Home International Russian forces pound key cities as West prepares new sanctions

Russian forces pound key cities as West prepares new sanctions

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Russian artillery pounded the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Kharkiv on Wednesday as the West prepared more sanctions against Moscow in response to civilian killings that Kyiv and its allies have called war crimes.

Local residents gather outside an apartment building damaged during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters/Alexander Ermochenko

By Oleksandr Kozkukhar and Natalia Zinets

LVIV, Ukraine – Russian artillery pounded the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Kharkiv on Wednesday as the West prepared more sanctions against Moscow in response to civilian killings that Kyiv and its allies have called war crimes.

The besieged southern port of Mariupol has been under almost constant bombardment since the early days of the invasion that began on February 24, trapping tens of thousands of residents without food, water or power.

“The humanitarian situation in the city is worsening,” British military intelligence said on Wednesday.

“Most of the 160,000 remaining residents have no light, communication, medicine, heat or water. Russian forces have prevented humanitarian access, likely to pressure defenders to surrender.”

Reuters could not immediately verify the report.

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said authorities would try to evacuate trapped civilians through 11 humanitarian corridors on Wednesday, though people trying to leave the besieged city of Mariupol would have to use their own vehicles.

Russian forces last week pulled back from positions outside Kyiv and shifted the focus of their assault away from the capital, and Ukraine’s general staff said the north-eastern city of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest, also remained under attack.

Authorities in the eastern region of Luhansk on Wednesday urged residents to get out “while it is safe” from an area that Ukraine also expects to be the target of a new offensive.

ENERGY SANCTIONS PUSH?

Western sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, described as a “special military operation” by Moscow and the biggest assault on a European nation since World War II, gained new impetus this week when dead civilians shot at close range were found in the northern town of Bucha after it was retaken from Russian forces.

Moscow denied targeting civilians there and called the evidence presented a forgery staged by the West to discredit it.

Speaking a day after the European Union announced new sanctions, including a ban on Russian coal imports and denying Russian ships access to EU ports, the head of the EU executive, Ursula von der Leyen, said there was more to come.

“These sanctions will not be our last sanctions,” she told European Parliament on Wednesday. “Now we have to look into oil and revenues Russia gets from fossil fuels.”

Europe gets about a third of its natural gas from Russia and has been wary of the economic impact of the total ban on Russian energy imports advocated by Ukraine, but der Leyen’s remarks signal the bloc’s strengthening resolve to take the step that Kyiv says is vital to securing a deal to end the war.

The White House said it would also unveil new sanctions on Wednesday, in part in response to Bucha.

In Rome, Pope Francis called for an end to the war and condemned what he described as “the massacre of Bucha”, holding up a Ukrainian flag sent to him from the town.

“Recent news from the war in Ukraine, instead of bringing relief and hope, brought new atrocities,” he said at the end of an audience in the Vatican’s auditorium.

The new sanctions, coordinated between Washington, the Group of Seven advanced economies and the EU, will target Russian banks and officials and ban new investment in Russia, the White House said.

After an impassioned address to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Zelenskiy said new sanctions against Russia “must be commensurate with the gravity of the occupiers’ war crimes,” calling it a “crucial moment” for Western leaders.

The United States has agreed to provide an additional $100 million in assistance to Ukraine, including Javelin anti-armour systems, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

US chipmaker Intel Corp said it had suspended business operations in Russia, joining a growing list of companies leaving the country.

BUCHA BURIALS

Ukrainian officials say between 150 and 300 bodies might be in a mass grave by a church in Bucha, north of the capital Kyiv.

Satellite images taken weeks ago show bodies of civilians on a street in the town, a private US company said.

Reuters reporters saw at least four victims shot through the head in Bucha, one with their hands tied behind their back.

Residents have recounted cases of several others slain, some shot through their eyes and one apparently beaten to death and mutilated.

Since launching an invasion that has uprooted a quarter of Ukraine’s population, Russia has failed to capture a single major city.

– REUTERS

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