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Ukraine: Russian troops continue their advance, no lull in prospect


On the eleventh day of their invasion, Russian forces on Sunday destroyed an airport in central Ukraine and continued their siege of Mariupol, the major port in the southeast.

The front lines have apparently changed little in the past 24 hours, with the capital Kyiv remaining under Ukrainian control, as is Kharkiv (northeast), despite intense Russian bombardment.

Here is an update on the situation based on elements from AFP journalists on site and emergency services as well as official Ukrainian and Russian statements, Western sources, analysts and international organizations. Moscow for its part communicates very little about its offensive.

Ballast

Kharkovthe second largest city in Ukraine (1.4 million inhabitants), 50 km from the Russian border, was still in the hands of Ukrainian troops on Sunday despite intense bombing, according to Western observers.

Russian forces are also leading an offensive from the pro-Russian separatist territories of Donetsk and of Lugansk (east), but the extent of their advance remained unknown.

Fighting was intense around and inside the town of sumi (northeast), where the Ukrainian government reports Russian shelling and attempts to evacuate foreign students.

Kyiv and the North

Kyiv remains under Ukrainian control, despite heavy bombardment. Western observers noted the presence of a column of hundreds of Russian vehicles north of the capital, near the airport of Gostomel.

Intense clashes took place in the vicinity of Gostomelbut the column has made little progress in recent days.

Ukraine also retains control of Chernigivin the north of Kyiv, whose city center was devastated by Russian shelling on Friday. Many civilians have died there in recent days.

South

The Russians besiege the port city of Mariupol, which still resists. A second attempt to evacuate some 200,000 civilians was “interrupted“, announced Sunday the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Both sides blame each other for these failures.

The capture of this city of strategic importance would allow Russia to link up its forces coming from the Crimea annexed, who have already conquered the key towns of Berdyansk and of Kherson and now threaten Mykolaivfurther west, and separatist and Russian troops in the Donbass (East).

Odessa, where the main port of Ukraine is located -on the Black Sea-, still in Ukrainian hands, has so far not been affected. But the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia on Sunday of preparing to bomb the city.

West

Western Ukraine has so far been largely spared from the fighting. Its greatest city, Lvivhas become a hub for diplomatic missions, journalists and Ukrainians seeking safety or fleeing to a neighboring country.

Mr Zelensky claimed on Sunday that Russian strikes had destroyed the airport in the city of Vinnytsiasome 200 kilometers southwest of Kyiv, far beyond the vanguard of the invading forces.

Victims

Russia announced Wednesday that 498 of its soldiers had been killed in Ukraine, according to the first assessment announced of its losses in this war, which has not been updated since.

Ukraine and Western observers ensure for their part that the balance sheet is very much higher. Kyiv claims that more than 11,000 Russian soldiers perished.

The UN said on Friday it had counted 331 civilians killed in Ukraine, including 15 children, a potentially vastly underestimated toll.

Refugees

More than one and a half million people have already fled Ukraine since the start of the invasion of this country on February 24, more than half of whom have been received in Poland, according to the latest count of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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