Russia on Friday pressed its deadly offensive to capture key points in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, with more bombing of residential areas and pro-Moscow forces claiming the capture of a key town on the way to Kyiv-controlled territory.
At least nine persons were killed in the shelling of Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, raising fears that Russia had not lost interest in the northeastern hub even after Ukraine took back control following fierce battles.
And around 10 persons were also killed in Russian strikes on a military facility in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, well away from the frontline of the offensive, the regional head of the national guard said.
Three months after Russia launched its invasion on February 24, Moscow is focusing on the east of Ukraine after failing in its initial ambition to capture Kyiv.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated accusations that Moscow was carrying out a “genocide” in Donbas, saying its bombardment could leave the entire region “uninhabited.”
Russian forces were closing in on several cities in the region including strategically located Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, which stand on the crucial route to Ukraine’s eastern administrative centre in Kramatorsk.
Pro-Russian separatists said they had captured the town of Lyman that lies between Severodonetsk and Kramatorsk and is on the road leading to the key cities that are still under Kyiv’s control.
Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said in a video on Telegram that at least five civilians had been killed in his region — part of Donbas — in the last 24 hours alone.
Oleg Sinegubov, the regional governor of Kharkiv, north of Donbas, said that nine civilians had been killed in the Russian shelling on Thursday.
Russian authorities in Mariupol, which was taken over this month, cancelled school holidays to prepare students to switch to a Russian curriculum, according to Kyiv.
Concerns are also growing over global food shortages due to the conflict.
Mr. Putin said in a telephone call with Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Moscow was ready to make a “significant contribution” to averting a looming food crisis if the West lifts sanctions imposed on his country over Ukraine.
Agriculture Minister Dmitry Patrushev said Friday that Russia was looking to ramp up its production of grain to export in the coming season.
But the United States scoffed at Mr. Putin’s offer, with Pentagon spokesman John Kirby accusing Moscow of “weaponising economic assistance.”