At least 11 Russian soldiers were killed Saturday in a shooting incident that underlined the challenges posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hasty mobilization, just as Ukrainian troops pressed an offensive to reclaim the areas in the country’s south that were illegally annexed by Moscow. The Russian Defense Ministry said two men opened fire at volunteer soldiers during a target practice session in western Russia, killing 11 of them and wounding 15 others before being killed themselves. The ministry called it a terror attack. Russia has lost ground in the nearly seven weeks since Ukraine’s armed forces opened their southern counteroffensive. This week, the Kremlin launched what is believed to be its largest coordinated air and missile raids on Ukraine’s key infrastructure since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. In the continuation of those attacks, a missile strike Saturday seriously damaged a key energy facility in Ukraine’s capital region, the country’s grid operator said. Following mounting setbacks, the Russian military has worked to cut off power and water in far-flung populated areas while also fending off Ukrainian counterattacks in occupied areas. In the Zaporizhzhia region, Gov. Oleksandr Starukh said the Russian military carried out strikes with suicide drones from Iran and long-range S-300 missiles. Some experts said the Russian military’s use of the surface-to-air missiles may reflect shortages of dedicated precision weapons for hitting ground targets. Dmytro Pocishchuk, a hospital medic in the Zaporizhzhia region’s capital who has treated dozens of people wounded during Russian attacks in recent weeks, said people sought safety outdoors or in his building’s basement when the familiar blasts started at 5:15 a.m. Saturday. “If Ukraine stops, these bombings and killings will continue. We can’t give up to the Russian Federation,’” Pocishchuk said several hours later. He put a small Ukrainian flag on the broken windshield of his heavily damaged car. Kyiv region Gov. Oleksiy Kuleba said the missile that hit a power facility Saturday morning didn’t kill or wound anyone. Citing security, Ukrainian officials didn’t identify the site, one of many infrastructure targets the Russian military tried to destroy after an Oct. 8 truck bomb explosion damaged the bridge that links Russia to the annexed Crimean Peninsula. Ukrainian electricity transmission company Ukrenergo said repair crews were working to restore electricity service, but warned residents about further possible outages. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, urged residents of the capital and three neighboring regions to conserve energy. “Putin may hope that by increasing the misery of the Ukrainian people, President (Volodymyr) Zelenskyy may be more inclined to negotiate a settlement that allows Russia to retain some stolen territory in the east or Crimea,” said Ian Williams, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy organization based in Washington. “A quick look at history shows that the strategic bombing of civilians is an ineffective way to achieve a political aim.” This week’s wide-ranging retaliatory attacks, which included the use of self-destructing explosive drones from Iran, killed dozens of people. The strikes hit residential buildings as well as infrastructure such as power stations in Kyiv, Lviv in western Ukraine, and other cities that had seen comparatively few strikes in recent months. Putin said Friday that Moscow didn’t see a need for additional massive strikes but his military would continue selective ones. He said that of 29 targets the Russian military planned to knock out in this week’s attacks, seven weren’t damaged and would be taken out gradually. The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, interpreted Putin’s remarks as intended to counter criticism from pro-war Russian bloggers who “largely praised the resumption of strikes against Ukrainian cities, but warned that a short campaign would be ineffective.” In the southern Kherson region, one of the first areas of Ukraine to fall to Russia after the invasion and which Putin also illegally designated as Russian territory last month, Ukrainian forces pressed their counteroffensive Saturday. Kyiv’s army has reported recapturing 75 villages and towns there in the last month, but said the momentum had slowed, with the fighting settling into the sort of grueling back-and-forth that characterized Russia’s months-long offensive to conquer Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. On Saturday, Ukrainian troops attempted to advance south along the banks of the Dnieper River toward the regional capital, also named Kherson, but didn’t gain any ground, according to Kirill Stremousov, a deputy head of the occupied region’s Moscow-installed administration. “The defense lines worked, and the situation has remained under the full control of the Russian army,” he wrote on his messaging app channel. The Kremlin-backed local leaders asked civilians Thursday to leave the region to ensure their safety and to give Russian troops more maneuverability. Stremousov reminded them they could evacuate to Crimea and cities in southwestern Russia, where Moscow offered free accommodations to residents who agreed to leave. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, said the military destroyed five crossings on the Inhulets River, another route Ukraine’s fighters could take to progress toward the Kherson region. Konashenkov claimed Russian troops also blocked Ukrainian attempts to make inroads in breaching Russian defenses near Lyman, a city in the annexed Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine that the Ukrainians retook two weeks ago in a significant defeat for the Kremlin. Amid the fighting, two men from an unnamed former Soviet nation fired on volunteer soldiers during target practice at a firing range in the Belgorod region that borders Ukraine and were killed by return fire, the Russian Defense Ministry said. The shooting comes amid a mobilization ordered by Putin to beef up Russian forces in Ukraine — a hasty and poorly executed move that triggered protests and caused hundreds of thousands to flee Russia. Some of the mobilized reservists were sent to the front lines without receving proper training and equipment, according to activists and media reports. Putin said on Friday that more than 220,000 reservists already had been called up as part of an effort to recruit 300,000. To the north and east of Kherson, Russian shelling killed two civilians in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Gov. Valentyn Resnichenko said. He said the shelling of the city of Nikopol, which is located across the Dnieper from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, damaged a dozen residential buildings, several stores and a transportation facility. Fighting near the nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, has been an ongoing concern during the nearly eight-month war. The power station temporarily lost its last remaining outside electricity source twice in the past week, fueling fears the reactors could eventually overheat and cause a catastrophic radiation leak. International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi reported that such fears were somewhat eased late Friday, because Ukrainian engineers had managed after several weeks to restore backup power lines that can serve as a “buffer” in case of further war-related outages. “Working in very challenging conditions, operating staff at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant are doing everything they can to bolster its fragile offsite power situation,” Grossi said. “Restoring the backup power connection is a positive step in this regard, even though the overall nuclear safety and security situation remains precarious.”
