Ukraine and Russia trade strikes along eastern front
By Marc Santora
Russian forces pressed their offensive in Ukraine on Wednesday, raining artillery and missile strikes along the long eastern front, as Ukrainian soldiers holding out inside a sprawling steel factory in the southeastern city of Mariupol warned that they could be killed within hours.
Even as Ukrainian troops in Mariupol defied another Russian deadline to surrender, a tentative deal was reached to allow women and children to evacuate the besieged port city, although it was unclear whether civilians also sheltering inside the steel plant would be able to leave along the proposed departure route.
Along the 300-mile eastern front, which stretches from Mariupol north to Kharkiv, U.S. and Ukrainian officials said Russia continued to pour in soldiers, artillery units and military hardware as it launches a renewed assault aimed at grinding down and encircling Ukrainian forces, and capturing all of the eastern territory known as the Donbas.
“Virtually the entire combat-ready part of the invaders’ army is concentrated on the territory of our state and in the border areas of Russia,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said overnight.
As Russia refocuses on the east following its failure to take Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, it is confronting Ukrainian forces that have spent years digging trenches and fortifying defensive positions during a grinding conflict with Russian-backed separatists that began in 2014 that resulted in the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Although no major battles have yet been waged in the days since Russia signaled the start of the offensive, and no significant territory has changed hands, Moscow’s superior weaponry and a more favorable terrain suggest a bloody fight to come.
In other developments:
— President Joe Biden was scheduled to meet with top U.S. defense officials, a day after saying the United States would send more artillery to help Ukraine hold off Russia’s new offensive. Ukraine’s allies are scrambling to deliver more advanced weapons for the battle in the east, where its defense is expected to rely on long-range missiles, howitzers and armed drones.
— President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday will discuss the Russian economy and the country’s development under the heavy weight of sanctions with the heads of biggest steel producers and with aspiring young managers and entrepreneurs.
— The U.N. refugee agency reported that the number of people who have fled Ukraine for other countries since the war began has surpassed 5 million.