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As it continues to defend Kyiv, Ukraine warns Russia may aim to split country


Meeting with the Russian Paralympic team

By Marc Santora


Ukrainian officials said Sunday that they were increasingly confident in their ability to fend off ground assaults on the capital, Kyiv, but warned that a frustrated Russia may aim to split the country.


As the fighting entered its second month, the war has devolved into an unpredictable patchwork of contested spaces where even the smallest gains come at a shockingly high cost.


Ukrainian forces have gone on the offensive in areas where the Russian lines are stretched the thinnest. Having suffered heavy losses, a large formation of Russian soldiers has fallen back to regroup in an area around the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukrainian officials said.


Yet around the capital, Russian forces continued to shell towns and cities, including Bucha and Irpin, where they are working to set up fortified positions, according to Ukrainian and Western officials.


Elsewhere, Ukraine’s military — which has prevented the Russians from encircling the eastern city of Kharkiv — claimed Sunday that its soldiers had won back two villages on the outskirts of the city.


Ukrainian military’s intelligence chief said that while President Vladimir Putin of Russia did not have the troops to “swallow” the country, he may try and divide it by consolidating territory in parts of Ukraine.


“There is a reason to believe that he is considering the Korean scenario for Ukraine,” Brig. Gen. Kirill Budanov said in a statement to the Ukrainian press service. “In other words, he will try to impose a distribution line between the non-occupied and occupied regions of our country.”


Russian forces have focused on combating Ukrainian counter offensives and holding gains in the east and south, where the city of Kherson — a critical stronghold bordering Crimea — is now bitterly contested. In other cities, the Russians have continued a brutal campaign aimed at forcing civilians to capitulate or flee.


Those who have remained in the ruined landscapes of cities like Mariupol, Sumy and Chernihiv — collectively home to more than 2 million people before the war — are now confined to bomb shelters and basements with dwindling supplies of food and water.


Along the eastern front, which stretches more than 600 miles from Chernihiv in the north to the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, the fighting is as intense as the destruction is vast.


Russian forces have now encircled Chernihiv, about 100 miles from Kyiv, according to the city’s mayor, Vladyslav Atroshenko. Tens of thousands are now stranded, facing a fate similar to those struggling to survive in Mariupol.


In other developments:


— President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine again turned up the pressure for more weapons to keep up a fight that he said was being waged for the security of all of Europe. “What is the price of this security? This is very specific,” he said. “These are planes for Ukraine. These are tanks for our state. This is antimissile defense. This is anti-ship weaponry.”


— Residents of Lviv woke Sunday and began surveying the damage from an overnight barrage of missile attacks, fearing that the city in western Ukraine might no longer be a haven from the worst of the fighting with Russia.


— American officials scrambled to clarify President Joe Biden’s remark in Warsaw, Poland, that Russia’s president “cannot remain in power.” The comment drew a mixed reaction in Europe.


— Residents of Mariupol are desperately trying to escape a city under siege.


— Tensions flared in another former Soviet region as Azerbaijani forces launched drone strikes against the army of Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed region that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but claims independence and is closely allied with Armenia.

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