After being encircled by Ukrainian forces, Russia pulled troops out Saturday from an eastern Ukrainian city that it had been using as a front-line hub. It was the latest victory for the Ukrainian counteroffensive that has humiliated and angered the Kremlin. Russia’s withdrawal from Lyman complicates its internationally vilified declaration just a day earlier that it had annexed four regions of Ukraine — an area that includes Lyman. Taking the city paves the way for Ukrainian troops to potentially push further into land that Moscow now illegally claims as its own. “The Ukrainian flag is already in Lyman, Donetsk region. Fighting is still going on there. But there is no trace of any pseudo-referendum there,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Saturday. He was referring to “referendums” that Russia held at gunpoint in the four regions before annexing them — Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. The fighting comes at a pivotal moment in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war. Facing Ukrainian gains on the battlefield — which he frames as a U.S.-orchestrated effort to destroy Russia — Putin this week heightened threats of nuclear force and used his most aggressive, anti-Western rhetoric to date. Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed to have inflicted damage on Ukrainian forces in battling to hold Lyman, but said outnumbered Russian troops were withdrawn to more favorable positions. Ukrainian forces moved into the city, and Zelenskyy’s chief of staff posted photos of a Ukrainian flag being hoisted on the town's outskirts. Lyman had been an important link in the Russian front line for ground communications and logistics. Located 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, it's in the Donetsk region near the border with Luhansk, two regions that Russia annexed Friday. Ukrainian forces have retaken vast swaths of territory in a counteroffensive that started in September. They have pushed Russian forces out of the Kharkiv area and moved east across the Oskil River. Moscow’s withdrawal from Lyman prompted immediate criticism from some Russian officials. The leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, blamed the retreat, without evidence, on one Russian general being “covered up for by higher-up leaders in the General Staff.” He called for “more drastic measures.” Meanwhile, on the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula, the governor of the city of Sevastopol announced an emergency situation at an airfield there. Explosions and huge billows of smoke could be seen by beachgoers in the Russian-held resort. Authorities said a plane rolled off the runway at the Belbek airfield, and said ammunition on board had caught fire. Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 in violation of international law. Russian bombardment has intensified in recent days as Moscow moved swiftly with its latest annexation and ordered a mass mobilization at home to bolster its forces. The Russian call-up has proven unpopular at home, prompting tens of thousands of Russian men to flee the country. Zelenskyy and his military have vowed to keep fighting to liberate the regions that Putin claimed to have annexed Friday, and other Russian-occupied areas. Ukrainian authorities accused Russian forces of targeting two humanitarian convoys in recent days, killing dozens of civilians. The governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Syniehubov, said 24 civilians were killed in an attack this week on a convoy trying to flee the Kupiansk district. He called it “сruelty that can’t be justified.” He said 13 children and a pregnant woman were among the dead. “The Russians fired at civilians almost at point-blank range,” Syniehubov wrote on Telegram. The Security Service of Ukraine, the secret police force known by the acronym SBU, posted photographs of the attacked convoy. At least one truck appeared to have been blown up, with burned corpses in what remained of its truck bed. Another vehicle at the front of the convoy was torched. Bodies lay on the side of the road or still inside vehicles that were pockmarked with bullet holes. Russia’s Defense Ministry said its rockets destroyed Ukrainian military targets in the area but has not commented on accusations that it targeted fleeing civilians. Russian troops have retreated from much of the Kharkiv region but continue to shell the area. And a Russian strike in the Zaporizhzhia region’s capital killed 31 people and wounded 88, Ukrainian officials said. The British Defense Ministry said the Russians “almost certainly” struck a humanitarian convoy there with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. Russian-installed officials in Zaporizhzhia blamed Ukrainian forces but gave no evidence. In other developments, in an apparent attempt to secure Moscow’s hold on the newly annexed territory, Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Ihor Murashov, on Friday, according to the Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom. Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and took him to an undisclosed location. Russia did not comment on the report. The International Atomic Energy Agency said Russia told it that “the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was temporarily detained to answer questions.” The Vienna-based IAEA said it “has been actively seeking clarifications and hopes for a prompt and satisfactory resolution of this matter.” The power plant has been caught in the crossfire of the war. Ukrainian technicians continued running it after Russian troops seized the power station, and its last reactor was shut down in September as a precautionary measure amid ongoing shelling nearby. In other fighting reported Saturday, four people were killed by Russian shelling Friday in the Donetsk region, governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said. The Russian army struck the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv twice overnight, once with drones and the second time with missiles, according to the regional governor. Russia now claims sovereignty over 15% of Ukraine in what NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called “the largest attempted annexation of European territory by force since the Second World War.” Zelenskyy on Friday formally applied for NATO membership, upping the pressure on Western allies to defend Ukraine. In Washington, President Joe Biden signed a bill that provides another infusion — more than $12.3 billion — in military and economic aid linked to the war in Ukraine.
