Russia uses warplanes, artillery in widening assault on Ukraine
Russian forces trying to regroup from recent losses, stalled progress of invasion
Russia's airplanes and artillery widened their assault on Ukraine on Friday, striking airfields in the west and a major industrial hub in the east, as Moscow's forces tried to regroup from recent losses and their onslaught fast reduced crowded cities to rubble.
American intelligence officials offered an assessment of the Russian air campaign, estimating that invading pilots are averaging 200 sorties a day, compared with five-to-10 for Ukrainian forces, which are focusing more on surface-to-air missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and drones to take out Russian aircraft.
New commercial satellite images appeared to capture artillery firing on residential areas between Russian forces and the capital. The images from Maxar Technologies showed muzzle flashes and smoke from the big guns, as well as impact craters and burning homes in the town of Moschun, outside Kyiv, the company said.
In a devastated village east of the capital, villagers climbed over toppled walls and flapping metal strips in the remnants of a pool hall, restaurant and theatre freshly blown apart by Russian bombs.
Russian President Vladimir Putin "created this mess, thinking he will be in charge here," 62-year-old Ivan Merzyk said. In temperatures sinking below freezing, villagers quickly spread plastic wrap or nailed plywood over blown out windows of their homes.
"We are not going away from here," Merzyk said.
On the economic and political front, the U.S. and its allies moved to further isolate and sanction Russia. U.S. President Joe Biden announced the U.S. will dramatically downgrade its trade status with Russia and also ban imports of Russian seafood, alcohol and diamonds.
The move to revoke Russia's "most favoured nation" status was taken in co-ordination with the European Union and G7 countries.
"The free world is coming together to confront Putin," Biden said.
On the ground, Russian forces appeared to be trying to regroup and regain momentum after encountering heavier losses and stiffer resistance than anticipated over the past two weeks. Britain's Ministry of Defence said Russia is trying to "reset and re-posture" its troops, gearing up for operations against Kyiv.
'Going to get worse'
"It's ugly already, but it's going to get worse," said Nick Reynolds, a land warfare analyst at Royal United Services Institute, a British think-tank.
With the invasion in its 16th day, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there had been "certain positive developments" in Russia-Ukraine talks, but gave no details.
For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainian forces had "reached a strategic turning point," though he did not elaborate.
"It's impossible to say how many days we will still need to free our land, but it is possible to say that we will do it," Zelensky said via video from Kyiv.
Zelensky said authorities were working on establishing 12 humanitarian corridors and trying to ensure food, medicine and other basics get to people across the country. Thousands of civilians and soldiers are believed to have been killed in the invasion.
He accused Russia of kidnapping the mayor of one city, Melitopol, calling the abduction "a new stage of terror." The Biden administration had warned before the invasion of Russian plans to detain and kill targeted people in Ukraine. Zelensky himself is a likely top target.
Biggest advances in east, south
So far, the Russians have made the biggest advances on cities in the east and south while struggling in the north and around Kyiv.
Russia said it used high-precision long-range weapons to put military airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk in the west "out of action." The attack on Lutsk killed four Ukrainian servicemen, the city's mayor said.
Russian airstrikes also targeted for the first time the eastern city of Dnipro, a major industrial hub in the east and Ukraine's fourth-largest city, with about one million people. One person was killed, Ukrainian officials said.
In images of the aftermath released by Ukraine's emergency agency, firefighters doused a flaming building, and ash fell on bloodied rubble. Smoke billowed over shattered concrete where buildings once stood.
The bombardment continued in Mariupol, where a deadly strike on a maternity hospital this week sparked international outrage and war-crime allegations.
No burials for Mariupol's dead
Unrelenting attacks have thwarted repeated attempts to send in food and medicine and evacuate civilians from Mariupol, a city of 430,000. In a statement, the Mariupol mayor's office said Friday that the toll of people killed during the now 12-day siege had risen to 1,582.
In the face of the unrelenting bombing, "the dead aren't even being buried," the mayor's office said.
Elsewhere, temperatures were forecast to hit -13 C in the eastern city of Kharkiv, which has come under heavy bombardment.
About 400 apartment buildings in Kharkiv lost heat, and Mayor Ihor Terekhov appealed to remaining residents to descend into the subway or other underground shelters where blankets and hot food were being distributed.
The latest assaults came a day after satellite photos appeared to show that the huge armoured column that was stalled for over a week outside Kyiv had spread out near the capital.
Russian convoy fans out
Military analysts were divided over whether the manoeuvring by the Russian convoy signalled the imminent start of a siege of Kyiv or was just an effort by the troops to disperse some vehicles to more protected positions.
The photos showed howitzers newly set up in firing position, and armoured units staged near the Antonov Airport north of the city, according to Maxar.
The 64-kilometre line of tanks and other vehicles had massed outside Kyiv early last week. Its advance appeared to stop amid reports of food and fuel shortages, muddy roads and attacks by Ukrainian troops with anti-tank missiles.
Mathieu Boulegue, a researcher at the London think-tank Chatham House, said the redeployment means the battle for Kyiv is just hours or days away. He predicted a drawn-out siege.
"This is going to be a very long battle of attrition. This is going to be an atrociously casualty-heavy battle and a siege, the likes of which we have rarely seen in modern history," Boulegue said.
U.S. officials saw the breakup of the convoy headed toward Kyiv as less significant.
A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the U.S. military assessment, said that the convoy had not made any substantial progress toward the city and that the vehicles' moves are not part of a tactical effort to advance on Kyiv.
The U.S. also says Russia has launched nearly 810 missiles into Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the United Nations political chief said the international organization had received credible reports that Russian forces were using cluster bombs in populated areas. The bombs scatter smaller explosives over a wide area and are prohibited in cities and towns under international law.
Repeated rounds of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have taken place along the Belarus border, and the two countries' foreign ministers held talks on Thursday with no apparent progress, while various third countries have also made attempts to broker a stop to the fighting.
Appeal for help with 'migration crisis'
Some 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began, the International Organization for Migration said Friday, with more than half of those going to Poland.
Warsaw's mayor is appealing for international help as the city becomes overwhelmed by refugees, with more than a tenth of all those fleeing the war in Ukraine arriving in the Polish capital.
"We are dealing with the greatest migration crisis in the history of Europe since World War II … The situation is getting more and more difficult every day," Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski said, adding that "the greatest challenge is still ahead of us."
The International Monetary Fund said it will increase financial support to Moldova to help it withstand the extra pressure created by the arrival of over 270,000 refugees from Ukraine, the agency said Friday. Around 105,000 of those refugees have stayed in Moldova, according to government figures from Thursday.
The southeastern European country of Romania, a nation of about 19 million residents, had taken in more than 84,000 displaced people as of Tuesday, according to United Nations data. Other countries on NATO's eastern flank, including Hungary, Moldova and Slovakia, have also welcomed tens of thousands of refugees.
In Berlin, Interior Ministry spokesperson Marek Wede said Friday that federal police so far have recorded 109,183 people coming from Ukraine entering the country, more than 99,000 of them Ukrainian citizens.
He noted that the number may be higher because Germany doesn't have full regular border checks on its eastern frontiers with Poland and the Czech Republic.
Just over the Ukraine border into Slovakia, CBC News spoke to tired Ukrainians who have fled. A woman named Tanya said her plan was to make her way to Warsaw, where she has heard there is a school that teaches blind children like her 10-year-old daughter Veronika.
"I just don't know how to get there from here," she said.
With files from CBC News and Reuters