The pounding of the besieged southern port city of Mariupol intensified Sunday as local authorities accused the Russian military of bombing an art school where about 400 people had taken refuge.
There was no immediate word on casualties, but Mariupol city council said the building was destroyed and people could remain under the rubble.
A few days earlier, Russian forces bombed a theater in Mariupol where civilians took shelter. Mariupol, a strategic port on the Azov Sea, has been encircled by the Russian troops for weeks, cut from energy, food and water supplies and facing a relentless bombardment.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the siege of Mariupol would go down in history for what he described as war crimes committed by Russian troops.
“To do this to a peaceful city, what the occupiers did, is a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come,” Zelenskyy said in a video address to his nation Sunday.
Russia has increased its indiscriminate shelling of urban areas, resulting in widespread destruction and large numbers of civilian casualties, the United Kingdom’s Defense Ministry said in an assessment Sunday.
“Over the past week Russian forces have made limited progress in capturing these cities,” the ministry tweeted Sunday. “It is likely Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower to support assaults on urban areas as it looks to limit its own already considerable losses – at the cost of further civilian casualties.”
At least 847 civilians, including 64 children, have been killed since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the U.N. Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner reported Saturday, but the agency said the actual figures are much higher. Agents also estimated the violence had left nearly 1,400 civilians injured, including 78 children. The Ukraine government estimates that 2,300 people have died in the ongoing siege of Mariupol alone.
Estimates of Russian deaths also vary widely. The Ukraine government puts the Russian death toll at more than 14,000. Even conservative figures are in the low thousands – a much faster pace than in previous Russian offensives, threatening support for the war among ordinary Russians. Russia had 64 deaths in five days of fighting during its 2008 war with Georgia. It lost about 15,000 in Afghanistan over 10 years, and more than 11,000 over years of fighting in Chechnya.
Latest developments below
►Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold talks with him directly. Zelenskyy told Ukrainians the ongoing negotiations with Russia were “not simple or pleasant, but they are necessary.”
►Researchers tracking Russian equipment losses that were photographed or recorded on video say Russia has lost more than 1,500 tanks, trucks, mounted equipment and other heavy gear. Two out of three of those were captured or abandoned.
►Russia said it used a hypersonic missile Friday to strike a western Ukraine target, the Interfax news agency reported. Hypersonic missiles can move at up to five times the speed of sound. The Russian military said these missiles are capable of hitting targets from 1,200 miles, or roughly the distance from New York City to Kansas City.
U.S. expresses concern about possible Russian ‘concentration’ camps
The United States’ ambassador to the United Nations said Sunday that she could not confirm reports that Russia is essentially kidnapping Ukrainian citizens but expressed concern about the prospect of Russian-organized “concentration and prisoner camps.”
U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” said it is “unconscionable for Russia to force Ukrainian citizens into Russia and put them in what will basically be concentration and prisoner camps.”
The Mariupol city council claimed Russian soldiers have forced several thousand city residents to be relocated to Russia. “The occupiers illegally took people out of the Levoberezhny district and a shelter in the building of a sports club, where more than a thousand people (mostly women and children) were hiding from constant bombing,” the council said in a statement.
Ukrainian passports were taken from people who were given a piece of paper that “has no legal weight and is not recognized throughout the civilized world,” the city council said.
– David Jackson
Pope denounces ‘cruel and sacrilegious inhumanity’ of war
Pope Francis denounced Russia’s “repugnant war” against Ukraine as “cruel and sacrilegious inhumanity.” In some of his strongest words yet since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, Francis on Sunday told thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square that every day brings more atrocities in what is a “senseless massacre.”
“There is no justification for this,” Francis said, in an apparent reference to Russia, which sought to justify its invasion as vital for its own defense. But Francis again stopped short of naming Russia as the aggressor. Pontiffs typically have decried wars and their devastating toll on civilians without citing warmongers by name.
Francis also called on “all actors in the international community” to work toward ending the war. “Again this week, missiles, bombs, rained down on the elderly, children and pregnant mothers,” the pope said. His thoughts, he said, went to the millions who flee. “And I feel great pain for those who don’t even have the chance to escape,’’ Francis added.
Russia regrouping, Ukraine military says
Russian forces focused on sorting out logistics and regrouping on Saturday rather than undertaking offensive operations, Ukraine military officials reported in a Sunday morning update. The military maneuvers, or lack thereof, have experts around the world increasingly concerned that a stalemate could be on the horizon, with “enormous casualties” possible as troops focus on civilian targets.
A report from the Institute for the Study of War concluded that Ukrainian forces have defeated the initial Russian campaign of the war, but the report also highlighted activity of Russian forces, which have shown signs of “digging in around the periphery of Kyiv and elsewhere.”
“Stalemate is not armistice or cease-fire. It is a condition in war in which each side conducts offensive operations that do not fundamentally alter the situation. Those operations can be very damaging and cause enormous casualties,” Frederick W. Kagan, George Barros and Kateryna Stepanenko wrote in an assessment published Saturday.
The findings echo what experts told USA TODAY last week. A “quagmire is the realistic ‘goal,’” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Russia’s number of dead and wounded in Ukraine is nearing the 10% benchmark of diminished combat effectiveness, said Dmitry Gorenburg, a researcher on Russia’s security at the Virginia-based CNA think tank. The reported battlefield deaths of four Russian generals – out of an estimated 20 in the fight – signal impaired command, he said.