Danyk Rak enjoys riding his bike, playing soccer and quiet moments with the family’s short-legged dog and two white cats, Pushuna and Lizun. But at age 12, his childhood has been abruptly cut short. His family's home was destroyed and his mother seriously wounded as Russian forces bombarded Kyiv’s suburbs and surrounding towns in a failed effort to seize the capital. Six months after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, and with no end to the conflict in sight, The Associated Press revisited Danyk as well as a police officer and an Orthodox priest whose lives have been upended by war. “I WANT TO BE AN AIR FORCE PILOT” Tears come to Danyk’s eyes as his mother, Luda, recalls being pulled from the rubble, covered in blood, after shrapnel tore through her body and smashed her right foot. Twenty-two weeks after she was wounded, she’s still waiting to have her foot amputated and to be fitted with a prosthetic. She keeps the piece of shrapnel surgeons removed during one of her many operations. Danyk lives with his mother and grandmother in a house near Chernihiv, a town 140 kilometers (nearly 90 miles) north of Kyiv, where a piece of tarp covers the broken bedroom windows. He sells milk from the family's cow that grazes in the nearby fields. A handwritten sign wrapped in clear plastic on the front gate reads: “Please buy milk to help my mother who is injured." “My mother needs surgery and that’s why I have to help her. I have to help my grandmother too because she has heart problems,” Danyk said. Before schools reopen on Sept. 1, Danyk and his grandmother have been joining volunteers several days a week clearing the debris from buildings damaged and destroyed in the Russian bombardment outside Chernihiv. On the way, he stops at his old house, most of it smashed to the foundations. “This was my bedroom,” he says, standing next to scorched mattress springs that protrude from the rubble of bricks and plaster. Polite and soft spoken, Danyk says his father and stepfather are both fighting in the Ukrainian army. “My father is a soldier, my uncles are soldiers and my grandfather was a soldier, too. My stepfather is a soldier and I will be a soldier,” he says with a look of determination. “I want to be an air force pilot.” “THIS BRIDGE WAS THE ROAD FROM HELL” Before the Russian withdrawal from Kyiv and surrounding areas on April 2, suburbs and towns near the city’s airport were pounded by rockets, artillery fire and aerial bombardment in an effort to break the Ukrainian defenses. Entire city blocks of apartments were blackened by the shelling in Irpin, just 20 kilometers (12 miles) northwest of the capital, along a route where police Lt. Ruslan Huseinov patrolled daily. Read:Ukraine soccer league defies Russian war to begin season Some of the most dramatic scenes from the early stages of the war were of the evacuation from Irpin underneath a destroyed highway bridge, where thousands escaped the relentless attacks. Huseinov was there for 16 days, organizing crossings where the elderly were carried along muddy pathways in wheelbarrows. Reconstruction work has begun on the bridge, where mangled concrete and iron bars hang over the river. Clothing and shoes from those who fled can still be seen tangled in the debris. “This bridge was the road from hell,” says Huseinov, 34, standing next to an overturned white van still lodged into a slab of smashed concrete. “We got people out of (Irpin) because conditions were terrible — with bombing and shelling,” he said. “People were really scared because many lost their children, members of their family, their brothers and sisters.” Crosses made from construction wood are still nailed to the railings of the bridge to honor those lost and the effort to save civilians. “The whole world witnessed our solidarity,” says Huseinov, who grew up in Germany and says he would never again take the good things in life for granted. “In my mind, everything has changed: My values in life,” he said. “Now I understand what we have to lose.” “BEFORE THE WAR, IT WAS ANOTHER LIFE” The floor of the Church of Andrew the Apostle has been re-tiled and bullet holes in the walls plastered over and repainted — but the horror of what happened in March lies only a few yards away. The largest mass grave in Bucha — a town outside Kyiv that has become synonymous with the brutality of the Russian attack — is behind the church. “This grave contained 116 people, including 30 women, and two children,” said Father Andriy, who has conducted multiple burial services for civilians found shot dead or killed by shelling, some still only identified as a number while the effort to name all of Bucha’s victims continues. Many of the bodies were found before the Russians pulled out of the Kyiv region, Father Andriy said. “We couldn’t bury people in the cemetery because it’s on the outskirts of the city. They left people, dead people, lying in the street. Dead people were found still in their cars. They were trying to leave but the Russians shelled them,” said Father Andriy, wearing a large cross around his neck and a dark purple cassock. “That situation lasted two weeks, and the local authorities began coming up with solutions (to help) relatives and loved ones. It was bad weather and wild animals were discovering the bodies. So something had to be done.” He decided to carry out burial services in the church yard, many next to where the bodies had been discovered. The experience , he said, has left people in the town badly shaken. “I think that, neither myself or anyone who lives in Ukraine, who witnessed the war, can understand why this happened," he said. “Before the war, it was another life.” “For now we are surviving on adrenaline,” he said. "But I’m worried that the aftermath will last decades. It will be hard to get past this and turn the page. Saying the word ‘forgive’ isn’t difficult. But to say it from your heart — for now , that’s not possible.”
