Ukrainians ordered to flee eastern provinces as US and allies tighten sanctions against Russia

MUKACHEVA, Ukraine – Ukrainian authorities on Wednesday called for evacuations in three provinces near the Russian border amid new signs that President Vladimir Putin’s troops are stepping up their attacks on eastern and southern cities after a failed attempt to seize the country’s capital.

Local authorities say a resumption of Russian shelling in the eastern Donetsk region has killed at least five people and set fire to 10 high-rise buildings in the neighboring Luhansk district of Severodonetsk. U.S. analysts say Moscow has begun to gradually shift the focus of its military action to the eastern border provinces following the withdrawal of thousands of formerly besieged troops capital, Kyiv.

The violence continued amid new reports of human rights atrocities in Russian-controlled Ukrainian towns and villages. Reports of rape and extraordinary executions of civilians by the Russian occupiers have prompted the United States and a number of allies to announce new economic sanctions, including measures against Russia’s two largest banks and Putin’s adult children.

“We intend to further strengthen Russia’s economic isolation,” said President Biden in his speech, announcing sanctions at a meeting of construction unions in North America. “The United States will continue to stand with the Ukrainian people in their struggle for freedom.”

Biden again accused Russia of committing “major war crimes” and said additional measures would further strain its economy. “Civilians shot in cold blood and their bodies dumped in mass graves,” he said, noting a list of alleged war crimes. “The feeling of cruelty and inhumanity has left the whole world without forgiveness.”

The speech came at a time when NATO and EU leaders had gathered to consider additional measures to punish Moscow and support Ukraine. A possible European ban on Russian coal is expected to be approved on Thursday along with additional military aid to Kiev from NATO.

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Pentagon officials confirmed on Wednesday that Russia had completed the evacuation of all forces from Kyiv and Chernihiv in the past 24 hours, two cities it had tried unsuccessfully to capture in the first days of the invasion, now in its sixth week.

While U.S. analysts have not noticed a significant increase in troops and tanks in the Donbass, an energy-rich region near the Russian border that includes Donetsk and Luhansk, the Pentagon believes the retreating units are regrouping for a focused offensive in the eastern provinces. Some of the recently withdrawn troops are now in neighboring Belarus, where the pro-Moscow government is allowing Russia to replenish its depleted battalions. So far, few have returned to Ukraine, a senior Defense Ministry spokesman told reporters.

“Our assessment is that they do not want to spend too much on re-equipment and replenishment, because they have stated very publicly that they will give priority to efforts in the Donbass region,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under Pentagon rules. .


Areas held in Russia, and the movement of troops

separatist

controlled

area

Control areas as of April 6

Sources: Institute for the Study of War,

AEI Critical Threats Project, report

Russian territories

and the movement of troops

separatist

controlled

area

Crimea

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

Active nuclear power plants with generating capacity

Control areas as of April 6

Sources: Institute for the Study of War, AEI’s Critical Threats Project, Post reporting

Russian territories

and the movement of troops

separatist

controlled

area

Crimea

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

Active nuclear power plants with generating capacity

Control areas as of April 6

Sources: Institute for the Study of War, AEI’s Critical Threats Project, Post reporting

for its part Ukrainian forces are “absolutely adapting and adapting in real time to Russia’s efforts to increase their activities” in eastern Ukraine, the official said. “As they repulsed the Russians or the Russians left, they re-occupied the territory and made their own judgments as to what position their forces should be next.”

Intensified shelling in the eastern provinces on Wednesday resulted in additional casualties, including five people reportedly killed in Donetsk. Provincial Governor Pavlo Kirilenko said four people had been killed in Russian artillery shelling in the town of Ugledar while waiting for humanitarian aid. The fifth victim, also a civilian, was killed during the attack on the town of Acharetin, he said, six houses and a kindergarten were destroyed.

A regional military official in Luhansk reported “mass shelling” in Severodonetsk. The number of victims was unclear. A video posted on Facebook and checked by The Washington Post shows citizens trying to take cover when shells explode on a residential street.

Why for Putin Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbass are the focal point?

Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Verashchuk called on residents of Luhansk, Donetsk and Kharkiv regions to start preparing for the expected Russian offensive. While the Kremlin described the withdrawal of troops from Kyiv as a gesture of “goodwill” to promote peace talks, she said it was clear there would be more attacks. Moscow has greater support in the east of the country, where Russian forces and separatists backed by Russia have been in fierce conflict for many years.

