Russia-Ukraine war military dispatch: Moscow expands its attacks

Russia has expanded its offensive in Ukraine, striking cities in the west and centre of the country.

Authorities reported dire humanitarian situations in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol and eastern city of Kharkiv amid intense Russian bombardment. A Russian convoy spread out close to the capital Kyiv in a possible sign of an imminent assault.

Meanwhile, Ukraine warned Belarus might be poised to invade its country, and the United Nations said there was no evidence to support Russia’s claims that Ukraine had a biological weapons programme.

Here were the main military developments on Friday – the 16th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Widening offensive

Several blasts were reported in the western regions of Ukraine which Russian forces had yet to attack since the beginning of the invasion on February 24.

Russian strikes hit Lviv, and airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk.

One person was killed after three missiles hit the central city of Dnipro, which had been a relatively safe haven for evacuees and a hub for humanitarian coordination since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

Kyiv and Chernihiv

A Russian military convoy approaching Kyiv appears to have “dispersed and redeployed”, according to a satellite imaging company Maxar, raising fears of a new assault on Ukraine’s capital.

A US defence official said Russian troops had moved 5km (3.1 miles) closer to Kyiv, taking them to just 14km (9 miles) from the centre of the city.

Chernihiv, north of Kyiv, appears to be encircled by Russian troops. NetBlocks reported major internet disruption in Chernihiv amid reports of new air attacks that could hinder communications.

Kharkiv encircled

Kharkiv now appears to be encircled. The mayor said about 50 schools had been destroyed in the city.

Ukraine accused Russian forces of hitting a psychiatric hospital near Izyum, in Kharkiv region, but the authorities said no one was hurt.

“All 30 staff and 330 patients were in a bomb shelter at the time of the strike,” Ukraine’s State Emergencies Service said in a statement.

Mariupol in ‘critical’ situation

Russia’s defence ministry said its forces had completely surrounded the Black Sea port of Mariupol.

Renewed efforts to evacuate citizens failed as Russian shelling prevented evacuations, Ukraine said.

“The situation is critical,” Ukraine’s interior ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said.

Russian-backed separatists captured Volnovakha north of Mariupol, the RIA news agency quoted Russia’s defence ministry as saying.

Russian forces could soon surround Odesa on three sides, the southern port city’s mayor said. Gennadiy Trukhanov said Russian forces would seek to advance from territories they have occupied in Mykolaiv region.

Russia approves foreign fighters

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said there were 16,000 volunteers in the Middle East ready to fight alongside Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The news comes amid footage posted online by the Russian defence ministry of Syrian fighters from government-controlled areas in Syria who are reportedly ready to leave for Ukraine.

Warnings of Belarusian invasion

Kyiv said Belarus could be planning to invade to support Russian forces, as Ukraine’s military accused Russian aircraft of firing at Belarusian border villages from Ukrainian air space to provide a pretext for an offensive.

“This is a PROVOCATION! The goal is to involve the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus in the war with Ukraine!” Ukraine’s Air Force Command said in an online statement. Russia did not comment on the claims.

UN dismisses biological weapons claims

The United Nations Security Council granted Russia’s request for an emergency meeting to discuss the Kremlin’s claim that the US is “funding the development of biological weapons in Ukraine”.

The UN said it had no evidence Ukraine had a biological weapons programme, while member countries called the claim “a lie” and “utter nonsense”.

The US and the UK have both warned that Russia might be planning to use “chemical or biological weapons” itself.

Casualties and refugees

The UN’s human rights office (OHCHR) has confirmed the deaths of 564 civilians in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began, including 41 children – although the toll could be much higher.

More than 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion, according to the UN’s migration agency.

Ukraine says more than 12,000 Russian soldiers have been killed, though the US estimates that 2,000 to 4,000 Russians have been killed.

Russia said last week that 498 Russian soldiers had been killed in Ukraine.

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