As Russian troops pressed their offensive in Ukraine's east, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fired his state security chief and prosecutor general on Sunday, citing hundreds of criminal proceedings into treason and collaboration by people within their departments and other law enforcement agencies. “In particular, more than 60 employees of the prosecutor’s office and the SBU (state security service) have remained in the occupied territory and work against our state,” Zelenskyy said. “Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the state’s national security, and the links recorded between Ukrainian security forces and Russian special services raise very serious questions about their respective leaders,’’ he said in his nightly video address to the nation. Zelenskyy dismissed Ivan Bakanov, a childhood friend and former business partner whom he had appointed to head the SBU. Bakanov had come under growing criticism over security breaches since the war began; Politico last month cited several unidentified Ukrainian and Western sources saying Zelenskyy was looking to replace him. He also dismissed Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, and replaced her with her deputy Oleksiy Symonenko. Venediktova has helped lead war crime investigations. Meanwhile, Russian missiles hit industrial facilities earlier Sunday at Mykolaiv, a key shipbuilding center in southern Ukraine. Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said the missiles struck an industrial and infrastructure facility. Mykolaiv has faced regular Russian missile strikes in recent weeks as the Russians have sought to soften Ukrainian defenses. The Russian military has declared a goal to cut off Ukraine's entire Black Sea coast all the way to the Romanian border. If successful, such an effort would deal a crushing blow to the Ukrainian economy and trade, and allow Moscow to secure a land bridge to Moldova's separatist region of Transnistria, which hosts a Russian military base. Early in the campaign, Ukrainian forces fended off Russian attempts to capture Mykolaiv, which sits near the Black Sea coast between Russia-occupied Crimea and the main Ukrainian port of Odesa. Since then, Russian troops have halted their attempts to advance in the city but have continued to pummel both Mykolaiv and Odesa with regular missile strikes. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Sunday that Russian missiles destroyed a depot for anti-ship Harpoon missiles delivered to Ukraine by NATO allies, a claim that couldn't be independently confirmed. The Russians, fearing a Ukrainian counteroffensive, also sought to reinforce their positions in the Kherson region near Crimea and in part of the northern Zaporizhzhia region that they seized in the opening stage of the war. “Given the pressures on Russian manpower, the reinforcement of the south whilst the fight for the Donbas continues indicates the seriousness with which Russian commanders view the threat,” the British Defense Ministry said Sunday. Read:Ukrainian rescue teams hunt for survivors in Vinnytsia For now, the Russian military has focused on trying to take control of Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland of the Donbas, where the most capable and well-equipped Ukrainian forces are located. Ukraine says its forces still retain control of two small villages in the Luhansk region, one of two provinces that make up the Donbas, and are fending off Russian attempts to advance deeper into the second one, the Donetsk region. The Ukrainian military's General Staff said Sunday that Ukrainian troops thwarted Russian attempts to advance toward Sloviansk, the key Ukrainian stronghold in Donetsk, and attacks elsewhere in the region. Yet Russian officials are urging their troops to produce even more territorial gains. During a visit to the front lines Saturday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu issued an order "to further intensify the actions of units in all operational areas." The Russian military said it has struck Ukrainian troops and artillery positions in Donbas in the latest series of strikes, including a U.S.-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launcher. The Russian claims couldn't be independently verified. Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia's Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, responded to Ukrainian officials' statements that Kyiv may strike the bridge linking Crimea and Russia, warning that would trigger devastating consequences for the Ukrainian leadership. “They will momentarily face Doomsday,” Medvedev said Sunday. “It would be very hard for them to hide.” Medvedev, once touted by the West as more liberal compared to Putin, said Russia will press its offensive until fulfilling its stated goal of “denazifying” and “demilitarizing” Ukraine. He predicted the fighting will "undoubtedly lead to the collapse of the existing regime” in Kyiv. Zelenskyy condemned Medvedev’s Doomsday comment as “intimidation” and said it was Russia that would eventually face a “`Day of Judgment.” “And not in a figurative sense, not as loud talk, but literally,” he said Sunday. While focusing on the Donbas, the Russians have hit areas all across the country with missile strikes. In central Ukraine, relatives and friends attended a funeral Sunday for Liza Dmytrieva, a 4-year-old girl killed Thursday in a Russian missile strike. The girl with Down syndrome was en route to see a speech therapist with her mother when the missiles struck the city of Vinnytsia. At least 24 people were killed, including Liza and two boys, ages 7 and 8. More than 200 others were wounded, including Liza’s mother, who remains in an intensive care unit. “I didn’t know Liza, but no person can go through this with calm,” priest Vitalii Holoskevych said, bursting into tears as Liza’s body lay in a coffin with flowers and teddy bears in the 18th-century Transfiguration Cathedral in Vinnytsia. ‘’We know that evil cannot win,’ he added. In the Kharkiv region, at least three civilians were killed and three more were injured Saturday in a pre-dawn Russian strike on the city of Chuhuiv, just 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the Russian border, police said. One resident of the apartment building that was hit said she was lucky to have survived. “I was going to run and hide in the bathroom. I didn’t make it and that’s what saved me,” said Valentina Bushuyeva. Pointing to her destroyed apartment, she said: “There’s the bathroom — explosion. Kitchen — half a room. And I survived because I stayed put.”
