Authorities reported multiple explosions in western and southern Ukraine on Monday as Russian forces claimed near full control of the strategic southern port city of Mariupol following almost two months of bloody fighting.
After failing to overcome Ukrainian resistance in the north, the Russian military has refocused its ground offensive on Donbas, while launching long-distance strikes at targets elsewhere, including the capital, Kyiv.
In the regions of Lviv and Dnipropetrovsk, authorities reported multiple explosions early on Monday. According to media outlet Suspilne, two people were wounded in the Dnipropetrovsk attacks. Lviv mayor Andriy Sadoviy said there had been five missile strikes on the city. It was unclear if there were any casualties there.
In Kyiv, a Reuters reporter heard a series of blasts on the left bank of the Dnipro river. Local authorities were yet to provide any official information on their cause.
Eighteen people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in shelling in the past four days in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
“This is nothing but deliberate terror: mortars, artillery against ordinary residential quarters, against ordinary civilians,” he said late on Sunday.
Russia denies targeting civilians and has rejected what Ukraine says is evidence of atrocities as staged to undermine peace talks. It calls its action a special military operation to demilitarise Ukraine and eradicate what it calls dangerous nationalists.
The West and Kyiv accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of unprovoked aggression.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said troops in the pulverised port of Mariupol were still fighting on Sunday, despite a Russian demand to surrender by dawn.
“The city still has not fallen,” he told ABC’s “This Week” programme, adding that Ukrainian soldiers continued to control some parts of the southeastern city.
On Saturday, Russia said it had control of urban areas, with some Ukrainian fighters remaining in the Azovstal steelworks overlooking the Sea of Azov.
Capturing Mariupol would be a strategic prize for Russia, linking territory held by pro-Russian separatists in the east with the Crimea region Moscow annexed in 2014.
On the eve of the war, it was the biggest city still held by Ukrainian authorities in the two eastern provinces known as the Donbas, which Moscow has demanded Ukraine cede to pro-Russian separatists.
It would unite Russian forces on two of the main axes of the invasion, and free them up to join an expected new offensive against the main Ukrainian force in the east.
On the streets of Mariupol, small groups of bodies were lined up under colourful blankets, surrounded by shredded trees and scorched buildings.
Residents, some pushing bicycles, picked their way around destroyed tanks and civilian vehicles while Russian soldiers checked the documents of motorists.
One resident, Irina, was evacuating with a niece wounded in the shelling.
“I have a daughter in DNR,” she said, referring to the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. “Maybe we will try to move there for the time being.
“I hope they will re-build (Mariupol). The most important thing is utility systems. Summer will pass fast and in winter it will be hard.”
Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of Luhansk, repeated a plea for people to evacuate.
“The next week will be difficult,” he said in a post on his Facebook page. “It may be the last time we have a chance to save you.”
‘Easter of war’
About four million Ukrainians have fled the country, cities have been shattered and thousands have died since the start of the invasion on Feb 24.
The economic damage is significant. Shmyhal said Ukraine’s budget deficit was about US$5 billion a month and urged Western governments for more financial aid.
On Twitter, Zelenskiy said he had discussed ensuring Ukraine’s financial stability and preparations for post-war reconstruction with International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, quoting her as having said support was essential to lay the foundations for rebuilding.
Ukraine pressed on with efforts to swiftly join the European Union, as officials completed a questionnaire that is a starting point for the EU to decide on its membership. On Easter Sunday, Pope Francis implicitly criticised Russia, pleading for an end to the bloodshed and lamenting the “Easter of war” in a speech in St Peter’s Square after Mass.
“May there be peace for war-torn Ukraine, so sorely tried by the violence and destruction of the cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged,” he said.