Russia is convening troops based in the Far East to take part in the Battle of Ukraine, the Ukrainian military command said on Saturday as Moscow seeks to strengthen its warring forces amid heavy losses and signs that the country’s efforts to conquer eastern Ukraine have failed. in standing. .
To add to the feeling that both sides were apparently ready for a war of attrition, Ukrainians lined up at gas stations across the country on Saturday as the government struggled to deal with a fuel shortage caused by Russian attacks on oil infrastructure.
“Queues and rising prices at gas stations are seen in many regions of our country,” said President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Friday in his evening speech. “The occupiers are deliberately destroying the infrastructure for the production, supply and storage of fuel.”
He said a Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports meant that replacement warehouses could not enter by tanker. The war has also paralyzed the grain harvest in Ukraine, known as Europe’s breadbasket, disrupted global food supplies and exacerbated a food crisis in East Africa.
As Western allies have poured more heavy weapons into Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland, both NATO countries, reached an agreement that could require the transfer of MIG-29 warplanes to Ukraine. Slovakia said Polish F-16 jets would patrol its skies and liberate a Slovak fleet of Soviet-made MIGs.
Following a meeting between the two countries’ defense ministers on Friday, Poland said its air force would begin patrolling Slovakia as part of their joint effort to help Ukraine.
Slovakia did not explicitly say it would send its MIGs to Ukraine, but it has raised the possibility of doing so – provided it can find an alternative way to protect its airspace, which the agreement with Poland looks set to achieve.
Poland last month refused to supply its own fleet of MIG-29s directly to Ukraine, and instead offered to fly the planes to a US military base in Germany, where they could then be flown to Ukraine. Washington, concerned about provoking Russia, declined the offer.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, claimed that by supplying stronger weapons to Ukraine, the US and the EU were waging a proxy fight against Russia, regardless of the cost of civilian life.
The flow of weapons from the West, said Mr. Lavrov, had nothing to do with supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty, but would rather enable the United States and the European Union to fight against Russia “to the last Ukrainian.”
Fuel shortages in Ukraine followed Russian attacks this week on Ukraine’s largest producer of fuel products and other major refineries. Russia said it had also hit storage facilities for oil products used by the Ukrainian military.
A senior Pentagon official said these types of attacks were aimed at undermining the Ukrainian military’s ability to “replenish its own stores and reinforce itself.”
In response, officials in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, urged residents to use public transportation instead of private vehicles to save fuel. “We need to remember the needs of the military and our defenders,” the city administration said.
The Kremlin’s deployment of troops from eastern Russia to the battle front in Ukraine suggested that Moscow could try to regain momentum in what the Pentagon has described as a “bombing” offensive in eastern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military said the extra Russian forces were first sent to a Russian city near the Ukrainian border and then to the northeastern Ukrainian city of Izium, where the Russians have met fierce resistance. It did not say how many troops were deployed.
Western analysts have said Russia’s offensive in the east has slowed as it struggles to overcome many of the same logistical problems involving shipments of food, fuel, weapons and ammunition that hampered the initial phase of the country’s invasion of more than two months ago.
On Saturday, the British Ministry of Defense said that Russia was trying to solve problems that had limited its invasion by geographically concentrating combat power, shortening supply lines and simplifying command and control.
But Russia “still faces significant challenges,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence update on the war. “It has been forced to merge and relocate depleted and disparate units from the failed advances in northeastern Ukraine. Many of these units are likely to suffer from weakened morale.”
The fighting in eastern Ukraine has required an increasingly tough toll on both militaries. Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday that its forces had fired 389 targets across Ukraine, including facilities housing soldiers, and killed 120 Ukrainians.
Ukraine said its special forces attacked a command center near Izium, destroying dozens of tanks and armored vehicles.
As a measure of the growing number of civilians, Ukrainian authorities said police had received more than 7,000 reports of missing persons since the start of the invasion on February 24, with half of the cases still unsolved.