Viktor appeared nervous as masked Ukrainian security officers in full riot gear, camouflage and weapons pushed into his cluttered apartment in the northern city of Kharkiv. His hands trembled and he tried to cover his face. The middle-aged man came to the attention of Ukraine’s Security Service, the SBU, after what authorities said were his social media posts praising Russian President Vladimir Putin for “fighting with the Nazis,” calling for regions to secede and labeling the national flag “a symbol of death.” “Yes, I supported (the Russian invasion of Ukraine) a lot. I’m sorry. … I have already changed my mind,” said Viktor, his trembling voice showing clear signs of duress in the presence of the Ukrainian security officers. “Get your things and get dressed,” an officer said before escorting him out of the apartment. The SBU did not reveal Viktor’s last name, citing their investigation. Viktor was one of nearly 400 people in the Kharkiv region alone who have been detained under anti-collaboration laws enacted quickly by Ukraine’s parliament and signed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. Also read: Explosions rock Kyiv again as Russians rain fire on Ukraine Offenders face up to 15 years in prison for collaborating with Russian forces, making public denials about Russian aggression or supporting Moscow. Anyone whose actions result in deaths could face life in prison. “Accountability for collaboration is inevitable, and whether it will happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow is another question,” Zelenskyy said. “The most important thing is that justice will be served inevitably.” Although the Zelenskyy government has broad support, even among many Russian speakers, not all Ukrainians oppose the invasion. Support for Moscow is more common among some Russian-speaking residents of the Donbas, an industrial region in the east. An eight-year conflict there between Moscow-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces had killed over 14,000 people even before this year’s invasion. Also read: Allies must ‘double down’ and send Ukraine tanks, jets: UK Some businessmen, civic and state officials and members of the military are among those who have gone over to the Russian side, and Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigations said more than 200 criminal cases on collaboration have been opened. Zelenskyy has even stripped two SBU generals of their rank, accusing them of treason. A “registry of collaborators” is being compiled and will be released to the public, said Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s Security Council. He refused to say how many people were targeted nationwide. Under martial law, authorities have banned 11 pro-Russian political parties, including the largest one that had 25 seats in the 450-member parliament – the Opposition Platform For Life, which was founded by Viktor Medvedchuk, a jailed oligarch with close ties to Putin. Authorities say pro-Russian activists in southeastern Ukraine, the scene of active fighting, are acting as spotters to direct shelling. “One of our key goals is to have no one stab our armed forces in the back,” said Roman Dudin, head of the Kharkiv branch of the SBU, in an interview with The Associated Press. He spoke in a dark basement where the SBU moved its operations after its building in central Kharkiv was shelled. The Kharkiv branch has been detaining people who support the invasion, call for secession and claim that Ukrainian forces are shelling their own cities. Allegations of collaborating with the enemy carry strong historic resonance in Ukraine. During World War II, some in the region welcomed and even cooperated with invading forces from Nazi Germany after years of Stalinist repression that included the “Holodomor” – a man-made famine believed to have killed more than 3 million Ukrainians. For years afterward, Soviet authorities cited the cooperation of some Ukrainian nationalists with the Nazis as a reason to demonize today’s democratically elected leaders of Ukraine. Human rights advocates know of “dozens” of detentions of pro-Russian activists in Kyiv alone since the new laws were passed, but how many have been targeted nationwide is unclear, said Volodymyr Yavorskyy, coordinator at the Center for Civil Liberties, one of Ukraine’s largest human rights groups. “There is no complete data on the (entire) country, since it is all classified by the SBU,” Yavorskyy told AP. “Ukrainian authorities are actively using the practice of Western countries, in particular the U.K., which imposed harsh restrictions on civic liberties in warring Northern Ireland. Some of those restrictions were deemed unjustified by human rights advocates, but others were justified, when people’s lives were in danger,” he said. A person in Ukraine can be detained for up to 30 days without a court order, he said, and antiterrorism legislation under martial law allows authorities not to tell defense attorneys about their clients being remanded. “In effect, these people disappear, and for 30 days there’s no access to them,” Yavorskyy said. “In reality, (law enforcement) has powers to take anyone.” The government knows the implications of detaining people over their opinions, including that it risks playing into Moscow’s line that Kyiv is repressing Russian speakers. But in wartime, officials say, freedom of speech is only part of the equation. “The debate about the balance of national security and ensuring freedom of speech is endless,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told AP. Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. human rights office, said her agency has documented “cases of arrests and detention allegedly made by Ukrainian law enforcement authorities, which may involve elements of human rights violations” and is following up with the Ukrainian government. She said her office is looking into eight cases that “appear to be disappearances of people considered as ‘pro-Russian,’ and we have documented two cases of unlawful killings of ‘pro-Russians,’” along with cases of vigilantism, in which law enforcement and others punish those suspected of being pro-Russian, In the town of Bucha, now a symbol of horrific violence in the war, Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk said collaborators gave invading troops the names and addresses of pro-Ukrainian activists and officials in the city outside Kyiv, with hundreds of civilians shot to death with their hands tied behind their backs or their bodies burned by Russian forces. “I saw these execution lists, dictated by the traitors -– the Russians knew in advance who they’re going to, at what address, and who lives there,” said Fedoruk, who saw his own name on one list. “Of course, Ukrainian authorities will search for and punish these people.” In the besieged port city of Mariupol, officials accused collaborators of helping the Russians cut off electricity, running water, gas and communications in much of the city. “Now I understand perfectly why the Russians were carrying out such precise, coordinated strikes on objects of critical infrastructure, knew about all locations and even times when Ukrainian buses evacuating refugees were supposed to depart,” said Mayor Vadym Boychenko. Political analysts say the invasion and the brutality by Russian troops against civilians have turned off many Moscow sympathizers. Still, many such supporters remain. “Russian propaganda took deep roots and many residents of the east who watch Russian TV channels believe absurd claims that it’s Ukrainians who are shelling them and other myths,” Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta Center think tank told AP. “Naturally, Ukrainian authorities in the southeast are afraid of getting stabbed in the back and are forced to tighten security measures.” Unlike Viktor, whose Kharkiv apartment was raided, 86-year-old Volodymir Radnenko didn’t seem surprised when Ukrainian security arrived to search his flat Saturday after detaining his son, Ihor. The military said the son was suspected of helping the Russians in shelling of the city — some of which occurred in Radnenko’s neighborhood about 15 minutes before the officers showed up, with the smell of smoke lingering. At least two people were killed and 19 others wounded in the region. “He is used to thinking that Russia is all there is,” Radnenko told AP after the officers left. “I ask him: ’So who is shelling us? It’s not our (people), it’s your fascists.’ And he only gets angry at that.”
