Ukrainians Report Fierce Fighting as Russia Marks Soviet WW2 Victory
Russian President Vladimir Putin told his armed forces on Monday they were fighting for their country at a parade of Russian firepower in Moscow, while his troops stepped up their 10-week-old assault on Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials said heavy fighting was underway in eastern Ukraine and warned people to take cover from expected missile strikes as Moscow marked the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two.
Four high-precision Onyx missiles fired from the Russian-controlled Crimea peninsula struck the Odesa area in southern Ukraine, the Ukrainian military said later, without giving details.
Putin said Russia’s “special military operation” was a purely defensive and unavoidable measure against plans for a NATO-backed invasion of lands he said were historically Russia’s, including Crimea.
“Russia preventively rebuffed the aggressor,” he said, offering no evidence for what he called open preparations to attack Crimea and Ukraine’s Donbas region.
In 2014, Russian-backed separatists seized parts of Donbas in eastern Ukraine and Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine the same year. Moscow then massed troops around Ukraine last year ahead of an all-out invasion that Ukraine and its Western allies say was entirely unprovoked.
“NATO countries were not going to attack Russia. Ukraine did not plan to attack Crimea,” Ukrainian senior presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said after Putin’s comments.
Putin did not mention Ukraine by name in his speech and offered no indication of how long the war might continue.
There was also no reference to the bloody battle for Mariupol, where one of the Ukrainian defenders holed up in the ruins of the Azovstal steel works pleaded with the international community to help evacuate wounded soldiers.
“We will continue to fight as long as we are alive to repel the Russian occupiers,” Captain Sviatoslav Palamar said.
Russian forces have devastated villages, towns and cities and driven nearly six million Ukrainians to flee since they invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
‘STAY IN THE SHELTERS’
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said Russian forces were now trying to advance in eastern Ukraine, where the situation was “difficult”, but had moved back from the city of Kharkiv, where a local official reported heavy Russian shelling.
President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed the deaths of dozens of people in the Russian bombing of a school in eastern Ukraine on Saturday.
“As a result of a Russian strike on Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region, about 60 people were killed, civilians, who simply hid at the school, sheltering from shelling,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address.
About 90 people had taken refuge at the school, the governor of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region Serhiy Gaidai had said. There was no response from Moscow, which says it does not target civilians.
Gaidai said three more civilians had been killed in Kharkiv and three in the Luhansk region, where he said Russian forces were trying to cut off a route to safety known as the Road of Life. It was not immediately possible to verify the reports.
“Today we do not know what to expect from the enemy, what terrible thing they might do, so please go out onto the street as little as possible, stay in the shelters,” Gaidai said on Monday.
Zelensky said his country would win against Russia and would not cede any territory.
“There is no invader who can rule over our free people. Sooner or later we will win,” he said in a written address to mark the World War Two victory anniversary.
Putin has repeatedly likened the war in Ukraine – which he casts as a battle against dangerous “Nazi”-inspired nationalists in Ukraine – to the challenge the Soviet Union faced when Adolf Hitler invaded in 1941.
Ukraine and its allies reject the accusation of Nazism and the assertion that Russia is fighting for survival against an aggressive West, saying Putin unleashed an unprovoked war against a sovereign democratic state.
Ahead of the military parade, Russia’s deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov said the country was developing new-generation hypersonic missiles and had enough high-precision missiles and ammunition to fulfill all the tasks assigned to its armed forces.
‘AIR FEELS DIFFERENT HERE’
Moscow has come under increasingly punishing sanctions since its invasion on Feb. 24, with trade heavily impacted and assets seized.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief said the bloc should consider using frozen Russian foreign exchange reserves to help pay for the cost of rebuilding Ukraine after the war. Josep Borrell was speaking to the Financial Times.
In the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, about 140 miles northwest of Mariupol, dozens of people who had fled the city and nearby occupied areas waited to register in a car park set up for evacuees.
“There’s lots of people still in Mariupol who want to leave but can’t,” said history teacher Viktoria Andreyeva, 46, who said she had just reached the city after leaving her bombed home in Mariupol with her family in mid-April.
“The air feels different here, free,” she said in a tent where volunteers offered food, basic supplies and toys to the evacuees, many traveling with small children.
Separatists said a total of 408 people were evacuated from Mariupol over the past 24 hours, including 65 children.
Mariupol is key to Moscow’s efforts to link the Crimean Peninsula and the parts of the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in Donbas controlled by separatists.
In Luhansk and Donetsk, half a dozen Russian attacks were repulsed, with tanks and armored combat vehicles destroyed, governor Gaidai said.
Viktor Andrusiv, an adviser to the interior minister, said Ukraine was awaiting delivery of more sophisticated weapons and expecting further attacks from Russia.
“We are preparing for rocket attacks today — please, take air alerts very responsibly today.”