Russia’s attack on the embattled southern port of Mariupol raged unabated Tuesday, with fleeing civilians describing relentless bombardments and corpses lying in the streets.
But while Russian forces continued with the siege of Mariupol after the southern port city’s defenders refused demands to surrender, the Kremlin’s ground offensive in other parts of the country advanced slowly or not at all, knocked back by lethal hit-and-run attacks by the Ukrainians.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Ukrainian troops had managed to force Russian forces out of the Kyiv suburb of Makariv after a fierce battle. The regained territory allowed Ukrainian forces to retake control of a key highway and block Russian troops from surrounding Kyiv from the northwest.
The Defense Ministry said Russian forces battling toward Kyiv were able to partially take other northwest suburbs Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, some of which had been under attack almost since Russia’s military invaded late last month.
An intelligence update by the British Ministry of Defense released on Tuesday said that most Russian forces in the invasion of Ukraine are “largely stalled in place.”
The UK said that while Russian troops saw “limited progress” on Monday, a number of Ukrainian cities are still under heavy Russian bombardment.
The statement also said that Ukrainian troops “continue to repulse Russian attempts to occupy the southern city of Mariupol.”
Mariupol has been a key target that has been besieged for more than three weeks and has seen some of the worst suffering of the war.
But no clear, independent picture has emerged of how close its capture might be.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said its forces were still defending the city and had destroyed a Russian patrol boat and electronic warfare complex.
With communications crippled in Mariupol, movement restricted and many residents in hiding, the fate of those inside an art school flattened on Sunday and a theater that was blown apart four days earlier was unclear. More than 1,300 people were believed to be sheltering in the theater, and 400 were estimated to have been in the art school.
With troops bogged down in many places, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces have increasingly been concentrating their air power and artillery on Ukraine’s cities and the civilians living there.
Russia’s invasion has driven more than 3.5 million people from Ukraine, according to the United Nations. The UN has confirmed over 900 civilian deaths but said the real toll is probably much higher. Estimates of Russian deaths vary, but even conservative figures are in the low thousands.
A pro-Kremlin tabloid briefly published the apparent Russian war toll on Monday night, reporting that 9,861 Russian soldiers had been killed and 16,153 others injured since Moscow launched the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
The report in the Komsomolskaya Pravda, which cited Russian Defense Ministry figures, was taken down after several hours. The figure was similar to that claimed by Ukraine.
Russia has not released an official toll since March 2, when the Kremlin reported 498 casualties.
A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the military’s assessment, said Russia had increased air sorties over the past two days, carrying out as many as 300 in the past 24 hours, and has fired more than 1,100 missiles into Ukraine since the invasion began.
But US President Joe Biden, who is heading to Europe later in the week to meet with allies, suggested Monday evening that worse may be still to come.
“Putin’s back is against the wall,” he said. “He wasn’t anticipating the extent or the strength of our unity. And the more his back is against the wall, the greater the severity of the tactics he may employ.”
Biden reiterated accusations that Putin is considering resorting to using chemical weapons.
In a video address Monday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed those who have fought back against Russia.
“There is no need to organize resistance,” he said. “Resistance for Ukrainians is part of their soul.”
Ukraine alleged Sunday that another group of mercenaries from the Wagner Group has arrived in the country with the aim of assassinating the Ukrainian president.
“The main task of criminals is to eliminate the top military and political leadership of Ukraine,” said the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry.
“Putin personally ordered another attack by one of the few proxies,” the officials said in a Facebook post.
Last month it was reported by London’s The Times that over 400 Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group had been sent to Kyiv and ordered to assassinate Zelensky. The Wagner Group plays a key role in promoting the Kremlin’s interests abroad. It has faced multiple accusations of carrying out crimes and atrocities.
Meanwhile, talks between Russia and Ukraine have continued by video but failed to bridge the chasm between the two sides. Zelensky told Ukrainian television late Monday that he would be prepared to consider waiving any NATO bid by Ukraine — a key Russian demand — in exchange for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and a guarantee of Ukraine’s security.
Zelensky also suggested Kyiv would be open to future discussions on the status of Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014, and the regions of the eastern Donbas region held by Russian-backed separatists. But he said that was a topic for another time.
Zelensky plans to speak to Japanese lawmakers on Tuesday, part of a series of addresses to foreign legislatures as he seeks to drum up support.