Heavy fighting also raged at the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol that represented the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the ruined southern port city, according to the mayor. But a Russian official denied Moscow’s troops were storming the plant, as Ukrainian commanders claimed a day earlier.
The Russian military said it used sea- and air-launched missiles to destroy electric power facilities at five railway stations across Ukraine, while artillery and aircraft also struck troop strongholds and fuel and ammunition depots.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of “resorting to the missile terrorism tactics in order to spread fear across Ukraine.”
Air raid sirens sounded in cities across the country on Wednesday night, and attacks were reported near Kyiv, the capital; in Cherkasy and Dnipro in central Ukraine; and in Zaporizhzhia in the southeast. In Dnipro, authorities said a rail facility was hit. Videos on social media suggested a bridge there was attacked.
There was no immediate word on casualties or the extent of the damage.
The flurry of attacks comes as Russia prepares to celebrate Victory Day on May 9, marking the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. The world is watching for whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the occasion to declare a victory in Ukraine or expand what he calls the “special military operation.”
A declaration of all-out war would allow Putin to introduce martial law and mobilise reservists to make up for significant troop losses.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the speculation as “nonsense.”
Meanwhile, Belarus, which Russia used as a staging ground for its invasion, announced the start of military exercises Wednesday. A top Ukrainian official said the country will be ready to act if Belarus joins the fighting.
The attacks on rail infrastructure were meant to disrupt the delivery of Western weapons, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the West is “stuffing Ukraine with weapons.”
A senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, said that while the Russians have tried to hit critical infrastructure around the western city of Lviv, specifically targeting railroads, there has been “no appreciable impact” on Ukraine’s effort to resupply its forces. Lviv, close to the Polish border, has been a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons.
Ukraine has urged the West to ramp up the supply of weapons ahead of that potentially decisive clash. Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, which had been slow at first to help arm Ukraine, said his government is considering supplying howitzers, in addition to Gepard anti-aircraft guns and other equipment it has agreed to send.
The governor of the eastern Donetsk region, which lies in the Donbas, said Russian attacks left 21 people dead on Tuesday, the highest number of known fatalities since April 8, when a missile attack on the railway station in Kramatorsk killed at least 59.
In addition to supplying weapons to Ukraine, Europe and the US have sought to punish Moscow with sanctions. The EU’s top official called on the 27-nation bloc on Wednesday to ban Russian oil imports, a crucial source of revenue.
“We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimizes the impact on global markets,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
The proposal needs unanimous approval from EU countries and is likely to be the subject of fierce debate. Hungary and Slovakia have already said they won’t take part in any oil sanctions. They could be granted an exemption.
The EU is also talking about a possible embargo on Russian natural gas. The bloc has already approved a cutoff of coal imports.
Russia’s economy is heavily dependent on oil and natural gas exports. Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, said European purchases of Russian energy produce billions in revenue and support the Kremlin’s “war machine.”
Von der Leyen also proposed that Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, and two other major banks be disconnected from the SWIFT international banking payment system.
In Mariupol, Mayor Vadym Boychenko said that Russian forces were targeting the already shattered Azovstal plant with heavy artillery, tanks, aircraft, warships and “heavy bombs that pierce concrete 3 to 5 metres thick.”
Over the weekend, more than 100 people — including women, the elderly and 17 children — were evacuated from the plant during a cease-fire in an operation overseen by the U.N. and the Red Cross. But the attacks on the plant soon resumed.
The Russian government said on the Telegram messaging app that it would open another evacuation corridor from the plant during certain hours on Thursday through Saturday. But there was no immediate confirmation of those arrangements from other parties, and many previous such assurances from the Kremlin have fallen through, with the Ukrainians blaming continued fighting by the Russians.