Ukrainian defenders dig in as Russia deploys more firepower – Twin Cities



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By ADAM SCHRECK and CARA ANNA

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces dug in as Russia deployed more firepower on Sunday and tapped a decorated general to gain centralized control of the war ahead of a potentially decisive showdown in eastern Ukraine that could begin in days.

Experts said the next phase of the battle may begin with a large-scale offensive. The outcome could determine the course of the conflict, which has flattened cities, killed countless thousands and isolated Moscow economically and politically.

Doubts remain about the ability of Russia’s exhausted and demoralized forces to conquer much ground after their advance towards the capital Kiev was repulsed by determined Ukrainian defenders. The British Ministry of Defense reported on Sunday that Russian troops were trying to compensate for mounting losses by recalling veterans fired in the past decade.

Meanwhile, a senior US official said Russia has appointed General Alexander Dvornikov, one of its most experienced military leaders, to oversee the invasion. The official was not authorized to be identified and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Until now, Russia has not had a central war commander on the ground.

The new leadership on the battlefield comes as the Russian military prepares for what is expected to be a major, targeted effort to expand control in the east of the country. Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces in the eastern region of Donbas since 2014 and have declared part of the area independent.

Dvornikov, 60, rose to prominence as the head of the Russian armed forces deployed to Syria in 2015 to support President Bashar Assad’s regime during the country’s devastating civil war. US officials say he has a track record of brutality against civilians in Syria and other war zones.

Russian authorities generally do not confirm such appointments and have not said anything about a new role for Dvornikov, who in 2016 received the Hero of Russia Medal, one of the country’s highest awards, from President Vladimir Putin.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, downplayed the significance of the appointment.

“What we learned in the first weeks of this war is that Ukraine will never be subject to Russia,” Sullivan said. “It doesn’t matter which general President Putin tries to appoint.”

Western military analysts say the Russian attack has increasingly focused on a crescent-shaped arc of eastern Ukraine — from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the north to Kherson in the south.

The smaller effort could alleviate the Russian problem, earlier in the war, of spreading their offensive too wide over too large a geographic area.

“If you just look at it on a map, you can see they can exert a lot more power in a much more concentrated way,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday.

Newly released Maxar Technologies satellite images showed a 13-kilometer convoy of military vehicles heading south through Ukraine to the Donbas. the capital.

On Sunday, Russian troops shelled government-controlled Kharkiv and sent reinforcements to Izyum in the southeast in an attempt to breach Ukraine’s defenses, Ukraine’s military command said. The Russians also laid siege to Mariupol, a major southern port that has been under attack and encirclement for nearly 1 months.

A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said the Russian military used air-launched missiles to hit Ukrainian S-300 air defense missile systems in the southern region of Mykolaiv and at an air base in Chuhuiv, a town not far from Kharkiv.

Russian cruise missiles launched by seas destroyed the headquarters of a Ukrainian military unit stationed further west in the Dnipro region, Konashenkov said. Neither the Ukrainian nor the Russian military claims could be independently verified.

The airport of Dnipro, the fourth largest city in Ukraine, was also hit twice by missiles on Sunday, the regional governor said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for increased military and political support from the West, including NATO members who have funneled weapons and military equipment to Ukraine, but declined some requests for fear of being drawn into the war.

In a nightly video message, Zelenskyy argued that the Russian aggression was “not intended to be confined to Ukraine alone”. The “whole European project is a target,” he said.

“Therefore, it is not only the moral duty of all democracies, all the forces of Europe, to support Ukraine’s desire for peace,” Zelenskyy said. “This is basically a defense strategy for any civilized state.”

Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian troops of war crimes against civilians, including airstrikes on hospitals, a rocket attack that killed at least 57 people at a train station and other violence revealed when Russian soldiers withdrew from the outskirts of Kiev.

Zelenskyy said that when he and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke by phone on Sunday, “we emphasized that all perpetrators of war crimes must be identified and punished.”

A day after meeting Zelenskyy in Kiev, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer announced that he will meet Putin in Moscow on Monday. Austria, a member of the European Union, is militarily neutral and not a member of NATO.

Ukraine has blamed Russia for killing civilians in Bucha and other towns outside the capital, where hundreds of bodies, many with hands tied and showing signs of torture, were found after Russian troops withdrew. Russia has denied the allegations, falsely claiming that the scenes in Bucha were staged.

Maria Vaselenko, 77, a native of Borodyanka, said her daughter and son-in-law were killed, leaving her grandchildren orphaned.

“The Russians were shooting. And some people wanted to come and help, but they shot at them. They put explosives under dead people,” Vaselenko said. “That’s why my children have been under the rubble for 36 days. It was not allowed” seem to delete.

In Mariupol, Russia deployed Chechen fighters, who were known to be particularly fierce. Capturing the city on the Sea of ​​Azov would give Russia a land bridge to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia captured from Ukraine eight years ago.

Residents have been without food, water and electricity since Russian forces have surrounded the city and frustrated evacuation missions. Ukrainian authorities believe an airstrike on a theater used as a bomb shelter has killed hundreds of civilians, and Zelenskyy has said he expects more evidence of atrocities to be found once Mariupol is no longer blocked.

The Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank, predicted that Russian forces “will resume offensive operations in the coming days” from Izyum, a town southeast of Kharkov, in the campaign to capture the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heart.

But according to the think tank’s analysts, “the outcome of the forthcoming Russian operations in eastern Ukraine remains highly questionable.”

Elsewhere, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Ukraine was able to rotate personnel at the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant for the second time since Russian forces seized the facility early in the war.

The nuclear agency said the situation around Chernobyl, the site of a 1986 nuclear disaster, remained “far from normal” after the Russians left in late March. Ukrainian officials told the agency on Sunday that radiation monitoring labs at the site had been destroyed and instruments damaged or stolen.

Anna reported from Bucha, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Borodyanko, Robert Burns and Calvin Woodward in Washington, and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.

Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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