Russia launched its long-feared, full-scale ground offensive to take control of Ukraine’s east on Monday, attacking along a broad front over 300 miles (480 kilometers) long, Ukrainian officials said in what marked the opening of a new and potentially climactic phase of the war. “The Russian troops have begun the battle for the Donbas,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced in a video address. He said a “significant part of the entire Russian army is now concentrated on this offensive.” The Donbas is Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking industrial heartland in the east, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for the past eight years and have declared two independent republics that have been recognized by Russia. In recent weeks, the Kremlin declared the capture of the Donbas its main goal of the war after its attempt to storm Kyiv failed. After withdrawing from the capital, Russia began regrouping and reinforcing its ground troops in the east for an all-out offensive. “No matter how many Russian troops are driven there, we will fight,” Zelenskyy vowed. “We will defend ourselves. We will do it every day.” The offensive got underway after Russia bombarded the western city of Lviv and a multitude of other targets across Ukraine in what appeared to be an intensified bid to grind down the country’s defenses. The Ukraine military’s general staff said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces were increasing assaults in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions — both of which are part of the Donbas — as well as in the area of Zaporizhzhia. “This morning, almost along the whole front line of the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions, the occupiers attempted to break through our defenses,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, was quoted as telling Ukrainian media. “Fortunately, our military is holding out. They passed through only two cities. This is Kreminna and another small town.” He added: “We are not giving up any of our territories.” A Ukrainian military official said street battles had begun in Kreminna and that evacuation was impossible. Also Read: Ukrainian officials: Russian strikes kill at least 7 in Lviv Luhansk regional military administrator Serhiy Haidai said heavy artillery fire set seven residential buildings on fire and targeted the sports complex where the nation’s Olympic team trains. Haidai later told Ukrainian television that Russians took control of the city after “leveling everything to the ground,” so his forces retreated to regroup and keep on fighting. Meanwhile, in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard that was holding out against Russian forces, said in a video message that Russia had begun dropping bunker-buster bombs on the Azovstal steel plant where the regiment was holed up. The sprawling plant contains a warren of tunnels where both fighters and civilians are sheltering. It is believed to be the last major pocket of resistance in the shattered city. At least seven people were reported killed in missile strikes on Lviv, a city close to the Polish border that has seen only sporadic attacks during almost two months of war and has become a haven for civilians fleeing the fighting elsewhere. To the Kremlin’s increasing anger, Lviv has also become a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons. The attack on Lviv hit three military infrastructure facilities and an auto shop, according to the region’s governor, Maksym Kozytskyy. He said the wounded included a child. A Lviv hotel sheltering Ukrainians who had fled the fighting in other parts of the country was also badly damaged, Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said. The city has seen its population swell with elderly people, mothers and children trying to escape the war. “The nightmare of war has caught up with us even in Lviv,” said Lyudmila Turchak, who fled with two children from the eastern city of Kharkiv. “There is no longer anywhere in Ukraine where we can feel safe.” Lviv, the biggest city and a major transportation hub in western Ukraine, is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Poland, a NATO member. Russia has strongly complained about the increasing flow of Western weapons to Ukraine and warned that such aid could have consequences. On Russian state media, some anchors have charged that the supplies amount to direct Western engagement in the fight against Russia. Also Read: Governor: Missiles in western Ukrainian city kill 6 A powerful explosion also rocked Vasylkiv, a town south of the capital of Kyiv that is home to an air base, according to residents. It was not immediately clear what was struck. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, was hit by shelling that killed at least three people, according to Associated Press journalists on the scene. One of the dead was a woman who appeared to be going out to collect water in the rain. She was found with a water canister and an umbrella by her side. Military analysts say Russia was increasing its strikes on weapons factories, railroads and other infrastructure ahead of its assault on the Donbas. Moscow said its missiles struck more than 20 military targets in eastern and central Ukraine in the past day, including ammunition depots, command headquarters and groups of troops and vehicles. It also reported that its artillery hit an additional 315 Ukrainian targets and that warplanes conducted 108 strikes on troops and military equipment. The claims could not be independently verified. Gen. Richard Dannatt, a former head of the British Army, told Sky News that Russia was waging a “softening-up” campaign ahead of the Donbas offensive. A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessments of the war, said there are now 76 Russian combat units, known as battalion tactical groups, in eastern and southern Ukraine, up from 65 last week. That could translate to around 50,000 to 60,000 troops, based on what the Pentagon said at the start of the war was the typical unit strength of 700 to 800 soldiers, but the numbers are difficult to pinpoint at this stage in the fighting. The official also said that four U.S. cargo flights arrived in Europe on Sunday with an initial delivery of weapons and other materials for Ukraine as part of a $800 million package announced by Washington last week. And training of Ukrainian personnel on U.S. 155 mm howitzers is set to begin in the next several days. The capture of Mariupol, where Ukraine estimates 21,000 people have been killed, is seen as key, and not just because it would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, seized from Ukraine from 2014. The U.S. defense official said that if Russian forces succeed in taking full control of Mariupol, that could free up nearly a dozen battalion tactical groups for use elsewhere in the Donbas.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian troops in southern Ukraine have been carrying out torture and kidnappings, and he called on the world Sunday to respond. “Torture chambers are built there,” Zelenskyy said in an evening address to the nation. “They abduct representatives of local governments and anyone deemed visible to local communities.” Zelenskyy said humanitarian aid has been stolen, creating famine. Also read:Ukrainian defenders in Mariupol defy surrender-or-die demand In occupied parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, he said, the Russians are creating separatist states and introducing Russian currency, the ruble. Intensified Russian shelling of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, has killed 18 people and wounded 106 in the last four days alone, Zelenskyy said. “This is nothing but deliberate terror. Mortars, artillery against ordinary residential neighborhoods, against ordinary civilians,” he said. He said a planned Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine “will begin in the near future.” Also read:Riots in Sweden against far-right group leave 3 injured Zelensky again called for increased sanctions against Russia, including its entire banking sector and oil industry. “Everyone in Europe and America already sees Russia openly using energy to destabilize Western societies,” Zelenskyy said. “All of this requires greater speed from Western countries in preparing a new, powerful package of sanctions.”
Ukraine’s president warned his nation Sunday night that the coming week would be as crucial as any in the war. “Russian troops will move to even larger operations in the east of our state,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address. He accused Russia of trying to evade responsibility for war crimes. Also read:Ukrainian defenders dig in as Russia boosts firepower “When people lack the courage to admit their mistakes, apologize, adapt to reality and learn, they turn into monsters. And when the world ignores it, the monsters decide that it is the world that has to adapt to them. Ukraine will stop all this,” Zelenskyy said. “The day will come when they will have to admit everything. Accept the truth,” he said. He again called on Western countries, including Germany, to provide more assistance to Ukraine. During talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Zelenskyy said he discussed “how to strengthen sanctions against Russia and how to force Russia to seek peace.” “I am glad to note that the German position has recently changed in favor of Ukraine. I consider it absolutely logical,” Zelenskyy said.
