By Marc Santora and Peter Baker
As the U.S. investment in Ukraine’s war effort grew to over $8 billion Monday, the devastation inside Ukraine continues to mount.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday that at least 140,000 residential buildings had been destroyed or damaged since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February, leaving more than 3.5 million people homeless.
While the arrival of long-range Western weapons has helped the Ukrainians stabilize their defensive positions in the east and begin to mount a counteroffensive in the south, the Russians continue to pound military and civilian targets across the country.
The Ukrainian military said Tuesday that it had repelled several attempts by the Russians to advance on the eastern city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.
As fighting in southern Ukraine intensifies, Russia’s forces have largely closed all traffic in and out of the territories they occupy. But civilians are still trying to find ways to escape, and at least two were killed while fleeing the Kherson region in a red minibus, Ukrainian officials said Tuesday.
Oleksandr Vilkul, head of the military administration in the neighboring area of Kryvyi Rih, said Russian soldiers had fired on the vehicle at “point-blank range,” killing two people and injuring five others. The injured managed to make it to Ukrainian-controlled territory and are now in a hospital in Kryvyi Rih, where two remain in critical condition.
As civilians in occupied regions of the south struggle to find safe escape routes, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has also called on an estimated 200,000 civilians to evacuate from eastern Ukraine, with Russian bombardments having destroyed nearly all of the essential infrastructure for providing heat and electricity.
An emergency evacuation train carrying “women, children, elderly people, many people with reduced mobility” made its way west Tuesday morning, Iryna Vereshchuk, a deputy prime minister, said in a statement. She said the plan was to help people flee until the beginning of the colder months, at which point officials say there will be little that the government in Kyiv can do for them.
Despite the widespread suffering, Zelenskyy said the continuing commitment shown by Ukraine’s Western allies was allowing them to take the fight to the Russians.
“The power of the democratic world is well felt on the battlefield in Ukraine this week,” he said in his overnight address to the nation.
The latest U.S. arms transfer unveiled Monday, worth $550 million, will include ammunition for the HIMARS rocket launchers that have been used to destroy Russian command posts and ammunition depots as well as for 155 mm howitzers already in use by Ukrainian troops, said John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
President Joe Biden authorized the latest package as the first cargo ship of food left the Ukrainian port city of Odesa after months of Russian blockade, in accordance with an agreement with Moscow. The White House called on the Kremlin to continue abiding by the pact to ease a growing food crisis around the world.
“Russia has, of course, weaponized food,” Kirby said. “We urge Russia to meet its commitments under this new arrangement.”