MARIUPOL, Ukraine — Russian strikes hit near airports in western Ukraine on Friday as the military offensive widened, and invading troops kept up pressure on the capital Kyiv and the besieged port city of Mariupol.
According to Yuriy Puchulyayko, the head of the Volyn Region, two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and six others were injured in the airstrikes at Lutsk’s military airfield.
According to Mayor Ruslan Martsinkiv, the strikes also hit an airport close to Ivano-Frankiivsk. Residents were directed into shelters following an alert for air attacks, Ruslan Martsinkiv stated.
Satellite photos meanwhile showed that a large convoy from Ukraine had spread out in towns and forests around Kyiv, with artillery pieces being raised to fire in an additional potentially dangerous movement.
Photos emerged in an era of increased international pressure to punish and isolate Russia.
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Ukrainian authorities have announced the establishment of several humanitarian and evacuation routes, with support from the Red Cross. They want to help those fleeing Mariupol.
The U.S. and other nations were poised later Friday to announce the revocation of Russia’s “most favored nation” trade status, which would allow higher tariffs to be imposed on some Russian imports.
Russia continued its bombardment on the southern port of Mariupol, under siege, while Kyiv waited for an attack. The mayor of Kyiv boasted that his capital was now a fortress, surrounded by civilians.
Anton Heraschenko, an adviser to the Interior Ministry, said that three Russian airstrikes struck Dnipro, an eastern industrial town, on Friday morning, at least one of its victims. Meanwhile, Russian forces were pushing toward Kyiv from the northwest and east but were repulsed from Chernihiv as Ukrainian fighters regained control of Baklanova Muraviika, the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said in a statement.
According to Maxar Technologies, satellite imagery showed that the convoy was visible over a distance of 40 miles (64 kilometers). The company stated that the line of tanks, artillery, and vehicles had been moved. Near the Antonov Airport, north of Moscow were seen armored units. Maxar stated that vehicles had been seen in forests and units with towed cannons were nearby to start fires.
Early last week, the Russian columns gathered outside the city. But as food and fuel shortages reported, their advance seemed to be stalled. Officials from the United States claim that anti-tank missiles were also used by Ukrainian soldiers to target the convoy.
The threat to Kyiv’s immediate future was not clear. Unnamed U.S. defense officials said that Russian forces were moving towards Kyiv and had made about five kilometers (3 miles) over the last 24 hours. Some elements could be as close to 15 km (9 miles) away from the city.
Although the official didn’t say if the convoy was dispersed, or repositioned in any other significant manner, he said that some vehicles had been seen to move off the road and into the trees in the recent days.
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Iryna Veselchuk, Ukrainian deputy prime minister, made a video message announcing efforts to build humanitarian corridors that will bring assistance to those living in Russian-occupied regions around Kharkiv and Chernihiv.
Vereshchuk also stated that the authorities planned to deliver aid to Mariupol (a city of 430,000), in which the situation became more serious as the civilians trapped within the city struggled to find food and fuel. Previous attempts at this have all failed due to Russian shelling.
Vereshchuk claimed that over 1,300 people were killed during the 10-day siege in which the city was under siege.
Many residents don’t have electricity or heat, nor phone service. Even though night temperatures can drop to minus 20 degrees Celsius, daytime temperatures hover around 25 degrees. Mass graves are used to bury bodies. Broken glass, burnt cars, and broken trees litter the streets.
“They have a clear order to hold Mariupol hostage, to mock it, to constantly bomb and shell it,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation. According to him, the Russians launched a tank strike right at where there was supposed be a humanitarian corridor.
Firefighters attempted to rescue a boy who was trapped under the rubble on Thursday. One grasped the boy’s hand. Although his eyes blink, he was still seated. His survival was unknown. A woman in blue wrapped in a blanket shivered as an explosion rang nearby.
According to Sacha Volkov, a Red Cross official, grocery stores and pharmacies have been empty since days past by people who came in looking for supplies. Volkov reported that there’s a black marketplace for vegetables, no meat and thieves are taking gasoline out of cars.
He said that it is difficult to find places safe from bombings, and basements for children and women are reserved. Residents, Volkov said, are turning on one another: “People started to attack each other for food.”
Aleksander Ivanov, an exhausted looking man, pulled a cart with bags along a street that was empty and was flanked by destroyed buildings.
“I don’t have a home anymore. That’s why I’m moving,” he said. “It doesn’t exist anymore. It was hit, by a mortar.”
Russian bombardment has thwarted repeated attempts to transport food, medicine, and evacuate civilians.
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“They want to destroy the people of Mariupol. They want to make them starve,” Vereshchuk said. “It’s a war crime.”
Zelenskyy stated that the number of people fleeing Ukraine has surpassed 2.3 million. Some 100,000 persons have been evacuated from seven Russian-blockaded cities in the center and north of the country over the last two days, which includes the Kyiv suburbs.
Zelenskyy warned Russian leaders that they will be punished for their economic strife. Western sanctions already have had a devastating impact on Russia, with the ruble plummeting, foreign firms fleeing, and prices rising sharply.
“You will definitely be prosecuted for complicity in war crimes,” Zelenskyy said in a video address, warning that “you will be hated by Russian citizens.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected such talk and said that the country had been subject to sanctions in the past.
″We will overcome them,” he said at a televised meeting of government officials. He did, however, acknowledge the sanctions create “certain challenges.”
Many millions of people have been expelled from Ukraine, in addition to the refugees. Vitali Klitschko from Kyiv stated that around 2,000,000 people, or half the inhabitants of the city, had fled to the capital.
“Every street, every house … is being fortified,” he said. “Even people who in their lives never intended to change their clothes, now they are in uniform with machine guns in their hands.”
After her family fled the region, Katya, 14, was taken to the Brovary District Hospital. Her mother Nina said that she shot her in the hand as their car was attacked by gunfire from a nearby forest.
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The girl’s father, who drove frantically from the ambush on blown-out tires, underwent surgery. He was said to have been shot in his head by his wife and two fingers were blown off.
Officials from the West claimed that Russian troops have not made significant ground progress in recent days, and they are suffering heavier losses than Moscow had anticipated. But Putin’s forces have used air power and artillery to pummel Ukraine’s cities.
—Felipe Dana, Andrew Drake, and Yuras Karamanau, both Associated Press journalists, were among those who contributed to this report, as well as other correspondents around the globe.