Russian troops retreating from this northern Ukrainian city left behind crushed buildings, streets littered with destroyed cars and residents in dire need of food and other aid — images that added fuel to Kyiv's calls Thursday for more Western help to halt Moscow's next offensive. Dozens of people lined up to receive bread, diapers and medicine from vans parked outside a shattered school now serving as an aid-distribution point in Chernihiv, which Russian forces besieged for weeks as part of their attempt to sweep south towards the capital before retreating. The city's streets are lined with shelled homes and apartment buildings with missing roofs or walls. A chalk message on the blackboard in one classroom still reads: “Wednesday the 23rd of February — class work.” Russia invaded the next day, launching a war that has forced more than 4 million Ukrainians to flee the country, displaced millions more within it and sent shock waves through Europe and beyond. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned Thursday that despite a recent Russian pullback, the country remains vulnerable, and he pleaded for weapons from NATO to face down the coming offensive in the east. Nations from the alliance agreed to increase their supply of arms, spurred on by reports that Russian forces committed atrocities in areas surrounding the capital. Also read: Ukraine appeals for weapons as fight looms on eastern front Western allies also ramped up financial penalties aimed at Moscow, including a ban by the European Union on Russian coal imports and a U.S. move to suspend normal trade relations with Russia. Kuleba encouraged Western countries to continue bearing down on Russia, suggesting that any letup will result in more suffering for Ukrainians. “How many Buchas have to take place for you to impose sanctions?" Kuleba asked reporters, referring to a town near Kyiv where Associated Press journalists counted dozens of bodies, some burned, others apparently shot at close range or with their hands bound. "How many children, women, men, have to die — innocent lives have to be lost — for you to understand that you cannot allow sanctions fatigue, as we cannot allow fighting fatigue?” Ukrainian officials said earlier this week that the bodies of 410 civilians were found in towns around the capital city. Volunteers have spent days collecting the corpses, and more were picked up Thursday in Bucha. Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said investigators have found at least three sites of mass shootings of civilians during the Russian occupation. Most victims died from gunshots, not from shelling, he said, and corpses with their hands tied were “dumped like firewood” into recently discovered mass graves, including one at a children’s camp. The mayor said the count of dead civilians stood at 320 as of Wednesday, but he expected the number to rise as more bodies are found in his city, which once had a population of 50,000. Only 3,700 now remain, he said. In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested that the horrors of Bucha could just be the beginning. In the northern city of Borodianka, just 30 kilometers northwest of Bucha, Zelenskyy warned of even more casualties, saying “there it is much scarier.” Also read: Russian shelling is prelude to new attack The world should brace itself, he said, for what might soon be found in the seaport city of Mariupol, saying that on “on every street is what the world saw in Bucha and other towns in the Kyiv region after the departure of the Russian troops. The same cruelty. The same terrible crimes.” He pledged that an international war crimes investigation already underway will identify “each of the executioners” and “all those who committed rape or looting. Ukrainian and several Western leaders have blamed the massacres on Moscow's troops, and the weekly Der Spiegel reported Thursday that Germany's foreign intelligence agency had intercepted radio messages between Russian soldiers discussing the killings of civilians. Russia has falsely claimed that the scenes in Bucha were staged. Kuleba became emotional while referring to the horrors in the town, telling reporters that they couldn’t understand “how it feels after seeing pictures from Bucha, talking to people who escaped, knowing that the person you know was raped four days in a row.” His comments came in response to a reporter's question about a video allegedly showing Ukrainian soldiers shooting a captured and wounded Russian soldier. He said he had not seen the video and that it would be investigated. He acknowledged that there could be “isolated incidents” of violations. The footage has not been independently verified by the AP. In the 6-week-old war, Russian forces failed to take Ukraine's capital quickly, denying what Western countries said was Russian leader Vladimir Putin's initial aim of ousting the Ukrainian government. In the wake of that setback and heavy losses, Russia shifted its focus to the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking, industrial region in eastern Ukraine where Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years. The United Nations' humanitarian chief told the AP on Thursday that he's “not optimistic” about securing a cease-fire after meeting with officials in Kyiv and in Moscow this week, underlining the lack of trust the two sides have for one another. He spoke hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Ukraine of backtracking on proposals it had made over Crimea and Ukraine’s military status. It's not clear how long it will take withdrawing Russian forces to redeploy, and Ukrainian officials have urged people in the country's east to leave before the fighting intensifies there. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukrainian and Russian officials agreed to establish civilian evacuation routes Thursday from several areas in the Donbas. Even as Ukraine braced for a new phase of the war, Russia’s withdrawal brought some relief to Chernihiv, which lies near Ukraine's northern border with Belarus and was cut off for weeks. Vladimir Tarasovets described nights during the siege when he watched the city on fire and listened to the sound of shelling. “It was very hard, very hard. Every evening there were fires, it was scary to look at the city. In the evening, when it was dark, there was no light, no water, no gas, no amenities at all,” he said. "How did we go through it? I have no words to describe how we managed.” In addition to spurring NATO countries to send more arms, the revelations about possible war crimes led Western nations to step up sanctions, and the Group of Seven major world powers warned that they will continue strengthening the measures until Russian troops leave Ukraine. The U.S. Congress voted Thursday to suspend normal trade relations with Russia and ban the importation of its oil, while the European Union approved punishing new steps, including the embargo on coal imports. The U.N. General Assembly, meanwhile, voted to suspend Russia from the world organization’s leading human rights body. U.S. President Joe Biden said the U.N. vote demonstrated how “Putin’s war has made Russia an international pariah.” He called the images coming from Bucha “horrifying.” “The signs of people being raped, tortured, executed — in some cases having their bodies desecrated — are an outrage to our common humanity,” Biden said. The U.S. State Department said it was blacklisting the United Shipbuilding Corp., Russia's largest military shipbuilder, as well as its subsidiaries and board members. The move blocks their access to American financial systems. The department also said it would levy sanctions against the world's largest diamond mining company, Russia-backed Alrosa.
