Russia Broadens Mariupol Assault as Signs of Stalemate Take Shape
LVIV, Ukraine — Firing rockets and bombs from the land, air and — probably for the first time — from warships in the Sea of Azov, Russian forces broadened their bombardment of the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Sunday and have forcibly deported thousands of residents, according to city officials and witnesses.
Among the freshly devastated was an art school, where about 400 residents were hiding, according to city officials who claimed it had been bombed by Russian forces targeting civilians. The number of casualties was not known.
Into the fourth week of the Russian assault on the country, the coastal city — a strategic port that would give Russia control over much of Ukraine’s southern coast — has increasingly become a grim symbol of Russian frustration that its superior manpower and weaponry have not forced the quick capitulation of the country. And it has come to symbolize Russia’s brutality, with its forces increasingly targeting civilian sites with long-range missiles to crush the public’s spirit and break the Ukrainian military resistance.
The city has been without food, water, electricity or gas since the early days after the Feb. 24 invasion. But its situation deteriorated even more over the weekend, with reports of raging street battles and Russian forces successfully conquering three neighborhoods. On Sunday morning, the Azov battalion, a Ukrainian regiment that has drawn far-right fighters from around the world and is charged with the city’s defense, said four Russian naval vessels had shelled the city. Largely cut off from the outside world, the toll on civilians there is difficult to assess.
Last week, a Mariupol theater sheltering hundreds of people was reduced to rubble. The word “children” was written in huge letters on the pavement, clearly visible from the air. Even now, the fates of most of those people remain unknown.
“The besieged Mariupol will go down in the history of responsibility for war crimes,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a speech to the nation late Saturday night.
“The terror the occupiers perpetrated on this peaceful city will be remembered for centuries to come.”
In a video address on Sunday to Israeli lawmakers, Mr. Zelensky seemingly compared the suffering of his people to those of the Jews during the Holocaust — an analogy some Israeli lawmakers criticized as going too far.
“Our people are now wandering in the world, seeking security,” the Ukrainian president said in the address, broadcast to crowds in a public square in Tel Aviv, “as you once did.”
Mr. Zelensky is Jewish, but has been called a “little Nazi” by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has falsely claimed that Ukraine’s government is pro-Nazi. He has made the “de-Nazification” of Ukraine a justification for the invasion.
Israel has attempted to act as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia, offering aid to the besieged country and accepting refugees, but refusing to provide weapons like its vaunted Iron Dome missile defense system or even defensive equipment, like helmets, to Ukraine. Israel’s stance has angered Mr. Zelensky.
“It is possible to mediate between countries,” Mr. Zelensky said in his 10-minute address, “but not between good and evil.”
Ukrainian officials said on Sunday that an attack by a Russian tank on a home for the elderly in a town called Kreminna in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region had killed 56 people on March 11. The incident was belatedly reported, the authorities said, because fighting had made access impossible.
“They just adjusted the tank, put it in front of the house and started firing,” said Serhiy Haidai, a Ukrainian official overseeing the Luhansk Regional State Administration.
Despite four days of negotiations last week between Ukraine and Russia, there was little indication of progress toward peace. Still, Mr. Zelensky reiterated his desire to engage diplomatically with the Russians, telling CNN on Sunday that “without negotiations we cannot end this war.”
As Russian forces pushed into the center of Mariupol, some 4,500 residents were forcibly taken across the nearby Russian border, according to Pyotr Andryuschenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor. With no resources in Russia to rely on, they would be at the mercy of people who had taken them across the border, he said.
Recently evacuated Mariupol residents also told The New York Times that they had been in touch with people who had been apprehended in basements and taken across the border against their will.
“What the occupiers are doing today is familiar to the older generation, who saw the horrific events of World War II, when the Nazis forcibly captured people,” said Mariupol’s mayor, Vadym Boychenko.
Officials in Moscow have not directly addressed these claims, but said on Friday that thousands of Ukrainians had “expressed a desire to escape” to Russia.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russia said it had used advanced long-range missiles to hit three military facilities, including a training center in the northern town of Ovruch and a large fuel depot near the southern city of Mykolaiv.
Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, said Sunday that Russia had used a Kinzhal hypersonic missile — so fast it can evade interception — to strike the fuel depot. It was the same type of missile that Russia claimed it had used for the first time on Saturday to strike an ammunitions depot in western Ukraine.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, acknowledged on Sunday that Russia had used Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, but did not specify where or when.
Cruise missiles launched from the Black Sea on Sunday also destroyed a military factory’s workshops in the northern town of Nizhyn, General Konashenkov said.
There was no immediate comment from Ukrainian officials, and the claims could not be independently verified.
The aerial bombardment fit into a picture of a bloody stalemate that Western military experts are now describing, with Russia increasingly turning to long-range missiles as its ground campaign has been stifled by Ukrainian resistance, and as Russian troops appear to be even losing ground around Kyiv, the capital.
The U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Russia’s military campaign had “essentially stalled” after sustaining heavy casualties, characterizing Russia’s strategy so far as feeding its soldiers “into a wood chipper.”
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Things to Know
“Russian generals are running out of time, ammunition, and manpower,” Ben Hodges, the former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, wrote last week.
“The Russians are in trouble, and they know it,” Mr. Hodges wrote.
Russian commanders initially planned airborne and mechanized operations to quickly seize Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, and other major Ukrainian cities. Their hope was to install leaders loyal to Moscow.
It is now clear that plan has failed, analysts said.
Britain’s defense intelligence agency said on Sunday that Russian forces were still working to encircle cities and continue to hold territory in the south around Kherson. But, it said Russia had increased “indiscriminate shelling of urban areas resulting in widespread destruction and large numbers of civilian casualties.”
This, said Mr. Hodges, had been intentional.
“These strikes confirm that they do have precision capabilities, as we’d assumed,” he said in an email message. “Which also confirms that their use of indiscriminate strikes in cities is not because they don’t have precision munitions. It is deliberate, also as we’d assumed.”
A stalemate is not the same as an armistice or cease-fire.
Some of the deadliest battles of World War I were fought during stalemates that the antagonists failed to break, at a cost of tens of thousands of lives, pointed out a recent examination of the Ukraine invasion by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
Even as the Russian invaders find military success entering Mariupol, the costs might limit the impact of any Russian victory.
“If and when Mariupol ultimately falls the Russian forces now besieging it may not be strong enough to change the course of the campaign dramatically by attacking to the west,” the institute’s analysis stated, adding that continued bombardment of Ukrainian cities was likely.
The Russian invasion has led to the fastest-moving exodus of European refugees since World War II. More than two million Ukrainians have surged into Poland, where the government has worked feverishly to provide support, according to Marek Magierowski, Poland’s ambassador to the United States.
The ambassador told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that Poland had already integrated tens of thousands of Ukrainian children into its school system, thanks in part to a new law that allows Ukrainians to apply for Polish IDs, business permits, health care and insurance.
The efforts represent a sharp departure by the Polish government, which has resorted to increasingly extreme measures to prevent migrants of color fleeing conflicts in Africa and the Middle East from crossing its border.
But, Polish officials are discussing longer term efforts to relocate the largely white Ukrainians to other European countries, the Polish ambassador said.
“We have done our utmost to accommodate the Ukrainian refugees, to host them in our homes,” Mr. Magierowski said.
“But, of course, two million people. It’s a huge number.”
Valerie Hopkins reported from Lviv, Ukraine; Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland; and Catherine Porter from Toronto. Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting from Istanbul, Chris Cameron from Washington, and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.