Russia doubles down on attacks in Ukraine following fall of Mariupol

The Ukrainian General Staff reported a high number of Russian attacks in the east and south of country on Saturday, following the fall of the port city of Mariupol to Russian attacks.

Kiev, 22 May 2022 (dpa/MIA) – The Ukrainian General Staff reported a high number of Russian attacks in the east and south of country on Saturday, following the fall of the port city of Mariupol to Russian attacks.

Moscow’s troops continue to target eastern Ukraine, where 11 attacks were repelled, the situation report said.

A regional governor also said Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region was experiencing heavy fighting, raising fears of further Russian advances following the capture of Mariupol and the Azovstal steelworks.

The eastern Ukrainian town of Sievierodonetsk has been under fire for days, with several dead and injured, according to the governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Hajday.

“The Russians are wiping out Sievierodonetsk like Mariupol,” he said on Telegram, referring to aerial bombardments in the region.

However, he dismissed claims by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu that Moscow was on the verge of completely taking the Luhansk region, calling these “nonsense.”

Russian armed forces are trying to gain complete control over the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk and secure a land corridor to the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Seizing Mariupol was an important advance in Russia’s strategy.

Late on Friday, Moscow said it had taken control of the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, where the city’s last 2,000 fighters had been holed up for months in underground bunkers at the sprawling industrial site.

A total of 2,439 Ukrainian soldiers have been taken into Russian captivity since May 16, Moscow said.

Among them were 78 women, and some people from abroad, according to Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin. He said six fighters had died trying to blow up stores of ammunition, in comments reported by TASS state news agency.

The Russian leadership may now be considering exchanging fighters captured in Azovstal, a lawmaker said late on Saturday.

Leading Russian foreign policy expert Leonid Sluzki said there was discussion of possibly swapping Ukrainian fighters captured in Mariupol for pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, the Interfax news agency reported.

His suggestion echoes one made some weeks ago by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky concerning Medvedchuk, who was arrested in mid-April, accused of treason and embezzlement. He is considered Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in Ukraine.

Now, Russian troops are clearing mines from the area around the port to make it functional again, according to the Ukrainian military.

But despite Mariupol’s fall, Zelensky said his army had inflicted serious damage on Russia’s armed forces.

Ukraine has “broken the backbone” of the Russian army, Zelensky said in a television interview. “They will not be able to get back on their feet for the next few years.”

Kiev will take it all back, he said, adding that Ukraine would see a return to the front lines before February 24, when Russia invaded, as a victory.

Later on Saturday, Zelensky said that Russia’s economy was paying a high price for its continued aggression.

“Russia has sent virtually all its resources to destroy us,” Zelensky said in a video address.

“Rising prices, devaluation of income, destruction of all the economic potential that has been created in Russia since the 2000s – all this does not stop the invaders yet. But the colossal costs of the war still do not help them. And will not help.”

Ukraine said Russian forces were responsible for the deaths of seven civilians in the area of Donetsk under Moscow’s control. Three people were killed in the town of Lyman alone, regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko wrote on Telegram. He did not state exactly what had happened.

Meanwhile in Kherson, occupied by Russian forces, local administrators accused Ukraine of killing three civilians and injuring 10 in the village of Biloserka, in a statement on Telegram. No further details were given.

EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders vowed that war crimes in Ukraine would be prosecuted and atrocities committed during the invasion would not go unpunished.

Reynders told La Stampa, an Italian newspaper, that 11 EU member states were investigating war crimes in Ukraine with more than 600 suspects identified so far.

Investigations are proceeding in Ukraine but also in various other European countries with testimony from people who fled the violence and the fighting, Reynders said.

In terms of peace, the first goal is for fighting to stop in some regions, according to Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio who said Rome had developed a plan to end the conflict.

Amid these efforts, US President Joe Biden signed into law a billion-dollar aid package for Ukraine, the White House announced, after Congress passed the package of almost $40 billion to “respond to the situation in, and for assistance to, Ukraine.”

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