Russian troops handed control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant back to the Ukrainians and left the heavily contaminated site early Friday, more than a month after taking it over, Ukrainian authorities said, as fighting raged on the outskirts of Kyiv and other fronts. Ukraine's state power company, Energoatom, said the pullout at Chernobyl came after soldiers received “significant doses" of radiation from digging trenches in the forest in the exclusion zone around the closed plant. But there was no independent confirmation of that. The withdrawal took place amid growing indications the Kremlin is using talk of de-escalation in Ukraine as cover while regrouping, resupplying its forces and redeploying them for a stepped-up offensive in the eastern part of the country. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian withdrawals from the north and center of the country were just a military tactic and that the forces are building up for new powerful attacks in the southeast. “We know their intentions,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation. “We know that they are moving away from those areas where we hit them in order to focus on other, very important ones where it may be difficult for us.” Also read: Russian forces leaving Chernobyl after radiation exposure “There will be battles ahead,” he added. Meanwhile, a convoy of 45 buses headed to Mariupol in another bid to evacuate people from the besieged port city after the Russian military agreed to a limited cease-fire in the area. But Russian forces blocked the buses, and only 631 people were able to get out of the city in private cars, according to the Ukrainian government. Twelve Ukrainian buses were able to deliver 14 tons of food and medical supplies to Mariupol, but the aid was seized by Russian troops, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said late Thursday. The city has been the scene of some of the worst suffering of the war. Tens of thousands have managed to get out of Mariupol in the past few weeks by way of humanitarian corridors, reducing its population from a prewar 430,000 to an estimated 100,000 as of last week, but other relief efforts have been thwarted by continued Russian attacks. A new round of talks was scheduled for Friday, five weeks into the war that has left thousands dead and driven 4 million Ukrainians from the country. Also read: Heavy fighting rages near Kyiv as Russia appears to regroup The International Atomic Energy Agency said it had been informed by Ukraine that the Russian forces at the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster had transferred control of it in writing to the Ukrainians. The last Russian troops left the Chernobyl plant early Friday, the Ukrainian government agency responsible for the exclusion zone said. Energoatom gave no details on the condition of the soldiers it said were exposed to radiation and did not say how many were affected. There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin, and the IAEA said it had not been able to confirm the reports of Russian troops receiving high doses. It said it was seeking more information. Russian forces seized the Chernobyl site in the opening stages of the Feb. 24 invasion, raising fears that they would cause damage or disruption that could spread radiation. The workforce at the site oversees the safe storage of spent fuel rods and the concrete-entombed ruins of the reactor that exploded in 1986. Edwin Lyman, a nuclear expert with the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said it “seems unlikely" a large number of troops would develop severe radiation illness, but it was impossible to know for sure without more details. He said contaminated material was probably buried or covered with new topsoil during the cleanup of Chernobyl, and some soldiers may have been exposed to a “hot spot” of radiation while digging. Others may have assumed they were at risk too, he said. Early this week, the Russians said they would significantly scale back military operations in areas around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv to increase trust between the two sides and help negotiations along. But in the Kyiv suburbs, regional governor Oleksandr Palviuk said on social media Thursday that Russian forces shelled Irpin and Makariv and that there were battles around Hostomel. Pavliuk said there were Ukrainian counterattacks and some Russian withdrawals around the suburb of Brovary to the east. Chernihiv came under attack as well. At least one person was killed and four were wounded in the Russian shelling of a humanitarian convoy of buses sent to Chernihiv to evacuate residents cut off from food, water and other supplies, said Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner Lyudmyla Denisova Ukraine also reported Russian artillery barrages in and around the northeastern city of Kharkiv. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said intelligence indicates Russia is not scaling back its military operations in Ukraine but is instead trying to regroup, resupply its forces and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas. “Russia has repeatedly lied about its intentions,” Stoltenberg said. At the same time, he said, pressure is being kept up on Kyiv and other cities, and “we can expect additional offensive actions bringing even more suffering.” The Donbas is the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial region where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014. In the past few days, the Kremlin, in a seeming shift in its war aims, said that its “main goal” now is gaining control of the Donbas, which consists of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, including Mariupol. The top rebel leader in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, issued an order to set up a rival city government for Mariupol, according to Russian state news agencies, in a sign of Russian intent to hold and administer the city. With talks set to resume between Ukraine and Russia via video, there seemed little faith that the two sides would resolve the conflict any time soon. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that conditions weren’t yet “ripe” for a cease-fire and that he wasn’t ready for a meeting with Zelenskyy until negotiators do more work, Italian Premier Mario Draghi said after a telephone conversation with the Russian leader. In other developments, Ukraine’s emergency services said the death toll had risen to 20 in a Russian missile strike Tuesday on a government administration building in the southern city of Mykolaiv. As Western officials search for clues about what Russia's next move might be, a top British intelligence official said demoralized Russian soldiers in Ukraine are refusing to carry out orders and sabotaging their equipment and had accidentally shot down their own aircraft. In a speech in Australia, Jeremy Fleming, head of the GCHQ electronic spy agency, said Putin had apparently “massively misjudged” the invasion. The Pentagon reported Thursday that an initial half-dozen shipments of weapons and other security assistance from the U.S. have reached Ukraine as part of an $800 million aid package President Joe Biden approved this month. The shipments included Javelin anti-tank weapons, Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems, body armor, medical supplies and other materials, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the war is going because they are afraid to tell him the truth. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the U.S. is wrong and that “neither the State Department nor the Pentagon possesses the real information about what is happening in the Kremlin.”