LVIV, Ukraine (AP) – Russia expanded its military offensive in Ukraine on Friday, striking for the first time at airports in the west as troops continued pressure on the capital, Kyiv, and the United States and its allies prepared to revoke Russia’s preferred trade status.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Kanashenkov said Russia used high-precision long-range weapons on Friday to disable military airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk. He did not provide details.

As a result of air strikes on the airfield in Lutsk, two Ukrainian servicemen were killed and six were injured, said the head of the adjacent Volyn region Yuri Pogulyayko. In Ivano-Frankivsk, residents were ordered to take shelter after the announcement of the air raids, Mayor Ruslan Martinkau said.

Meanwhile, new satellite images show a massive convoy outside the Ukrainian capital scattered over cities and forests near Kiev, and artillery shells raised to fire in another potentially sinister movement.

The photos came amid more international efforts to isolate and sanction Russia, especially after a deadly air strike on a maternity hospital in the southern port city of Mariupol, which Western and Ukrainian officials have recognized as a war crime.

Ukrainian authorities have announced plans to create several evacuation routes and deliver humanitarian aid with the support of the Red Cross. Their main priority is the release of people trying to flee Mariupol, which is under increasing pressure.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Kanashenkov said Russian-backed militants had advanced up to 800 meters from Mariupol from the east, north and west, further pressing the city, which has the Sea of ​​Azov in the south. Kanashenko said the offensive was being waged by militants from the separatist-controlled Donetsk region, Russia’s standard line for fighting in the east.

Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the involvement of “volunteer” fighters from around the world to join the offensive in Ukraine. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia was aware of “more than 16,000 applications” from the Middle East, many of them from people who he said were helping Russia against the Islamic State, according to a Kremlin transcript.

Since 2015, Russian troops have supported Syrian President Assad against various groups opposed to his rule, including Islamic State.

Putin told Shoigu that Russia should help potential volunteers “move into the war zone,” and contrasted them with what he called foreign “mercenaries” fighting for Ukraine.

Increased pressure on Moscow, US and other countries ready to announce lifting later Friday Russia’s trade status is “most favorable”.which would introduce higher tariffs on some Russian imported goods.

Without being sanctioned, Russia continued to bomb besieged Mariupol, while Kyiv prepared for the onslaught, and its mayor boasted that the capital had become virtually a fortress defended by armed civilians.

The head of the Kyiv region administration Alexei Kuleba said that the rocket hit the city of Borisov, about 20 kilometers east of the main international airport in Kiev Borispol. He reported significant damage to the living quarters, but no immediate casualties.

Three Russian airstrikes early Friday also struck the eastern city of Dnipro, a major industrial hub and Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, strategically located on the Dnieper River. According to Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchanka, at least one person was killed in the strikes.

Meanwhile, Russian troops were advancing on Kyiv from the northwest and east, but were pushed back from Chernihiv when Ukrainian militants regained control of the Cormorant Ant, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.

The convoy, which was seen in satellite images from Maxar Technologies, showed that the 40-mile (64-kilometer) line of vehicles, tanks and artillery had been redeployed, the company said. Armored units were spotted in towns near Antonov Airport north of the town. Some cars moved into the woods, Maxar said, with towed howitzers nearby in position to open fire.

The Russian convoy gathered outside the city early last week, but its advance seemed to have stalled as there were reports of food and fuel shortages. U.S. officials said Ukrainian troops also hit the column with anti-tank missiles.

In a video message, Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Verashchuk announced efforts to create new humanitarian corridors to deliver aid to people in the occupied or Russian-occupied areas around the southern cities of Kherson, Chernihiv in the north and Kharkiv in the east.

Authorities also planned to send aid to Mariupol, a city of 430,000 people, where the situation was becoming more difficult as civilians trapped for food and fuel, Verashchuk said. Repeated previous attempts failed, as convoys of aid and rescuers were the target of Russian shelling.

More than 1,300 people died in the 10-day blockade of the city, Verashchuk said. “They want to destroy the residents of Mariupol. They want to starve them, ”she added. “It’s a war crime.”

Residents do not have heating and telephone communication, many without electricity. The air temperature at night is regularly below zero, and during the day – a little higher. The bodies are buried in mass graves. The streets are littered with burnt cars, broken glass and broken trees.

“They have a clear order to hold Mariupol hostage, mock it, constantly bomb and fire,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in his nightly video address to the people on Thursday. He said the Russians launched a tank attack exactly where the humanitarian corridor was supposed to be.

The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine has exceeded 2.3 million, and about 100,000 people have been evacuated in the past two days from seven cities under Russian blockade, in the north and center of the country, including from the suburbs of Kiev, he said. Green.

Zelensky told Russian leaders that the invasion would backfire as their economy stifled. Western sanctions have already dealt a severe blow, with the ruble collapsing, foreign businesses fleeing and prices rising sharply.

“You will definitely be prosecuted for complicity in war crimes,” Zelensky said in a video message, adding that “Russian citizens will hate you.”

Putin rejected such talks, saying the country had previously suffered sanctions.

“We will overcome them,” he told a televised meeting of government officials, but acknowledged that sanctions created “certain problems.”

In addition to those who fled the country, millions of people were expelled from their homes inside Ukraine. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said that the capital left about 2 million people, half the population of the metropolitan area.

“Every street, every house is getting stronger,” he said. “Even people who never intended to change in life are now in uniform with machine guns in their hands.”

Western officials have said Russian forces have made no practical progress on the ground in recent days and see greater losses and tougher resistance from Ukraine than Moscow apparently expected. But Putin’s forces used aircraft and artillery to beat cities.


Associated Press journalists Felipe Dana and Andrew Drake from Kyiv (Ukraine) along with other reporters from around the world contributed.

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