zelensky said.
In addition to those who have fled the country, millions have been evicted from their homes. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said about 2 million people, half the population of the metropolitan area, had fled the capital.
“Every road, every house … is fortified,” he said. “Even people who in their lives never intended to change clothes, now are in uniform with machine guns in their hands.”
Associated Press reporters Felipe Dana and Andrew Drake in Kyiv, Ukraine, along with other journalists from around the world, contributed.
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