Russia attacks Ukrainian sites far from eastern Donbass, as ICC agrees to investigate war crimes

Russia on Monday launched a series of attacks on rail and oil installations deep in Ukraine, far from the front lines of Moscow’s new eastern offensive, in a bid to thwart Ukrainian efforts to gather needed supplies in combat.

The United States, meanwhile, decided to send more weapons to Ukraine and said help from Western allies was making a difference in the two-month-old war.

“Russia is failing. Ukraine is succeeding,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, a day after he and the US Secretary of Defense boldly traveled to Kyiv to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Blinken said Washington had approved a US$165 million ammunition sale – mostly, if not entirely, non-US ammunition for Soviet-era Ukrainian weapons – and would also provide more than US$300 million in funding for buy more supplies.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin took his comments further, saying that while the US wants to see Ukraine remain a sovereign and democratic country, it also wants “to see Russia weakened to the point where it cannot not do things like invade Ukraine”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States and its allies of trying to “divide Russian society and destroy Russia from within”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, in this image from a video posted to Facebook by Zelensky’s office on Monday. The three men met in kyiv on Sunday evening. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/Associated Press)

Another mass grave

Officials in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol said a new mass grave had been identified. Mayor Vadym Boychenko said authorities were trying to estimate the number of victims at the grave, about 10 kilometers north of Mariupol.

Satellite photos released over the past few days yielded what appeared to be images of other mass graves.

Mariupol has been ravaged by shelling and heavy street fighting over the past two months. In addition to freeing Russian troops, capturing the city would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Britain has said it believes 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine since Moscow began its invasion. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said that 25% of Russian combat units sent to Ukraine “have been rendered non-combat effective”, and that Russia has lost more than 2,000 armored vehicles and more than 60 helicopters and fighter.

A man sits in a yard near a damaged building in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine on Monday. (Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters)

Ukrainian officials said around 2,500 to 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed by mid-April.

Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said war is settling, for now, in a campaign of incremental battlefield gains and losses.

“Both sides are getting weaker every day,” he said. “So it’s a question of what new can you bring, but what can you destroy on the other side?”

War Crimes Investigation

In other developments, fires were reported at two oil facilities in western Russia, not far from the Ukrainian border. Their cause was not immediately known.

And the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust) said on Monday that the International Criminal Court (ICC) would participate in the joint team investigating alleged war crimes in Ukraine. following the Russian invasion.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan and the Attorneys General of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine have signed an agreement for the international war crimes tribunal’s first-ever participation in a team of investigators, according to a press release issued by Eurojust.

“With this agreement, the parties send a clear message that all efforts will be undertaken to effectively gather evidence on the main international crimes committed in Ukraine and bring those responsible to justice,” the Eurojust agency said.

Men carry the coffin of a person who died during the Russian occupation before his burial in the cemetery in Bucha, Ukraine, last Tuesday. A few weeks after the withdrawal of Russian forces from the city, the task of recovering the dozens of bodies continues. (Evgeny Maloletka/Associated Press)

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, its apparent objective was a lightning offensive to take the capital and perhaps even overthrow the government. But the Ukrainians, aided by Western weapons, bogged down Putin’s troops and thwarted their push towards kyiv.

Moscow now says its target is the eastern Donbass region, although a senior military official has said it also wants to control southern Ukraine. Although both sides said the campaign in the East had begun, it did not achieve any major breakthroughs.

Russia targets Ukrainian resources

On Monday, Russia concentrated its firepower elsewhere, with missiles and fighter jets striking far behind the front lines.

Five railway stations in central and western Ukraine were hit and one worker was killed, said Oleksandr Kamyshin, director of Ukrainian National Railways. The bombardment included a missile attack near Lviv, the western city near the Polish border that has been swelled by Ukrainians fleeing fighting elsewhere in the country.

Columns of thick black smoke rise from the site of a Russian missile strike on Krasne railway station in the Zolochiv region of western Ukraine on Monday morning. (Jean-Francois Benoit/CBC)

Ukrainian authorities said at least five people were killed by Russian strikes in the central Vinnytsia region.

Russia also destroyed an oil refinery in Kremenchuk, central Ukraine, as well as fuel depots there, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said. In total, Russian warplanes destroyed 56 Ukrainian targets overnight, he said.

Philip Breedlove, a retired US general who served as NATO’s commander-in-chief from 2013 to 2016, said the latest strikes on fuel depots were part of a strategy to deplete key war resources Ukrainians. Strikes against railroad targets, on the other hand, are a newer tactic, he said.

“I think they’re doing it for the legitimate reason of trying to shut down the flow of supplies to the front,” Breedlove said. “The illegitimate reason is that they know people are trying to leave the country, and this is just another intimidation, terrorist tactic to make them lose the faith and confidence to travel on the rails.”

Volunteers evacuate an elderly woman from her apartment as Russian shelling continues in Kharkiv, Ukraine on Monday. (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)

Civilians still holed up in a steel mill

Earlier Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry announced plans for a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to safely exit the beleaguered Mariupol steelworks.

Ukrainian officials said up to 1,000 civilians were sheltering at the Azovstal plant.

But Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on the Telegram messaging app that Ukraine did not accept this evacuation plan and, for this reason, does not consider the route safe.

Vereshchuk also said that Russia has already broken agreements on similar humanitarian corridors. Ukraine asks the United Nations to intervene to supervise the evacuation.

A satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows damage to the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on Sunday. (Planet Labs PBC/Associated Press)

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is due to visit Russia and Ukraine this week. Vereshchuk called on Guterres to be the “initiator and guarantor” of a humanitarian route out of Azovstal, and for UN and International Committee of the Red Cross personnel to accompany anyone evacuated.

The gigantic steelworks, which has a sprawling maze of underground canals, is the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the strategic port city on the Sea of ​​Azov.

Ukrainian troops stubbornly resisted the sprawling factory for weeks, despite beatings by Russian forces and repeated demands for surrender.

WATCH | Women asking for help in a video of a steel mill:

Women ask for help in group video saying they are from Mariupol bunker

A video has been released by Ukraine’s far-right Azov Battalion which it says originates from the Azovstal steelworks bunker in Mariupol, in which women, speaking in Russian, plead for release from Russia’s siege . ‘Help us!’ we cry. The Azov Battalion is a far-right armed group that was integrated into the National Guard of Ukraine after the first Russian invasion in 2014. 1:22