Ukraine’s defenders dig as Russia ramps up shelling

by Adam Schreck and Kara Anna

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia claimed it destroyed several air defense systems in Ukraine over the weekend, in a renewed push to gain air superiority and pull out weapons, which Kyiv called a Important before the massive new attack. east.

In a strike announced on Monday, Moscow said it struck four S-300 launchers supplied by a European country, which did not wish to be named. Slovakia gave Ukraine a similar system last week but denies it has been dismantled. Russia had previously reported two attacks on similar systems in other locations.

The initial invasion of Moscow stalled on several fronts as it faced stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces, who prevented the Russians from capturing the capital and other cities. The failure to gain complete control of Ukraine’s skies has hampered Moscow’s ability to provide air cover for troops on the ground, limiting their progress and potentially exposing them to greater damage.

With their invasion thwarted in many parts of the country, Russian forces have become increasingly dependent on bombing cities. The war has flattened many urban areas, killed thousands, and left Russia politically and economically isolated. The war has also shattered Ukraine’s economy, with the World Bank estimating it will shrink by more than 45% this year.

Ukrainian officials accused the Russian military of atrocities, including a massacre in the city of Buka outside Kyiv, airstrikes on hospitals and a missile attack that killed at least 57 people at a train station.

In Bucha, work resumed on Monday from a mass grave in a churchyard. Galina Feoktistova waited hours in the cold and rain hoping to identify her 50-year-old son, who had been shot and killed more than a month ago, but eventually went home for some warmth. “He’s still there,” said his surviving son, Andrey.

Now, Russia is regrouping for a renewed push in the eastern Donbass region, where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014 and declared independent states. Both sides are exploring what could be a devastating war of escape.

According to US officials, Russia has appointed an experienced general to lead the effort, although they do not see one person making the difference.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is meanwhile calling for more Western aid, saying his forces need heavy fire to resist the oncoming attack and push back Russian forces. Echoing his remarks in an AP interview, Zelensky said on Sunday that the week ahead could be crucial, with Western support to his country – or lack thereof – proving decisive.

“To be honest, whether we’ll be able to (survive) depends on it,” Zelensky said in a “60 Minutes” interview. “Unfortunately, I don’t believe we’ll get everything we need.” In a video address to South Korean lawmakers on Monday, he specifically requested equipment that can shoot down Russian missiles.

But those weapons could become increasingly vulnerable to attack as Russia seeks to shift the balance in the 6-week-old war.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said the military used cruise missiles to destroy four launchers on the southern outskirts of the central city of Dnipro on Sunday. He said the army also targeted similar systems in the Mykolaiv and Kharkiv regions.

Slovakian Prime Minister’s spokeswoman Lubika Jannikova denied on Monday that the S-300 systems sent to Ukraine had been destroyed. She said that no other claim is true.

It is not clear what that system consists of, but a senior US defense official has said that Soviet-era systems typically included four launchers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to give the information before a public announcement.

None of the Russian claims could be independently verified.

Ukraine has specifically asked for more S-300s in recent months, although it already had several Soviet-built systems and other long-range air defense systems. It has also received batches of portable, shoulder-mounted Western anti-aircraft weapons such as the Stingers, which are efficient against low-flying aircraft.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehmer was due to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday, after meeting with Zelensky in Kyiv. Austria, a member of the European Union, is militarily neutral and is not a member of NATO.

Questions remain about the ability of the exhausted and demoralized Russian army to conquer much ground after their advance on Kyiv was repulsed by Ukrainian defenders.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said on Monday that Ukraine has already repelled several attacks by Russian forces in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions – which make up the Donbass – that resulted in the destruction of Russian tanks, vehicles and artillery.

In Washington, a senior US official said Russia has appointed General Alexander Dvornikov, one of its most experienced military chiefs, to oversee the invasion. The officer was not identified and authorized to speak on condition of anonymity. Russia usually does not announce such appointments, and there has been no comment from Moscow.

Dvornikov, 60, gained a reputation for brutality as the chief of the Russian military stationed in Syria in 2015 to support President Bashar Assad’s government during the country’s devastating civil war.

Until now, Russia had no central combat commander on the ground. But US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan downplayed the importance of the appointment, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

“What we learned in the first several 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 Russia’s attack is increasingly focusing on eastern Ukraine – an arc that stretches from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city in the north to Kherson in the south.

On Sunday, Russian forces opened fire on government-controlled Kharkiv and sent reinforcements to Izium in the southeast to try to break through Ukraine’s defenses, the Ukrainian military said. The Russians also continued their week-long siege of Mariupol, a major port in the Donbass.

A fire broke out in a residential area in Kharkiv on Monday afternoon. Associated Press reporters watched firefighters extinguish the fire and investigate victims after the attack, and noticed that at least five people, including a child, had been killed.

Kharkiv’s regional governor, Oleh Sinyehubov, said earlier on Monday that 11 people had been killed in Russian shelling in the past 24 hours.

The Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank, predicted that Russian forces would “renew offensive operations in the coming days” from Izium, in a campaign to conquer the Donbass, which contains Ukraine’s industrial heartland.

But it said the result is “highly questionable.”

In Mariupol, Russia deployed Chechen fighters, who were considered particularly fierce. Capturing the city on the Azov Sea would give Russia a land bridge to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia had seized from Ukraine and annexed eight years earlier.

In a video posted on his Telegram channel, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said the Russian army would launch a fresh attack on Mariupol and “all other settlements, towns and villages.”

Mariupol residents lack food, water and electricity as Russian forces besieged the city. Hundreds of thousands have fled, although Russian attacks have also frustrated evacuation missions.

Vladislav Usovich, an 18-year-old soldier serving in Russia-backed separatist forces, moved slowly along with other fighters through residential areas around a factory in Mariupol on Sunday.

“I thought it would be better, I thought it would be faster. Everything is going slowly, ”he said. “The Ukrainians are ready fighters. NATO trained him well.”

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This story has been updated to correct that the war only started six weeks ago, not 10 weeks. ,

Anna reported from Buka, Ukraine. Robert Burns in Washington and Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed to this report.

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