Russia’s Halting Progress in Attack on Ukraine Puts Focus on Resupply Efforts

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia appears to be preparing to reset its forces after more than three brutal weeks of combat and limited ground gains in its assault on Ukraine, while the situation in the embattled port city of Mariupol worsened.

Ukraine’s military said early Sunday that Russian forces were largely busy replenishing losses in people and equipment with otherwise little movement by the invading army. Russia also has been mobilizing people in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, occupied by Russia, to reinforce its military, according to the Ukrainian armed forces.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Sunday that it fired a number of long-range weapons at targets in Ukraine, including its new Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile. It is the second time in as many days Russia said it has employed the weapon Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled in 2018. Western and Ukrainian experts have cast doubt on Russia’s initial claim of using the sophisticated missile.

Russia’s ministry also said it struck a military base in Ukraine’s Zhytomyr region where it alleged foreign fighters were located.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivering a video address in Kyiv, Ukraine.


Photo:

handout / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky Sunday said his country’s military was imposing heavy losses on Russian troops, but added “We are well aware that Russia has just a bottomless human resource and a lot of equipment, missiles and bombs.”

Mr. Zelensky, meanwhile, suspended activities of 11 political parties with ties to Russia Sunday, which Ukrainian officials believe serve as fronts for Kremlin interests. Moscow has been seeking to install pro-Russian leaders in areas it has conquered since the start of its invasion.

Ukrainian officials have long considered some of them to be fronts for the Kremlin. The leader of one of them, Viktor Medvedchuk, escaped from his home where he was under house arrest in Kyiv days after Russia’s invasion began last month, according to Ukrainian officials.

In Mariupol, where fighting has reached the streets, Ukrainian officials said an art school where around 400 people had been sheltering was bombed by Russia, trapping people beneath the rubble. Their condition was uncertain.

People fleeing from Mariupol in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.


Photo:

REUTERS

A damaged church after Russian shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine.


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Evgeniy Maloletka / Associated Press

The incident comes days after a theater in the city was bombed. Rescue workers had Friday 130 people from the rubble as of Friday, though 1,300 people remained trapped in the basement of the theater, a local official said.

Mariupol’s City Council on Sunday said about 4,000 civilians in the city have been killed since the start of the fighting. It also accused Russian forces of forcibly evacuating residents of the city’s Livoberezhny district to Russia and into the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk, the pro-Russian breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.

“People who are being forcibly transported onto Russian territory are having their Ukrainian passports seized and given papers that have no legal weight and are not accepted in the civilized world,” the council said in a statement posted to Telegram on Sunday.

Russia has not commented on the reports of forced evacuations from Mariupol.

Mariupol is a strategic objective for Moscow as it attempts to open an overland corridor to the annexed region of Crimea and shift the momentum in its three-week-old invasion. During weeks of bombardment and attack, Ukrainians said they had kept Russian forces at bay on Mariupol’s outskirts, but that changed Saturday, Ukrainian officials said.

“Fierce battles between the defenders of Mariupol and the occupier continue, including on the city streets,” said a report on the Telegram channel of the volunteer group Azov Battalion, whose members have been fighting alongside regular government forces inside the city.

The capture of Mariupol would be a victory for Russia, which has so far failed to take any big Ukrainian cities since the start of its invasion.

People who were evacuated from Irpin in Kyiv, Ukraine.


Photo:

roman pilipey / Shutterstock

An apartment block destroyed by a Russian strike in Kyiv, Ukraine.


Photo:

Christopher Occhicone for The Wall Street Journal

Russia anticipated a speedy capture of Mariupol, a traditionally Russian-speaking city, which would have freed up its forces to encircle Ukrainian army units in eastern regions and allowed others to push farther toward the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. But the city has been a hard target, and its defenders have endured weeks of shelling and siege.

Russian military leaders have been desperate for a symbolic victory to offer Mr. Putin, analysts say, and US officials have detected indications of tension in the Russian intelligence and defense apparatuses over the lack of military progress.

“The commanders on the Russian side have to be desperate for a ‘win’ —they want to show Putin results,” said Emily Harding, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst and Senate Intelligence Committee staff member now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington. “Conquering Mariupol would give them something to show for the heavy losses they’ve taken.”

Areas no longer controlled by Ukraine as of Friday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Primary refugee crossing locations

Chernobyl

Not in operation

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

Convtrolled by

separatists

Areas no longer controlled by Ukraine as of Friday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

Primary refugee crossing locations

Chernobyl

Not in operation

Controlled by

separatists

Areas no longer controlled by Ukraine as of Friday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Primary refugee crossing locations

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

Chernobyl

Not in operation

Controlled by

separatists

Areas no longer controlled by Ukraine as of Friday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Primary refugee crossing locations

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

Areas no longer controlled by Ukraine as of Friday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Primary refugee crossing locations

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

Kyiv has tried to relieve Mariupol, so far unsuccessfully. Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, said there was no way for Ukrainian forces to break Russia’s siege, addressing criticism the government is not doing enough.

Mariupol’s proximity to the Russian border means Moscow could easily bring significant air power to bear on it from nearby military hubs, such as Crimea and the southern Russian city of Rostov, he said.

The closest Ukrainian units to Mariupol are more than 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, away, he said, and the vast treeless steppe around the city provides no cover from Russian attacks.

A humanitarian corridor has been agreed to evacuate residents from Mariupol and to send aid, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Sunday. It is one of seven humanitarian corridors agreed for Sunday, she said. Those corridors have at times had to be abandoned after coming under fire.

Local residents carrying water from a warehouse on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine.


Photo:

Alexei Alexandrov / Associated Press

Parts of the Russian offensive have been bogged down by poor planning and logistics, and forces have encountered fierce Ukrainian counterattacks. Some of Russia’s ground advances stalled this week in the midst of mounting casualties. Four Russian generals have died, the Ukrainian government said. Some US government calculations estimate that as many as 7,000 Russian troops have been killed in action, though officials caution that those are uncertain estimates.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Saturday that given Russia’s operation has “stalled on a number of fronts,” it made sense Moscow was working to boost the capability going forward. He added, though, that the US has not seen concrete evidence of that taking place.

Mr. Zelensky called on Russia to negotiate and said that in the coming days he would address other nations such as Israel, Italy and Japan, just as he addressed the US, Canada, Germany and Switzerland.

“It’s time to meet. Time to talk. It is time to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine, ”he said. “Otherwise, Russia’s losses will be so huge that several generations will not be enough to rebound. Ukraine’s proposals are on the table.”

Write to Alan Cullison at alan.cullison@wsj.com

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