Russia has beefed up its invasion force in Ukraine, adding about 11 battalion battle groups in recent days, a senior US Department of Defense official said on Monday.
The reinforcements, up to 11,000 troops, come as Russia continues to prepare for an expected offensive in eastern Ukraine, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the intelligence assessments.
Russia continues to move more heavy artillery, helicopters and command and control units to the region as heavy fighting continues, including near the strategic town of Izyum, the official said.
In total, there are about 76 tactical groups of Russian battalions in Ukraine. About 12 of those battalions are engaged in heavy fighting around the beleaguered Black Sea port city of Mariupol, which remains contested and isolated from other Ukrainian forces, the official said.
Russian bombers have also launched long-range cruise missiles at kyiv and Lviv, the official said. The targets appeared to be military installations, but the Lviv regional governor said at least seven people were killed and 11 others, including a child, were injured.
Under the $800 million military assistance package approved last week, US troops will begin training Ukrainian forces in army and navy howitzer artillery. The training will take place outside Ukraine.
There were also lifeboats seen after Ukraine sank the warship Moskva last week, a 600ft missile cruiser, the official said. It is not known how many sailors survived the attack.
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►Ukraine has taken another step in its bid to join the European Union by completing a questionnaire that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier this month, Reuters reported on Monday.
►Russia renewed its air attacks this weekend against the Ukrainian capital and other cities, notably around Lviv and Kharkiv. A strike in Kyiv’s Darnytskyi district on Saturday left at least one dead and several injured, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.
►For a second day, the Ukrainian government stopped civilian evacuations. Government officials said Russian forces were targeting humanitarian corridors by shelling and blocking roads.
►Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on Monday the city risked losing around 200,000 jobs as foreign companies left the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, dismissed the impact of Western sanctions, saying his country “withstood the unprecedented pressure”.
►Russia is creating breakaway states and introducing the Russian ruble to occupied parts of Ukraine’s Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday.
►The Russian military forcibly removed more than 100 children from Mariupol, many of whom were taken from hospitals without parents, the Crimean Human Rights Group reported, citing Mariupol city councilor Petro Andryushchenko.
Russian military airstrikes killed at least seven people and injured 11 others, including a child, early Monday in Lviv, western Ukraine, the regional governor said.
The deaths in Lviv were confirmed by regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy. He said four rockets were fired, hitting three targets, including several warehouses not used by the Ukrainian military and a gas station near Lviv train station.
The deaths were the first to be reported in the city since Russia began its assault on Ukraine in late February. On March 13, Russia fired 30 cruise missiles at the Yavoriv military training base outside the city of Lviv, killing at least 35 people and wounding 134.
Nightly explosions were also reported in kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, in the north in Kharkiv and in Mykolaiv, near the port city of Odessa on the Black Sea.
Kozytskyy said a preliminary investigation indicated that the rockets that hit Lviv were fired from the direction of the Caspian Sea, an inland body of water that connects Asia and Europe.
An ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin currently being held by Ukrainian authorities on treason charges has offered himself in exchange for the evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol.
Viktor Medvedchuk, the former leader of a pro-Russian opposition party in Ukraine, made the call in a video released Monday by Ukraine’s state security service, which captured Medvedchuk last week during a a special operation. Medvedchuk, 67, escaped house arrest shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine began earlier this year.
Medvedchuk appealed to Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the video. Shortly after the video was released, two British men who surrendered to Russian forces in Mariupol also pleaded for their release. The men identified themselves as Sean Pinner and Aiden Aslin in videos released by Russian state media.
Fighting continued to rage in towns across eastern Ukraine on Monday as Russian forces sought to advance in the Luhansk region, Ukrainian officials said.
Serhiy Haidai, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, said on Monday that the towns of Rubizhne and Popasna were “under the greatest threat” and that the town of Kreminna had been captured, according to Ukrainian state media Ukrinform. . In the nearby town of Zolote, at least two people were killed and four others injured in a strike, Haidai said, according to Ukrinform on Sunday.
Meanwhile, a Russian strike on Kramatorsk destroyed several residential buildings on Monday, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the regional state administrator in Donetsk, said via Telegram.
Further west, Ukrainian forces managed to repel Russian troops and liberate several settlements around the town of Izyum, Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Alexander Motuzyanyk said, Ukrinform reported. But the city of Kharkiv was hit by a Russian strike, killing at least three people and wounding three others, according to Associated Press reporters on the spot.
The UK Ministry of Defense said in an intelligence update on Monday that Defense of Ukrainian forces from the besieged city of Mariupol “has strained the Russian forces”.
Russia had to divert troops and supplies to Mariupol, in turn slowing its advances elsewhere, according to the British assessment, adding that “Russian commanders will be concerned about how long it will take to subdue Mariupol.”
Ukrainian forces are largely entrenched in the Azovstal steelworks as the town has been decimated for several weeks by Russian attacks. Ukrainian officials said their troops would not surrender, and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’ continued Russian attacks could be a ‘red line’ that would end efforts to achieve peace through negotiation.
US officials warn of impending Russian cyberattacks
White House officials have repeatedly warned that evolving intelligence suggests Russia may be exploring potential cyberattacks against the United States. Now that possibility is almost certain, Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said Sunday.
“We have to assume there is going to be a breach,” Easterly said on “60 Minutes”. “There is going to be an incident. There is going to be an attack.”
Russia is known for its powerful cyber actors. US intelligence agencies and federal prosecutors concluded that the Russian government was seeking to influence the 2016 presidential election. Recently, Microsoft said it had halted Russian cyberattacks targeting Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.
Lisa Monaco, Assistant US Attorney General, told Bill Whitaker on “60 Minutes” that Russian state actors are already looking for weaknesses in US cybersecurity and infrastructure.
“We are talking about military intelligence actors, deploying malware, malicious code, on thousands of computers in hundreds of countries,” Monaco said on Sunday. “We see them deploying this code and taking control of these computers. It’s like an army of infected computers that, with one command, can be deployed to do everything from collecting information, stealing information and sometimes to have a destructive effect.”
Zelensky says Russian troops are torturing and kidnapping Ukrainians
In his nightly address to the Ukrainian people, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian troops in southern Ukraine were engaging in torture and kidnappings.
“Torture chambers are built there,” he said. “They are kidnapping local government officials and anyone considered visible to local communities.”
Russia is coming under increasing scrutiny as evidence mounts of military attacks against Ukrainian civilians in Bucha and other parts of Ukraine, leading the United States united with President Joe Biden called Putin’s actions “genocide”.
“This is nothing but deliberate terror. Mortars, artillery against ordinary residential neighborhoods, against ordinary civilians,” Zelenskyy said.
Several European countries ban Russian ships from their ports
Belgium, Estonia and Bulgaria banned all Russian ships from entering their ports from Sunday. Their announcement came on the same day as Italy’s and as part of broader EU sanctions announced earlier this month.
Ships already in Italian ports must leave immediately “after completing their commercial activity”, according to a notice sent to port authorities across the country.
The bans apply to all vessels flying the Russian flag, including those that have changed their flag from Russia to any other nationality since February 24, the date of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The EU has imposed five rounds of sanctions against Russia, including a vessel ban in its fifth round. Leaders are still considering a ban on Russian oil, many European countries depend on it.
Contribute: The Associated Press