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Russia steps up bombardment of Azovstal in Mariupol, missiles strike Odesa

Mariupol (Міністерство внутрішніх справ України/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian forces have escalated their attacks on a steel plant in the southern port of Mariupol where the last Ukrainian defenders, many of them wounded, and at least 100 civilians are still holed up, as missiles rained down on the strategically important Black Sea port of Odesa.

Deputy Ukrainian Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on May 10 more than 1,000 Ukrainian fighters remained in the sprawling Azovstal steel plant, the last pocket of resistance after almost three months of heavy fighting that has leveled the city.

“Hundreds are wounded. There are people with serious injuries who require urgent evacuation. The situation is deteriorating every day,” Vereshchuk told the AFP news agency.

Although the majority of noncombatants have been evacuated from Azovstal, at least 100 civilians remain inside, an aide to the city’s mayor said on May 10.

“In addition to the military, at least 100 civilians remain in the (Azovstal) shelters. However, this does not reduce the density of attacks by the occupiers,” aide Petro Andryushchenko wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Russian forces have so far failed to complete the occupation of Mariupol, which would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, give Russia a land corridor to the illegally annexed Crimean Peninsula, and free troops up for fighting elsewhere.

In the eastern regions of Luhansk, Kharkiv, and Dnipro, air-raid sirens could be heard early on May 10.

Oleh Synehubov, the head of the Kharkiv regional administration, said on May 10 that the bodies of 44 civilians had been recovered from the rubble of a building in the city of Izyum destroyed by Russia in March.

Synehubov said the five-story building had collapsed with the civilians inside. Izyum is a key front-line node in eastern Ukraine.

The Odesa city council said late on May 9 that missiles were fired into the city, destroying several buildings.

One person was killed and five injured when seven missiles hit a shopping center and a depot, Ukraine’s armed forces said on Facebook.

The UN has said that civilian casualties have edged past 7,000 since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion in February.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a statement that as of the start of May 9, 3,381 people, including 235 children, had been killed, with another 3,680 people injured.

The office said that most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes.

“OHCHR believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration,” it added, pointing to cities such as Mariupol, Izyum, and Popasna, where there are allegations of numerous civilian casualties.

But the head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said that the actual death toll was thousands higher than the official UN figures.

“We have been working on estimates, but all I can say for now is that it is thousands higher than the numbers we have currently given to you,” Matilda Bogner told a news briefing in Geneva.

Meanwhile, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said on May 10 that the Ukrainian economy was set to contract by almost one-third this year in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

The London-based bank said Ukraine’s output was set to contract by 30 percent compared with an EBRD forecast of minus 20 percent given in March, shortly after Moscow’s military invasion.

The EBRD added that Ukraine’s economy would rebound by 25 percent next year, up from its March forecast of 23 percent.

A Russian blockade has drastically hit Ukraine’s key agricultural sector, as the country is a major exporter of wheat and sunflower oil.

The fighting has also stopped Ukraine’s deliveries of cables imported by European carmakers.

The EBRD added that the economy of sanctions-hit Russia would contract by 10 percent this year and post zero growth next year — in unchanged estimates from March.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on May 10 that the European Union’s planned sixth package of sanctions against Russia, including an oil embargo, was needed as the bloc’s proposals still faced negotiations between members.

“Now the sixth package of sanctions will be adopted, and it is certainly a package that we need, and also energy sanctions are needed,” Zelenskiy told Slovakia’s parliament in a video address.

The British Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence bulletin on May 10 that Russia’s misjudging of Ukrainian resolve resulted in failures on the battlefield and stopped Russian President Vladimir Putin from boasting success during his speech at the May 9 military parade in Moscow.

Underestimating Ukrainian resistance led to “demonstrable operational failings,” the ministry said, “preventing Putin from announcing significant military success” on May 9.

Putin instead justified Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as a necessary move for “defending the motherland,” a claim Britain said mirrored the fascism and tyranny that sparked World War II.

Putin, who presided over the Red Square parade to mark the Soviet Union’s role in the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, reiterated his claim that NATO was creating threats right next to its borders and that the invasion of Ukraine was a necessary preemptive action.

In his own speech marking the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, Zelenskiy likened the Allies’ fight against Hitler with his nation’s struggle to repel Russia’s aggression.

“We will never forget what our ancestors did in World War II, where more than 8 million Ukrainians died. Every fifth Ukrainian didn’t return home,” Zelenskiy said, adding, “soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine.”

U.S. President Joe Biden on May 9 signed largely symbolic legislation to reboot the World War II-era lend-lease program that helped defeat Nazi Germany.

Before signing the bill, Biden said that “Putin’s war” was “once more bringing wanton destruction of Europe,” drawing a reference to the anniversary of the allied victory in 1945.