Russians will need massive troop numbers to hold cities they capture
When it comes to the grinding job of capturing and holding cities, conventional military metrics suggest Russia needs a 5-to-1 advantage in urban fighting, analysts say. Meanwhile, the formula for ruling a restive territory in the face of armed opposition is 20 fighters for every 1,000 people – or 800,000 Russian troops for Ukraine’s more than 40 million people, said Michael Clarke, former head of the British-based Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank.
That’s almost as many as Russia’s entire active-duty military of 900,000, and it means controlling substantial Ukrainian territory long term could take more resources than Russia can commit, he said.
“Unless the Russians intend to be completely genocidal – they could flatten all the major cities, and Ukrainians will rise up against Russian occupation – there will be just constant guerrilla war,” Clarke said.
US lawmakers visit Poland, urge help for Ukraine military
A bipartisan delegation of U.S. lawmakers visiting Poland said Saturday that the most urgent need in Ukraine’s fight against a Russian invasion is to equip and support the country in every way that will help it defend its independence.
The seven-member delegation led by Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Democrat from Massachusetts, has visited reception centers for refugees from Ukraine in eastern Poland. They noted Poland’s openness in accepting refugees from Ukraine, including in private homes. More than 2 million people fleeing war have come to Poland since Feb. 24, when Russia’s troops invaded Ukraine.
“We are here to reassure and support the people of Ukraine. We are here to thank the people of Poland for the unbelievable generosity they have shown to the refugees,” said Lynch, who is chairman of the subcommittee on National Security in the Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Ukrainian refugees flee to Moldova amid harrowing Russian attacks
Of 3 million refugees who have fled Ukraine since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, most have come to Poland. But an estimated 350,000 have entered Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries. Most are women and children, as most men of fighting age have been ordered to stay behind to defend their country.
Now, government workers and aid groups are trying to help, conducting a hurried symphony across multiple languages, from Russian and Romanian, which is spoken in Moldova, to French and English. They’re fingerprinting and photographing refugees, double-checking documents and providing emergency cash to the most needy.
The Ukrainian refugees in Moldova include Kristina Paleshev, whose five kids have been waking up at night startled by any loud noises, frightened that they are again under attack.
“We want to go back. I love my country and my town,” Paleshev, 38, said, as a tear rolled down her cheek. “I’m crying because our people are being killed.”
– Trevor Hughes
Zelenskyy restricts political parties in Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has ordered the suspension of activities of 11 political parties with links to Russia. The largest of them is the Opposition Platform for Life, which has 44 out of 450 seats in the country’s parliament. The party is led by Viktor Medvedchuk, who has friendly ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter.
Also on the list is the Nashi (Ours) party led by Yevheniy Murayev. Before the Russian invasion, British authorities warned that Russia wanted to install Murayev as the leader of Ukraine.
Speaking in a video address early Sunday, Zelenskyy said “given a large-scale war unleashed by the Russian Federation and links between it and some political structures, the activities of a number of political parties is suspended for the period of the martial law.” He added that “activities by politicians aimed at discord and collaboration will not succeed.”
Zelenskyy’s announcement follows the introduction of the martial law that envisages a ban on parties associated with Russia.
20 babies from surrogate moms in bomb shelter
In peacetime, Ukraine has a thriving surrogate industry, one of the few countries where foreigners can contract women to carry their pregnancies. Now at least 20 of those babies are stuck in a makeshift bomb shelter in Ukraine’s capital, waiting for parents to travel into the war zone to pick them up.
They’re well cared for at the moment. Surrogacy center nurses are stranded with them, because constant shelling makes it too dangerous for them to go home. Russian troops are trying to encircle the city. As Ukrainian defenders hold them off for now, the threat comes from the air.
Nurse Lyudmilla Yashchenko says they’re staying in the bomb shelter to save their lives, and the lives of the babies, some of whom are just days old. They have enough food and baby supplies for now, and can only hope and wait for the newborns to be picked up, and the war to end.
►Ukrainian refugees:Millions of refugees are fleeing Ukraine. Where are they going?
Chinese diplomat: NATO cannot expand eastward
A Chinese diplomat says NATO should stick to what he claimed was a promise not to expand eastward. In a speech on Saturday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng criticized the far-reaching Western sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine and said the root cause of the war in Ukraine “lies in the Cold War mentality and power politics.”
Echoing a Kremlin talking point, the Chinese envoy said if NATO’s “enlargement goes further, it would be approaching the ‘outskirts of Moscow’ where a missile could hit the Kremlin within seven or eight minutes.”
“Pushing a major country, especially a nuclear power, to the corner would entail repercussions too dreadful to contemplate,” he said.
He expressed an understanding for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s oft-repeated position, saying that NATO should have disintegrated and “been consigned to history alongside the Warsaw Pact.”
He said Chinese President Xi Jinping in talks with U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday urged the parties in Ukraine to “keep the dialogue and negotiation going. The U.S. and NATO should also have dialogue with Russia to address the crux of the Ukraine crisis and ease the security concerns of both Russia and Ukraine.”
Contributing: The Associated Press