Ukrainian officials called the number “unprecedented in modern history” and they appealed to allies to send forensic experts and specialists in managing registers of missing persons.
In a long-awaited but often frustrated development in Mariupol, the ruined southern Ukrainian port occupied by Russian forces, about 20 women and children were evacuated from the Azovstal steelworks, where the city’s last Ukrainian warriors have been detained along with hundreds of increasingly desperate. civil.
The news from Captain Svyatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment, came amid UN-backed efforts to mediate a ceasefire to allow the captured civilians and Ukrainian fighters to escape the facility.
Russia-Ukraine war: key developments
Russian oil embargo. EU countries are likely to approve a step-by-step embargo against Russian oil, which closes a long-delayed measure that has divided the bloc’s members and highlighted their dependence on Russian energy sources. EU ambassadors expect to give their final approval before the end of the week, officials said.
Captain Palamar said in a video sent to the Telegram that an evacuation column had arrived in the evening to bring the civilians to a safe place, adding that he hoped wounded soldiers would also get safe passage.
He did not give further details, although the Russian news agency TASS said one of its correspondents on the spot reported that 25 people – including six children – had left the facility. It was not immediately clear whether they were free to seek security in Ukraine or were detained by Russian forces.
Nearly one million Ukrainians have been relocated from Ukraine to Russia, Mr. Lavrov in an interview published by Chinese state news media on Saturday. He described the movements as voluntary “evacuations”, a claim that contradicted witnesses, Ukrainian officials and Western observers who have said many Ukrainians have been forcibly deported.
Mr. Lavrov’s claim repeats the false claims in Russian propaganda that its forces are liberating ethnic Russians and others in Ukraine from what Russian President Vladimir V. Putin calls the “openly neo-Nazi” Ukrainian government.
Ukraine has argued that Russia is carrying out forced migration of its citizens, which is a war crime that should be used as a lever in any peace negotiations.
Ukraine has also accused Russian forces of stealing cultural artifacts from occupied cities.
In Mariupol, city officials said Russian forces had taken more than 2,000 objects – including icons, medals and works of Russian painters – from the city’s museums to Donetsk, the capital of an eastern region controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
In the southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, local officials said a mysterious man in a white lab coat had used long tweezers and gloves to extract dozens of gold artifacts more than 2,300 years old from cardboard boxes in a local museum, like a group of Russian soldiers stood behind him with weapons and watched eagerly. The objects were from the Scythian Empire and dated back to the fourth century BC
“The orcs have seized our Scythian gold,” Melitopol mayor Ivan Fyodorov declared, using a derogatory expression that many Ukrainians reserve for Russian soldiers. “This is one of the largest and most expensive collections in Ukraine, and today we do not know where they took it.”
A series of explosions inside Russia in recent weeks have also raised concerns that the war is spilling over Ukraine’s borders and set off the first air raid on Russian soil since World War II.
The incidents include a Russian fuel depot that burst into flames moments after surveillance video captured bright lines of rockets fired from low-flying helicopters, and a fire that broke out at a military research institute near Moscow.
Russia has accused Ukraine of carrying out the helicopter attack, while military analysts have suggested that Ukrainian sabotage was probably to blame for other fires. Ukraine has reacted with deliberate ambiguity.
“We do not confirm and we do not reject,” said Oleksei Arestovych, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky’s Chief of Staff, in an interview.
Mr. Arestovych described the policy as a strategic position, and he compared it to Israel’s long-standing policy of ambiguity about nuclear weapons, another issue of extraordinary geopolitical sensitivity.
“After what has happened,” he said, “we do not officially say yes, and we do not say no, just like Israel.”
Reporting is contributed by Steven Erlanger, Andrew Higgins, Maria Varenikova, John Ismay, Dave Philipps, Valeria Safronova, Lauren McCarthy, Victoria Kim, Christian Triebert, Aleksandra Koroleva, Andrew E. Kramer, Jeffrey Gettleman, Michael Schwirtz and Christine Hauser.