ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Russia rammed the vital port of Odessa, Ukrainian officials said Tuesday, in an apparent effort to disrupt Western supply lines and arms deliveries as Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Foreign affairs seemed to suggest that the country might expand its war aims.
With the war now in its 11th week and kyiv bogged down by Russian forces and even staging a counter-offensive, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba seemed to indicate that the country could go beyond simply to push Russia back into areas where it or its allies stood on the day of February 2. 24 invasion.
The idea reflected Ukraine’s ability to thwart a larger and better armed Russian army, which surprised many who had anticipated a much quicker end to the conflict.
One of the most dramatic examples of Ukraine’s ability to prevent easy victories is in Mariupol, where Ukrainian fighters remained locked in a steel mill, refusing full Russian control of the city. The regiment defending the plant said Russian warplanes continued to bomb it.
In recent days, the United Nations and the Red Cross have organized the rescue of what some officials said are the last civilians trapped in the factory. But two officials said on Tuesday that around 100 of them are still in the complex’s underground tunnels. Others said it was impossible to confirm.
In another example of the gruesome toll of the war, Ukrainian officials said they found the bodies of 44 civilians in the rubble of a building destroyed weeks ago in the northeastern town of Izyum .
New UN figures, meanwhile, indicate that 14 million Ukrainians were forced from their homes by the end of April, of whom more than 5.9 million have left the country.
In Washington, a senior US intelligence official said on Tuesday that eight to ten Russian generals had been killed during the war. Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, who heads the Defense Intelligence Agency, told a Senate committee that since Russia has no noncommissioned officer corps, its generals have to go to combat zones and end up in positions dangerous.
Ukraine said Russian forces fired seven missiles in Odessa on Monday, hitting a shopping center and a warehouse in the country’s biggest port. One person was killed and five others injured, the army said.
Footage showed a burning building and debris – including a tennis shoe – in a heap of destruction in the Black Sea city. Mayor Gennady Trukhanov later visited the warehouse and said it “has nothing in common with military infrastructure or military objects”.
Ukraine alleged that at least some of the munitions used dated back to the Soviet era, making them unreliable for targeting. Ukrainian, British and American officials say Russia is rapidly depleting its stockpile of precision weapons, increasing the risk of more inaccurate rockets being used as the conflict continues.
Since President Vladimir Putin’s forces failed to take kyiv at the start of the war, his focus has shifted to the eastern industrial heartland of Donbas – but one general has suggested Moscow’s goals also include suppressing Ukraine’s maritime access to the Black and Azov seas.
It would also give him a strip of territory linking Russia to both the Crimean peninsula, which it seized in 2014, and Transnistria, a pro-Moscow region of Moldova.
Even if he fails to separate Ukraine from the coast – and it appears to lack the forces to do so – the continued missile strikes on Odessa reflect the city’s strategic importance. The Russian military has repeatedly targeted its airport and claimed it destroyed several batches of Western weapons.
Odessa is also a major gateway for grain shipments, and its blockade by Russia is already threatening global food supplies. Beyond that, the city is a cultural gem, dear to Ukrainians and Russians alike, and aiming for it also has symbolic significance.
In Mariupol, the Russians also shelled the Azovstal steelworks, the Azov regiment said, targeting the sprawling complex 34 times in the past 24 hours. Attempts to storm the factory also continued, he added.
Petro Andryushchenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, estimated on social networks that at least 100 civilians are trapped in the factory. Donetsk Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said those remaining are people “whom the Russians did not select” for evacuation.
The two officials did not say how they knew civilians were still in the complex – a maze of tunnels and bunkers spread over 11 square kilometers (4 square miles).
Fighters from the Azov regiment posted photos of their wounded comrades inside the plant, some with amputated limbs. They said the injured were living in unsanitary conditions “with open wounds bandaged with remnants of non-sterile bandages, without the necessary medication or even food”.
In its statement on Telegram, the regiment called on the UN and the Red Cross to evacuate wounded servicemen to territories under Ukrainian control.
Photos could not be independently verified.
As Russian forces struggle to gain ground in Donbass, military analysts suggest striking Odessa could fuel concerns over southwestern Ukraine, forcing kyiv to deploy more forces there. This would drive them away from the eastern front as the Ukrainian military mounts counter-offensives near the northeastern city of Kharkiv in a bid to push the Russians back across the border.
Kharkiv and its surroundings have come under sustained Russian attack since the start of the war. In recent weeks, gruesome images have borne witness to the horrors of these battles, with charred and mutilated bodies strewn across a street.
Dozens of bodies were found in a five-storey building that collapsed in March in Izyum, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Kharkiv, said Oleh Synehubov, the head of the regional administration.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday the military was gradually moving Russian troops away from Kharkiv. Ukraine’s army headquarters said its forces chased the Russians from four villages northeast of Kharkiv as it tried to push them back towards the Russian border.
Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, appeared to express growing confidence – and expanded goals – amid the stalled Russian offensive.
“In the early months of the war, victory for us looked like a withdrawal of Russian forces to the positions they held before February 24 and paying for the damages inflicted,” Kuleba said in an interview with the Financial Times. “Now, if we are strong enough on the military front and we win the Battle of Donbass, which will be crucial for the next dynamics of the war, of course, the victory for us in this war will be the liberation of the rest of our territories “.
The comments seemed to reflect political ambitions more than battlefield realities: many analysts agree that although Russia may not be able to make quick gains, the Ukrainian military is not strong enough to repel the Russians.
Zelenskyy took advantage of his nocturnal address to pay tribute to Leonid Kravchuk, the first president of an independent Ukraine, who died Tuesday at the age of 88. Zelenskyy said Kravchuk showed courage and knew how to get the country to listen to him.
It was especially important in “times of crisis, when the future of the whole country may depend on the courage of one man,” said Zelenskyy, whose own communication skills and decision to stay in Kyiv when it was attacked by Russia helped to make him a powerful warlord.
In the United States, President Joe Biden on Monday signed a bipartisan measure to revive the World War II “Lend-Lease” program, which helped defeat Nazi Germany, to strengthen kyiv and its allies.
Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Kelvin Chan in London and AP global staff contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine