Russia has reinforced its invading force in Ukraineadding about 11 battalion tactical groups in recent days, a senior US Defense Department official said Monday.
The reinforcements, as many as 11,000 troops, come as Russia continues to build up for an expected offensive in eastern Ukraine, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe intelligence assessments.
Russia continues to move more heavy artillery, helicopters and command and control units into the region as heavy fighting continues, including near the strategic city of Izyum, the official said.
In all, there are about 76 Russian battalion tactical groups in Ukraine. About 12 of those battalions are engaged in heavy fighting around the besieged Black Sea port city of Mariupol, which remains contested and isolated from other Ukrainian forces, the official said.
Russian bombers have also launched long-range cruise missiles at Kyiv and Lviv, the official said. The targets appeared to be military facilities, but the regional governor in Lviv said at least seven people were killed and 11 more, including a child, were injured.
As part of the $800 million military assistance package approved last week, US troops will begin training Ukrainian forces on Army and Marine howitzer artillery. The training will take place outside of Ukraine.
There were also lifeboats seen after Ukraine sank the warship Moskva last week, a 600-foot guided missile cruiser, the official said. It’s unclear how many sailors survived the attack.
USE TODAY ON TELEGRAM: Join our new Russia-Ukraine war channel
►Ukraine took another step in its bid for European Union membership, completing a questionnaire that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen handed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier this month, Reuters reported Monday.
►Russia over the weekend renewed its air attacks on Ukraine’s capital and other cities, including around Lviv and Kharkiv. On Saturday, a strike in Kyiv’s Darnytskyi district killed at least one person and wounded several, said Mayor Vitali Klitschko.
►For a second day, Ukraine’s government halted civilian evacuations. Government officials said Russian forces were targeting humanitarian corridors with shelling and blocking routes.
►Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said Monday that the city risks losing about 200,000 jobs as foreign companies leave the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, dismissed the impact of Western sanctions, saying his country “has withstood the unprecedented pressure.”
►Russia is creating separatist states and introducing the Russian ruble in occupied parts of Ukraine’s Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday.
►The Russian military forcibly removed over 100 children from Mariupol, many taken from hospitals without parents, the Crimean Human Rights Group reportedciting Mariupol’s mayoral adviser Petro Andryushchenko.
Airstrikes by Russia’s military killed at least seven people and injured 11 more – including one child – early Monday in Lviv in western Ukraine, the regional governor said.
The deaths in Lviv were confirmed by regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy. He said four rockets were fired, striking three targets including several warehouses not used by Ukraine’s military and a service station near Lviv Railway Station.
The deaths were the first to be reported in the city since Russia’s assault on Ukraine started in late February. On March 13, Russia fired 30 cruise missiles at the Yavoriv military training base, outside the city of Lviv, killing at least 35 people and wounding 134.
Overnight blasts were also reported in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, in the north in Kharkiv and in Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea port city Odessa.
Kozytskyy said a preliminary investigation indicated the rockets that hit Lviv were fired from the direction of the Caspian Sea, an inland body of water that links Asia and Europe.
An ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin currently being held by Ukrainian authorities on a treason charge offered himself in exchange for the evacuation of civilians in the besieged city of Mariupol.
Viktor Medvedchuk, the former leader of a pro-Russian opposition party in Ukraine, made the plea in a video posted Monday by Ukraine’s state security service, who captured Medvedchuk last week in a special operation. Medvedchuk, 67, escaped from house arrest shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine began earlier this year.
Medvedchuk appealed to Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the video. Shortly after the video was published, two British men who surrendered to Russian forces in Mariupol also pleaded for their release. The men identified themselves as Sean Pinner and Aiden Aslin in the videos posted by Russian state media.
Fighting continued to rage Monday in eastern Ukrainian cities as Russian forces sought to make advances the the Luhansk region, Ukrainian officials said.
Serhiy Haidai, the head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, said Monday that the cities of Rubizhne and Popasna were “under the greatest threat” and that the city of Kreminna had been captured, according to Ukrainian state media Ukrinform. In nearby Zolote, at least two people were killed and four others injured in a strike, Haidai said, according to Ukrinform on Sunday.
Meanwhile, a Russian strike on Kramatorsk destroyed several residential buildings Monday, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the regional state administrator in Donetsk, said via Telegram.
Farther west, Ukrainian forces were able to push back Russian troops and liberate several settlements around the city of Izyum, said Alexander Motuzyanyk, spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, Ukrinform reported. But the city of Kharkiv was hit in a Russian strike, killing at least three people and wounded three others, according to Associated Press journalists on the scene.
The British Defense Ministry said in an intelligence update Monday that Ukrainian forces’ defense of the besieged city of Mariupol “has severely tested Russian forces.”
Russia has had to divert troops and supplies to Mariupol, in turn slowing its advances elsewhere, the UK assessment said, adding, “Russian commanders will be concerned by the time it is taking to subdue Mariupol.”
Ukrainian forces are largely holed up in the Azovstal steel mill as the city has been decimated over several weeks of Russia’s attacks. Ukrainian officials have said its troops will not surrender, and foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Russia’s continued attacks could be a “red line” that ends efforts to reach peace through negotiation.
White House officials have repeatedly warned that evolving intelligence suggests Russia may be exploring potential cyberattacks against the United States. Now, that possibility is all but certain, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly said Sunday.
“We have to assume that there’s going to be a breach,” Easterly said on “60 Minutes.” “There’s going to be an incident. There’s going to be an attack.”
Russia is known to have powerful cyber actors. US intelligence agencies and federal prosecutors have concluded that the Russian government sought to sway the 2016 presidential election. Recently, Microsoft said it disrupted Russian cyberattacks targeting Ukraine, the US, and European Union.
Lisa Monaco, US Deputy Attorney General, told Bill Whitaker on “60 Minutes” that Russian state actors are already looking for weaknesses in US cybersecurity and infrastructure.
“We’re talking military intelligence actors, deploying malware, malicious code, on thousands of computers in hundreds of countries,” Monaco said Sunday. “We’re seeing them deploy that code and take control of these computers. It’s like an army of infected computers that, with a single command, can be deployed to do everything from gathering information, stealing information, and sometimes to have destructive effect. “
In his nightly address to the Ukrainian people, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian troops in southern Ukraine have been carrying out torture and kidnappings.
“Torture chambers are built there,” he said. “They abduct representatives of local governments and anyone deemed visible to local communities.”
Russia has come under increasing scrutiny as mounting evidence builds of military attacks against Ukrainian civilians in Bucha and other parts of Ukraine, leading US President Joe Biden to call Putin’s actions “genocide.”
“This is nothing but deliberate terror. Mortars, artillery against ordinary residential neighborhoods, against ordinary civilians,” Zelenskyy said.
Belgium, Estonia, and Bulgaria barred all Russian ships from their ports beginning Sunday. Their announcement came the same day as Italy’s and as part of expanded EU sanctions announced earlier this month.
Ships already in Italian ports must leave immediately “after completing their commercial activity,″ according to a notice sent to port authorities throughout the country.
The bans apply to all Russian-flagged ships, including those that have changed their flag from Russia to any other nationality since Feb. 24, the date of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The EU has imposed five rounds of sanctions against Russia, including the banning of ships in its fifth round. Leaders are still weighing a ban on Russian oil, with many European countries dependent on it.
Contributing: The Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism