Russia is pounding Odessa like civilian bodies discovered elsewhere

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Russia has stormed the vital southern port city of Odessa, Ukrainian officials said Tuesday, announcing they had found the bodies of 44 civilians in the rubble of a building in the northeast that was destroyed weeks ago.

The bodies were found in a five-story building that collapsed in March in Izyum, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the city of Kharkiv, which has suffered sustained Russian attacks since the war’s start in late February.

“This is another terrible war crime committed by the Russian occupiers against the civilian population!” Oleh Synehubov, the head of the regional government, said in a social media post announcing the deaths.

Izyum is on an important route to the eastern industrial region of the Donbas, now the center of the Russian war in Ukraine. Synehubov did not specifically say where the building was.

Earlier, the Ukrainian army said Russian forces fired seven rockets from the air at the crucial Black Sea port city of Odessa a day earlier, hitting a shopping center and warehouse. One person was killed and five were injured, the army said.

Ukraine claimed that at least some of the ammunition used dates back to the Soviet era, making them unreliable in targeting. Ukrainian, British and US officials are warning that Russia is rapidly depleting its stock of precision weapons and may not be able to build more any time soon, raising the risk of more inaccurate missiles being used as the conflict continues. This could lead to greater damage and more civilian deaths.

But the Center for Defense Strategies, a Ukrainian war-monitoring think tank, said Moscow did use some precision weapons against Odessa: Kinzhal, or “Dagger,” hypersonic air-to-surface missiles.

Using advanced guided missiles, Russia can fire at a distance without being exposed to possible anti-aircraft fire.

The strikes came on the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin marked his country’s biggest patriotic holiday without boasting of major new battlefield successes. On Monday, he saw troops march in formation and watch military equipment roll by in a Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square to celebrate the Soviet Union’s role in the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany.

Many Western analysts had expected Putin to use the Victory Day holiday to herald some sort of victory in Ukraine or herald an escalation, but he didn’t. Instead, he tried to justify the war again as a necessary response to what he portrayed as a hostile Ukraine.

Putin has long been frustrated with NATO’s shortcut east in former Soviet republics. Ukraine and its Western allies have denied that the country posed a threat.

“The danger increased by the day,” Putin said. “Russia has responded preemptively to aggression. It was forced, timely and the only right decision.”

Heavy fighting also raged in eastern Ukraine, including at a steel factory in Mariupol, where Russian troops tried to end resistance from Ukrainian defenders who took their last stand.

One of the Ukrainian fighters who held out at the steel mill said they were still defending the city. Valeri Paditel, chief of border guards in the Donetsk region, said the fighters “did everything they could to make those who defend the city in the future proud”.

The Ukrainian military warned on Tuesday that Russia could target the country’s chemical industry. The claim was not immediately explained in the report. But during the war, Russian shelling was more likely to target oil depots and other industrial sites.

Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed two ships off Ukraine’s Snake Island on Monday afternoon.

One of the ships seen in Planet Labs PBC images turned out to be a landing craft. Ukraine has recently taken Russian positions there on several occasions, suggesting that Russian forces may be trying to reman or remove personnel from the Black Sea island.

After unexpected fierce resistance forced the Kremlin to abandon its attempt to storm Kiev in the early days of the war, Moscow’s forces have concentrated on capturing the Donbas.

But the fighting there has gone back and forth, village by village. Some analysts suggested Putin would declare the fighting a war, not just a “special military operation,” and order a nationwide mobilization, with a call on reserves, to fight a protracted conflict.

In the end, he gave no signal as to where the war was headed or how he might save it. In particular, he left unanswered the question of whether and how Russia will pool more troops for an ongoing war.

“Without concrete steps to build a new fighting force, Russia cannot fight a long war, and the clock is ticking on the failure of their military in Ukraine,” tweeted Phillips P. O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the United Nations. University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Nigel Gould Davies, former British ambassador to Belarus, said: “Russia has not won this war. It’s starting to lose it.”

He said that unless Russia has a major breakthrough, “the balance of benefits will steadily shift in favor of Ukraine, especially as Ukraine gains access to increasingly large amounts of increasingly sophisticated Western military equipment.”

As Putin laid a wreath in Moscow, air strikes echoed again in the Ukrainian capital. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared in his own Victory Day speech that his country would eventually defeat the Russians.

“Very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine,” he said in a video. He added: “We are fighting for freedom, for our children, and that is why we will win.”

An adviser to Zelenskyy interpreted Putin’s speech as indicating that Russia has no interest in escalating the war through the use of nuclear weapons or direct involvement with NATO.

In Washington, President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan order to restart the World War II “lend-lease” program that helped defeat Nazi Germany to bolster Kiev and Eastern European allies.

Russia has about 97 tactical battalion groups in Ukraine, mostly in the east and south, a slight increase from last week, according to a senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment. Each unit has about 1,000 troops, according to the Pentagon.

The official said that the Russian effort in the Donbas has generally failed to make significant progress in recent days and continues to face stiff opposition from Ukrainian forces.

Satellite photos on Monday showed intense fires in Russia-occupied territory in southern Ukraine. The cause of the fires was not immediately clear. However, images from Planet Labs showed thick smoke rising east of Vasylivka, a city flanked by nature reserves.

Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kiev, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and AP employees around the world contributed to this report.

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