Russia ramps up attacks on residential areas, even pausing offensive

BAKHMUT, Ukraine. Over one city, an arc of fireballs exploded, which, like fireworks, flew down, setting fire to gardens and houses. In another incident, Russian rockets crashed into a five-story residential building, cutting off part of the building and killing at least 30 people.

Officially, the Russian military has suspended its efforts to seize Ukrainian territory, but in recent days it has stepped up its haphazard attacks on civilian areas, constantly reminding them that they can cause casualties and destruction at will in an attempt to stifle their willingness to resist.

In city after city on three fronts in eastern Ukraine, a hail of seemingly random Russian strikes by warplanes, artillery and rockets killed, maimed and terrified residents and Ukrainian soldiers alike.

Russian troops are using the lull in the ground offensive to regroup and resupply in accordance with a decree by President Vladimir Putin. order Last week, military analysts reported on Monday that some troops were resting after the capture of the Luhansk region. Outside the front lines, destruction and casualties continue as the inhabitants prepare for another all-out attack.

In the town of Chasov Yar in eastern Ukraine, ambulance crews were still recovering the bodies of the victims of the only weekend attack on Monday. Late Saturday evening, a rocket attack on an apartment complex raised the death toll to 31. in This was reported by the State Service of Ukraine for Emergency Situations.. Some of the dead were military personnel.

Ukrainian officials said on Monday that at least eight civilians had been killed in Russian strikes in the previous 24 hours. In the east of the Donetsk region, which includes Chasov Yar, at least 10 cities and towns were affected, two people died, according to the region’s military governor Pavel, bringing the civilian death toll in the region to nearly 600 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. in February. Kirilenko.

About nine miles from Chasovoy Yar, in the town of Bakhmut, Russian troops on Sunday fired incendiary ammunition, restricted by international law and intended to set fire or cause burns, officials said.

“We have this for the first time in the civilian part of Bakhmut,” says Katerina, 31, a social worker. Her neighbour, Olesya, 17, said that after several days of heavy shelling, residents became accustomed to the sound of rocket launchers, commonly known as Grads.

“But it sounded different,” she said. “It was a light sound, like shhhh, shhhh, shhhh. ”

Within minutes, smoke was rising from at least eight fires across the area. Neighbors in shorts and sandals frantically hauled garden hoses towards the burning house. They threw buckets of water into the fire when the rafters and tiled roof of the house cracked and burst.

Off-duty police and soldiers arrived in small vehicles to help. They carried buckets of water, their hands blackened from another fire outside.

Many homeowners left the city weeks ago, and many of those left behind in the face of the Russian advance did so because they had no choice. Some of them are elderly or care for elderly relatives. Some didn’t have the resources to run and some support the onslaught of the Russians with attacks. Some fear the prospect of going west and join millions of other people forced to leave their homes.

Those who remain live with the constant threat of death from heaven. On Sunday, former miner Victor, 67, watched the fire from his home across the street.

“I worked for 20 years in the mines and this is what I got,” he said and turned away crying. Like many others, he did not want to give his last name, fearing retribution if the city changed hands.

Some residents recovered canisters and capsules from their gardens and streets, which the soldiers identified as incendiary explosives. The soldier warned them to cover them with sand, not water. “We get them on the front lines all the time,” he said, declining to give his name due to military protocol. “Now they’ve got them here.”

Bakhmut, an important Ukrainian military stronghold, is less than 10 miles from Russia’s position and is a likely target for its planned offensive through the eastern Donbas, which includes Donetsk, now mostly under Russian control, and Luhansk.

Russia also launched attacks in the northeast and south.

On Monday, a few hours before dawn, a rocket damaged a school building in Kharkiv, regional official Oleg Sinegubov said on Telegram. He said that no one was injured there, and 20 minutes later a six-story residential building was hit. Rescuers pulled an 86-year-old woman out of the rubble. “Only civilian buildings came under fire from the Russians – a shopping center and houses of peaceful Kharkiv residents,” he said.

According to local authorities, six people were killed and 31 others were injured in northeastern Ukraine.

Explosions also caused damage Monday morning in the southern city of Mykolaiv, Ukrainian officials said. As a result of the missile attack, at least one person was injured, the head of the regional state administration, Vitaly Kim, said on Telegram.

On at least one point, President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Russian counterpart and enemy Vladimir Putin agreed: while her forces are severely depleted, Russia’s offensive against Ukraine is far from over.

Ukrainians and Western analysts believe Mr. Putin will soon order a new offensive to seize the remaining Ukrainian-held territory in Donetsk, assigned to the cities of Slovyansk, Kramatorsk and Bakhmut, if not more.

Mr. Putin told Russian lawmakers last week: “We haven’t started anything yet.”

mr. Zelenskiy, citing a series of recent strikes, ridiculed the idea that Russian attacks were on the wane.

“Many people spoke about an alleged “operational pause” in the actions of the occupiers,” he said in a nightly speech. “Thirty-four Russian air strikes over the past day is the answer to all those who came up with this “pause”.

But the recent attacks, military analysts say, differ from Russia’s earlier tactics in the war, such as its failed blitzkrieg in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and then its concentrated week-long bombing of major regional cities.

The latest shelling hit many targets, primarily in Donetsk, without a corresponding attempt to advance inch by inch.

And they came when Russia announced that its forces were on “an operational pause throughout the theater of operations” with units “regrouping to rest, re-equip and re-form” – though she made it clear that her definition of a pause does not mean a complete cessation of combat. actions. ”, but rather that the attacks were “more preparatory” for subsequent offensives.

From the very beginning of the war Russia strikes at civilian targetsbut Ukrainian and Western officials say such attacks have become more indiscriminate, in part because Moscow is running out of modern precision-guided munitions and rely more on older, less accurate.

Monday d. Paste signed a decree this offered a streamlined path to Russian citizenship for all Ukrainians, indicating that Russia might seek to establish permanent control over Ukrainian territories currently occupied by Moscow’s forces.

But despite the bravado of its president, Russia desperately needs more soldiersrelying on the impoverished ethnic groups, Ukrainians from separatist territories, mercenaries and paramilitary units of the National Guard. The logistics of finding more troops, replacing damaged equipment and getting them into position, analysts said, made an “operational respite” necessary.

Russia and Ukraine have carefully kept the number of those killed and wounded on the battlefield under wraps, but the British military recently put the Russian death toll at 25,000, with tens of thousands more wounded or simply exhausted after nearly five months of war. This is far more than the estimated 15,000 lost by the Soviet Union during the nine-year war in Afghanistan.

Even according to the most conservative estimates, tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers died.

Ukraine also faces a manpower challenge, but its officials are the most vocal in their pleas for help due to their main shortcoming: heavy weaponry and ammunition to counter Russia’s strategy of long-range strikes against homes, malls and transit centers, and troops.

In Clock Yar, where a residential building collapsed, one young man was trapped under rubble for more than 20 hours. On Sunday evening, rescuers pulled him out, quickly covered him with a blue blanket, and carefully placed him on a stretcher.

He was one of nine people rescued from the compound, officials said. It is unknown if anyone else survived.

“My grandmother was here,” one of the neighbors said before pointing to a pile of rubble.

“This is her bed,” he said. “I hope they find her and I can give her a funeral.”

Carlotta Gall as well as Kamila Grabchuk reported from Bakhmut, Ukraine, and Matthew Mpouk Bigg from London. Ivan Nechepurenko provided reporting from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Alan Juhas from New York.