Ukraine braces itself for fresh attacks after day of heavy fighting

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Ukraine braced itself for fresh attacks by Russian troops in the Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donbass regions of the country on Saturday (March 12) amid fears of Belarus joining Moscow’s invasion. 

Satellite images taken on Friday showed Russian forces continuing with their strategy of indiscriminate and deadly bombardment of cities and towns across the country, as armoured vehicles continued to inch into Kyiv and other cities. 

Air raid sirens began to blare across the country before dawn and the fighting mounted thereafter. 

The battles were particularly intense in towns and villages surrounding Kyiv, with running skirmishes in the city of Irpin about 20km away, and at the airport in Hostomel.

A military base in Vasylkiv to the south-west and a radar centre in north-eastern Brovary were rendered useless by heavy Russian rocket attacks that also destroyed an ammunition dump. 

Across the country in the southeast, reports emerged from the port city of Mariupol that a mosque where 80 civilians were taking shelter was shelled by Russian forces.

“The mosque of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Roxolana (Hurrem Sultan) in Mariupol was shelled by Russian invaders,” the Ukraine Foreign Ministry tweeted.

“More than 80 adults and children are hiding there from the shelling, including citizens of Turkey.” 

Later reports, however, quoted someone who had taken shelter at the mosque saying that the mosque had come under fire, but was not hit. 

The situation in Mariupol – where the civilian death toll has risen to 1,582 – has grown increasingly desperate amid the non-stop bombardment. 

“There are reports of looting and violent confrontations among civilians over what little basic supplies remain in the city,” the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

“Medicines for life-threatening illnesses are quickly running out, hospitals are only partially functioning, and food and water are in short supply.”

Firefighters extinguish a house on fire after shelling in Kyiv on March 12, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Hopes for humanitarian corridors out of Mariupol, as well as areas outside of Kyiv have been dashed so far by the danger posed by frequent Russian shellfire and air raids. 

More carnage was taking place in the city of Chernihiv as Russian forces moved to encircle Kyiv.

To the east, Sumy was the target of aerial bombing, while an airport was targeted in Kropvnytskyi in central Ukraine, further reducing the country’s ability to keep its aircraft in the sky.

Russia is now in control of 70 per cent of Luhansk, the south-eastern oblast, or division, where separatist forces had broken away from Ukraine in 2014.

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But Ukrainian forces have claimed some victories. 

President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was forced to send in more troops after 31 battalion tactical groups were destroyed by Ukrainian forces in the days since the invasion began.

Drone footage showed one such Ukrainian operation in the city of Brovary. Soldiers rained down artillery shells on a column of Russian tanks between two rows of houses before tearing into them with anti-tank missiles, reducing them to twisted husks. 

But at press briefing yesterday, Mr Zelensky also acknowledged that 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers have so far died in the conflict.

Separately, he said that 500 to 600 Russian soldiers had surrendered to Ukraine’s military on Friday alone.

On Friday, Ukraine accused Moscow of staging an air attack on Belarus from Ukrainian air space to draw it into its ally’s war.

According to the Ukrainian account, Russian military aircraft fired at border villages in Belarus in a so-called “false flag” operation.

“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 a statement.

Separately, a US defence official disclosed that approximately 10 per cent of the missiles launched into Ukraine by Russia had originated from Belarus territory.

A total of 800 missile strikes have been conducted by Russia since its campaign began. 

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