The battle for Ukraine’s cities thundered over its suburbs on Tuesday, with the Ukrainian military saying it was forcing Russian troops out of a strategically important Kiev neighborhood, while Russian forces took partial control of three northwestern suburbs where there have been fighting for weeks.
A senior U.S. defense official said Tuesday that Russian land forces had still largely stopped outside the capital, but Russian ships spent the last 24 hours shelling the already devastated southern port city of Mariupol from offshore.
Civilians making the dangerous escape from Mariupol described fleeing through street gun battles and former corpses as Russian forces tried to knock the city to submission. A woman who came out said planes flew overhead “and threw bombs everywhere.”
More than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the war began on February 24, and several million have been displaced in the country, the UN said.
Here are some important things to know about the conflict:
WHY ARE SUBURBS IN UKRAINE BECOMING BATTLE?
The suburbs can be a barrier to Ukraine’s cities or a doorway for Russian troops, especially around the capital Kiev – believed to be Moscow’s primary military target.
After a fierce battle, Ukrainian troops regained control of the suburb of Makariv on Tuesday, allowing Ukrainian forces to recapture a key highway to the west and block Russian troops from surrounding the capital from the northwest, Ukraine’s defense ministry said.
But the ministry said Russian forces were partially able to occupy northwestern suburbs of Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, some of which had been under attack for weeks.
WHAT IS THE LATEST AT MARIUPOL?
The Russian invasion has made living in Mariupol a struggle for survival.
Electricity, water and food supplies have been cut off, as well as communication with the outside world. It is unclear how many are left in the city with a pre-war population of 430,000. About a quarter are believed to have fled early in the war, and tens of thousands more have fled over the past week via humanitarian corridors.
Other attempts to leave have been thwarted by Russian efforts to knock Mariupol to submission. On that, Moscow has not succeeded, the British Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday. But Russia now controls the land corridor of Crimea, the peninsula it annexed in 2014, and is blocking Ukraine’s access to the Sea of Azov.
Those who have come out of Mariupol described a ruined landscape.
“There are no buildings there anymore,” said 77-year-old Maria Fiodorova, who fled to Poland.
“They bombed us for the last 20 days,” said Viktoria Totsen, 39, who also fled to Poland. “Over the last five days, planes flew over us every five seconds, dropping bombs everywhere – on residential buildings, kindergartens, art schools, everywhere.”
WHAT DOES AP HAVE DIRECT WITNESS OR CONFIRM?
In the Russian-occupied southern city of Kherson on Monday, Russian forces fired into the air and fired stun grenades at protesters shouting “Go home!” Earlier this month, Kherson became the first major city to fall to Russia’s offensive.
In Kiev, a shopping mall in the densely populated Podil district, near the city center, remained a smoking ruin after being hit late Sunday by shelling that killed eight people, according to emergency officials. The attack shattered all the windows of a nearby high-rise building.
On Tuesday, explosions could be heard in Kiev, and artillery fire intensified in the northwestern part of the city. Black smoke could be seen in the distance to the north.
In Lviv, families exchanged weeping farewells as women and children boarded trains to Poland while men of fighting age were left, prevented from leaving the country. An air raid siren could be heard roaring over the city.
WHAT IS RUSSIA’S LATEST MILITARY ACTION?
A senior U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to give the U.S. military rating, said Tuesday that Russian ships in the Azov Sea have shelled Mariupol from offshore during the last day.
The official said the United States, on the other hand, did not see any indications that ships in the northern Black Sea were firing on Odesa, as they had done over the weekend. Officials said the United States believes Russia has about 21 ships in the Black Sea, including about a dozen surface warships and some landing ships carrying troops. There were about seven ships in the Azov Sea.
According to the official, Russian land forces were still largely stalled outside Kiev.
More generally, the defense officer said, Russia is struggling to get food and fuel for its troops, and there are indications that some troops do not have proper cold weather equipment and suffer from frostbite.
A Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence issues, said Ukraine’s resistance has slowed Russia’s advance almost to a halt, but Russian troops have not been pushed back from established positions.
A day after US President Joe Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “back is against the wall” and reiterated accusations that Putin is considering using chemical or biological weapons, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States has not seen any evidence to suggest that such an escalation is imminent.
– Associated Press Writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
HAVE THERE BEEN NEW DIPLOMATIC CONVERSATIONS?
Talks have been under way, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has not had a direct meeting with Putin that he has requested. Zelenskyy has said he would be prepared to consider renouncing any offer from Ukraine to join NATO – a key Russian demand – in exchange for a ceasefire, withdrawal of Russian troops and a guarantee of Ukraine’s security.
The Kremlin demands that Ukraine disarm and declare itself neutral. Russian Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday he could not share details of ongoing talks, saying publishing them would hurt the talks.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he saw progress in the negotiations.
“From my outreach to various actors, elements of diplomatic progress are emerging on several key issues,” and the gains are enough to end the hostilities now, he said. He gave no details.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke on Tuesday with both Putin and Zelenskyy about the terms of a potential ceasefire, a statement from the French presidency said. They reached “no agreement,” the statement said, but Macron “remains convinced of the need to continue its efforts,” and he “stands with Ukraine.”
WHAT IS THE LATEST ABOUT SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIA?
Biden plans to announce new sanctions against Russia Thursday, while in Brussels for meetings with NATO and European allies, said White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. He declined to give details.
Several large companies have cut their business relations with Russia in recent weeks. French energy giant TotalEnergies said on Tuesday it would halt all purchases of Russian oil and petroleum products by the end of 2022. The company said in a statement that it “will gradually suspend its activities in Russia” and stressed “the existence of alternative sources to supply Europe” with oil.
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