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Russians pressure Ukrainian cities as fighting continues

  • Video by Associated Press

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                People walked under a destroyed bridge while fleeing Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, today. Demands for ways to safely evacuate civilians have surged along with intensifying shelling by Russian forces, who have made significant advances in southern Ukraine but stalled in some other regions.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    People walked under a destroyed bridge while fleeing Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, today. Demands for ways to safely evacuate civilians have surged along with intensifying shelling by Russian forces, who have made significant advances in southern Ukraine but stalled in some other regions.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                A Ukrainian serviceman walked past the vertical tail fin of a Russian Su-34 bomber lying in a damaged building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, today.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A Ukrainian serviceman walked past the vertical tail fin of a Russian Su-34 bomber lying in a damaged building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, today.

  • UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke, today, in Kyiv, Ukraine.

    UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke, today, in Kyiv, Ukraine.

MARIUPOL, Ukraine >> Ukrainian forces were bolstering defenses in key cities Wednesday as Russia’s advance faltered amid fierce resistance in some areas, the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said, while the strategic port city of Mariupol remained encircled as a humanitarian crisis grew.

Across the country, thousands of people are thought to have been killed, both civilians and soldiers, in nearly two weeks of fighting. Russian forces have seen their advances stopped in certain areas — including around Kyiv — by fiercer resistance than expected from the Ukrainians.

Ukraine’s general staff said in a statement that it was building up defenses in cities in the north, south and east, and that forces around Kyiv are resisting the Russian offensive with unspecified strikes and “holding the line.”

In the northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces are placing military equipment among residential buildings and on farms, the Ukrainian general staff said. And in the south, it said Russians dressed in civilian clothes are advancing on the city of Mykolaiv.

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It did not provide any details of new fighting.

In Kyiv, back-to-back air alerts Wednesday morning urged residents to get to bomb shelters as quickly as possible over fears of incoming Russian missiles. Soon after an all-clear was given for the first alert, a second alert followed.

Such alerts are common, though irregular, keeping people on edge. Kyiv has been relatively quiet in recent days, though Russian artillery has pounded the outskirts.

Kyiv regional administration head Oleksiy Kuleba said the crisis for civilians was growing in the capital, with the situation particularly critical in the city’s suburbs.

“Russia is artificially creating a humanitarian crisis in the Kyiv region, frustrating the evacuation of people and continuing shelling and bombing small communities,” he said.

More than 2 million people have now fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations.

As Moscow’s forces have laid siege to Ukrainian cities, the fighting has thwarted attempts to create corridors to safely evacuate civilians.

One evacuation did appear successful, with Ukrainian authorities saying Tuesday that 5,000 civilians, including 1,700 foreign students, had been brought out via a safe corridor from Sumy, an embattled northeastern city of a quarter-million people.

That corridor was to reopen for 12 hours on Wednesday, with the buses that brought people southwest to the city of Poltava the day before returning to pick up more refugees, regional administration chief Dmytro Zhyvytskyy said.

Priority was being given to pregnant women, women with children, the elderly and the disabled.

In the south, Russian troops have advanced deep along Ukraine’s coastline in what could establish a land bridge to Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.

The city of Mariupol has been surrounded by Russian soldiers for days and a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the encircled city of 430,000.

Corpses lie in the streets of the city, which sits on the Asov Sea. Hungry people break into stores in search of food and melt snow for water. Thousands huddle in basements, trembling at the sound of Russian shells pounding this strategic port city.

“Why shouldn’t I cry?” Goma Janna demanded as she wept by the light of an oil lamp below ground, surrounded by women and children. “I want my home, I want my job. I’m so sad about people and about the city, the children.”

Tuesday brought no relief: An attempt to evacuate civilians and deliver badly needed food, water and medicine through a designated safe corridor failed, with Ukrainian officials saying Russian forces had fired on the convoy before it reached the city.

Mariupol, said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, is in a “catastrophic situation.”

Natalia Mudrenko, the highest-ranking woman at Ukraine’s U.N. Mission, told the Security Council that the people of Mariupol have “been effectively taken hostage,” by the siege. Her voice shook with emotion as she described how a 6-year-old died shortly after her mother was killed by Russian shelling. “She was alone in the last moments of her life,” she said.

Authorities in Mariupol planned to start digging mass graves for all the dead. The shelling has shattered buildings, and the city has no water, heat, working sewage systems or phone service.

Theft has become widespread for food, clothes, even furniture, with locals referring to the practice as “getting a discount.” Some residents are reduced to scooping water from streams.

With the electricity out, many people are relying on their car radios for information, picking up news from stations broadcast from areas controlled by Russian forces or Russian-backed separatists.

Ludmila Amelkina, who was walking along an alley strewn with rubble and walls pocked by gunfire, said the destruction had been devastating.

“We don’t have electricity, we don’t have anything to eat, we don’t have medicine. We’ve got nothing,” she said, looking skyward.

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