“We need to evacuate,” she said. “We have to do it because then people will be burned, they will be shot … and we will not be able to help them.”

Residents of Borodyanka in the Kiev region of Ukraine surveyed the destruction after the departure of the Russian occupiers in early April. (Video: Joshua Carroll / The Washington Post, photo: The Washington Post)

Elsewhere in Ukraine, rescuers have been searching for survivors in congested areas just liberated from Russian troops. Journalists from the Washington Post witnessed the scenes of destruction in Borodyanka, a town northwest of Kiev, which was hit by air strikes that tore huge pieces from apartment buildings.

In the schoolyard, which was turned into a garrison during Borodyanka’s occupation, the Russians cut a trench through the playground and built a wall of sandbags around the perimeter of the fence with holes for guns.

In a ruined apartment a few blocks away, 34-year-old Katya Polivshenko said she feared some of her neighbors were still trapped and probably dead in the basements of nearby destroyed buildings. Mobile communication broke down when the city was attacked, and she has since received nothing from some of her friends.

“They were underground, but then the messages stopped coming,” she said. “We don’t know what happened to them.”

In Bucha, a city associated with some of the most alarming attacks in the war on Ukrainian civilians, soldiers and police, continued hard work to remove and bury bodies, dozens of which still lay on the streets and in open fields. According to officials, some bodies were seized by fleeing Russians.

The city remained almost completely deserted, as demining teams methodically searched for hidden bombs. On Vokzalnaya Street near the station, blackened carcasses of Russian tanks, all destroyed in a brutal counterattack by Ukrainian troops, sat in awful silence, interrupted only by the barking of stray dogs.

Images from Bucha caused shock and condemnation around the world, including at the United Nations, where dozens of countries supported attempts to exclude Moscow from the body’s human rights council, a move aimed at countries that have repeatedly violated human rights. The vote of 193 countries may take place on Thursday morning at the UN headquarters in New York.

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Wednesday’s US sanctions against Sberbank and Alfa Bank, Russia’s two largest financial institutions, and the two daughters of Russian President Ekaterina Tikhonova and Maria Putin. U.S. officials say much of Putin’s family’s vast wealth is hidden in family members’ accounts. The White House is also seeking new economic sanctions against Russia’s state-owned shipbuilding and aircraft companies, as well as relatives of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

On Thursday, members of the 27-nation European Union were preparing to decide on a measure banning all Russian coal imports, a key source of income for Moscow, even as NATO leaders discuss ways to further isolate Russia while strengthening Ukraine’s ability to defend itself.

“Today, tomorrow, we will continue to talk not only about how we can support these efforts, but also about how we can build on them,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told reporters. He was surrounded by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who earlier that day warned that the conflict could drag on despite a surge of Western military support for Ukrainian forces.

“We have to be realistic and realize that it can take a long time, many months, even years,” Stoltenberg said. “And that’s why we also have to be prepared for the long road.”

Britain has imposed additional sanctions against eight Russian oligarchs and two Russian banks and promised to end all dependence on Russian coal and oil by the end of 2022. “We are showing the Russian elite that they cannot wash their hands of the atrocities committed on Putin’s orders,” said Foreign Minister Liz Trus.

In Washington, the Justice Ministry has announced charges against Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, whom US officials have accused of illegally supporting pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. Speaking at a news conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland also announced the successful disruption of a global “botnet” – or network of hacked computers, which he said was controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency known as the GRU. Moscow has used similar networks to attack Ukrainian targets, Garland said.

“It doesn’t matter how far you sail on your yacht. It doesn’t matter how well you hide your assets. It doesn’t matter how smart you are writing malware or hiding your activities online, ”Garland said. “The Department of Justice will use all available tools to find you, thwart your conspiracies and bring you to justice.”

Stern reported from Mukachevo, Ukraine; Loveluck from Borodyanka, Ukraine; and Bearak of Bucha, Ukraine. Warrick reported from Washington. Missy Ryan in Brussels, William Booth in London and Dan Lamot, Jeff Stein, John Hudson, Deulin Barrett, Matt Zapatoski, Amy B. Van and Meryl Cornfield of Washington contributed to this report.

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