By ELENA BECATOROS and JON GAMBRELL
ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Russia rammed the vital port of Odessa, Ukrainian officials said Tuesday, in an apparent effort to disrupt supply lines and Western arms shipments critical to kyiv’s defense.
Ukraine’s ability to thwart a larger and better armed Russian army surprised many who had anticipated a much quicker end to the conflict. With the war now in its 11th week and kyiv bogging down Russian forces and even staging a counter-offensive, Ukraine’s foreign minister appeared to suggest the country could expand its goals beyond simply pushing back Russia in areas it or its allies held on February 2. 24 invasion.
One of the most dramatic examples of Ukraine’s ability to prevent easy victories is in Mariupol, where Ukrainian fighters remained locked in a steel mill, refusing full Russian control of the city. The regiment defending the plant said Russian warplanes continued to bomb it.
In recent days, the United Nations and the Red Cross have organized the rescue of what some officials said are the last civilians trapped in the factory. But two officials said on Tuesday that around 100 of them are still in the complex’s underground tunnels. Others said it was impossible to confirm.
In another example of the grisly toll the war continues to take, Ukrainians said they found the bodies of 44 civilians in the rubble of a building destroyed weeks ago in the northeast town of Izyum from the country.
In Washington, a senior US intelligence official said on Tuesday that eight to 10 Russian generals had been killed so far in the war. Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, who heads the Defense Intelligence Agency, told a Senate committee that since Russia has no noncommissioned officer corps, its generals have to go to combat zones and end up in positions dangerous.
Ukraine said Russian forces fired seven missiles in Odessa on Monday, hitting a shopping center and a warehouse in the country’s biggest port. One person was killed and five others injured, the army said.
Footage overnight showed a burning building and debris – including a tennis shoe – in a heap of destruction in the Black Sea town. Mayor Gennady Trukhanov later visited the warehouse and said it “has nothing in common with military infrastructure or military objects”.
Ukraine alleged that at least some of the munitions used dated back to the Soviet era, making them unreliable for targeting. But the Center for Defense Strategies, a Ukrainian think tank, said Moscow used precision weapons against Odessa: Kinzhal, or “Dagger,” hypersonic air-to-surface missiles.
Ukrainian, British and American officials say Russia is rapidly depleting its stockpile of precision weapons, increasing the risk of more inaccurate rockets being used as the conflict continues.
Since President Vladimir Putin’s forces failed to take kyiv at the start of the war, his focus has shifted to the eastern industrial heartland of Donbas – but one general has suggested Moscow’s goals also include suppressing Ukraine’s maritime access to the Black and Azov seas.
It would also give him a strip of territory linking Russia to both the Crimean peninsula, which it seized in 2014, and Transnistria, a pro-Moscow region of Moldova.
Even if he fails to separate Ukraine from the coast – and it appears to lack the forces to do so – the continued missile strikes on Odessa reflect the city’s strategic importance. The Russian military has repeatedly targeted its airport and claimed it destroyed several batches of Western weapons.
Odessa is also a major gateway for grain shipments, and its blockade by Russia is already threatening global food supplies. Beyond that, the city is a cultural gem, dear to Ukrainians and Russians alike, and aiming for it also has symbolic significance.
In Mariupol, the Russians also shelled the Azovstal steelworks, the Azov regiment said, targeting the sprawling complex 34 times in the past 24 hours. Attempts to storm the factory also continued, he added.
Meanwhile, Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, estimated on social media that at least 100 civilians are trapped in the plant. Donetsk Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said those remaining are people “whom the Russians did not select” for evacuation.
The two officials did not say how they knew civilians were still in the complex – a maze of tunnels and bunkers spread over 11 square kilometers (4 square miles). Sviatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov regiment, told The Associated Press that he could not confirm that civilians remained. Mayor Vadym Boichenko also said there was no way to find out.
As Russian forces struggle to gain ground in Donbass, military analysts suggest striking Odessa could fuel concerns over southwestern Ukraine, forcing kyiv to deploy more forces there. This would drive them away from the eastern front as the Ukrainian military mounts counter-offensives near the northeastern city of Kharkiv in a bid to push the Russians back across the border.
Kharkiv and its surroundings have come under sustained Russian attack since the start of the war. In recent weeks, gruesome images have borne witness to the horrors of these battles, with charred and mutilated bodies strewn across a street.
Dozens of bodies were found in a five-storey building that collapsed in March in Izyum, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Kharkiv, said Oleh Synehubov, the head of the regional administration.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, meanwhile, appeared to express growing confidence – and expanded goals – amid the stalled Russian offensive.
“In the first months of the war, victory for us looked like a withdrawal of Russian forces to the positions they held before February 24 and paying for the damages inflicted,” Dmytro Kuleba said in an interview with the Financial Times. “Now, if we are strong enough on the military front and win the Battle of Donbass, which will be crucial for the next dynamics of the war, of course, the victory for us in this war will be the liberation of the rest of our territories .”
This seems to indicate that Ukraine wants to try to take back Crimea as well as the regions of Donbass taken by Russia and the separatists it supports.
But the comments seemed to reflect political ambitions more than battlefield realities: many analysts agree that if Russia is not able to make quick gains, the Ukrainian military is not strong enough to push back the Russians .
US President Joe Biden on Monday signed a bipartisan measure to revive the World War II “Lend-Lease” program, which helped defeat Nazi Germany, to bolster kyiv and its allies.
Western powers continued to rally behind Ukraine’s beleaguered government. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited the kyiv suburb of Bucha, where the bodies of civilians – some tied up, burned or shot at close range – were found after Russian forces withdrew.
“We owe it to the victims that we don’t just memorialize them here, but hold the perpetrators accountable,” she said.
Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and AP global staff contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine