Russia is looking beyond its borders to fill its growing manpower shortage as Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine enters its fifth week, according to British intelligence reports.
Up to 15,000 of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces have been killed in the first four weeks of fighting, according to a NATO estimate, prompting the eastern power to enlist the aid of reservists, conscripts, and foreign mercenaries in its bid to take over Ukraine.
Russian leaders have sent mixed messages about their success in neighboring Ukraine. Even as the country seeks reinforcements, Russia has attempted to project an image of strength, hailing the capture of port city Berdyansk as an “epic event” despite videos on social media apparently showing the city ablaze as of Thursday morning.
Ukraine countered the Russian narrative, saying it had destroyed a Russian landing ship at the port of Berdyansk, which was taken by Russian forces four days into the war and had been used as a base to ferry in equipment for Vladimir Putin’s troops.
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The Orsk Russian tank-landing ship was destroyed at the port, according to the Ukrainian navy, and media reports indicated that two other ships were “smoking heavily and trying to escape.” A warehouse with ammunition and fuel was reportedly destroyed at the port as well.
“The destroyed ship in Berdyansk could carry up to 20 tanks, 45 armored personnel carriers, and 400 paratroopers,” Ukrainian deputy defense minister Anna Mayyar said in a statement. “This is a huge target that was hit by our military.”
Despite the Ukrainian success at Berdyansk, Moscow continued to pummel the western port city of Mariupol.
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Mariupol Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov said he was “absolutely sure that [the] Ukrainian Army will defend our city up to the last bullet” but cautioned he didn’t “know how many days is it possible to survive because people are in very bad condition and awful condition.”
“There is no life at the moment in Mariupol, so the city is destroyed, up to 90% damaged and destroyed,” he told Fox News, adding that those still alive were “suffering from lack of water, lack of medicine, lack of social help, but they’re just surviving.”
The Mariupol City Council said Moscow’s military had been forcibly dragging Ukrainians into Russian territory, a claim echoed by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, which said Russian forces took 6,000 residents “to Russian filtration camps in order to use them as hostages and put more political pressure on Ukraine.”
The Foreign Ministry said it was concerned for 15,000 people from a district of Mariupol under Russian control and claimed troops were confiscating identity documents and forcing people to go to “economically depressed” parts of Russia.
Around the capital of Kyiv, where city officials estimate Russian forces have attacked and destroyed 10 homes, 12 schools, and six kindergartens since last month, local forces have pushed Russian troops farther back on the city outskirts, Ukrainian military leaders and Western intelligence officers said.
Despite the pushback, artillery fire and battles broke out in the northwestern suburbs of Kotsiubynske and Irpin.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, 294 civilians, including 15 children, have been killed since the war began, the regional police department said in a statement.
“People do not leave bomb shelters almost around the clock,” the statement said.
While arguing Ukraine’s show of force is evidence of “what [its] standards are capable of,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky implored NATO to increase its military aid, warning that a NATO member country could be next on Putin’s list.
“I am sure you already understand that Russia does not intend to stop in Ukraine,” he said via video at a summit in Brussels. “Does not intend and will not. [Russia] wants to go further. Against the eastern members of NATO. The Baltic states, Poland. That’s for sure.”
The Group of Seven leaders announced they have restricted the Russian Central Bank’s use of gold in transactions, while the United States announced another round of sanctions targeting more than 400 elites and members of the Russian State Duma.
Britain said it was sanctioning 65 more companies and individuals over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including Russia’s largest private bank and the stepdaughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Russian tycoons managed to claw back some of their money when the Moscow Exchange resumed partial trading Thursday after closing for nearly a month. Shares in Moscow climbed, with the benchmark MOEX Russia Index rising 12%. Despite only 33 stocks trading, wealthy Russians linked to them made $8.3 billion, according to an analysis by Bloomberg.
In addition to the sanctions, the markets were rocked by the uncertainty that accompanies displacement of large populations. Roughly half of the children in Ukraine have been forced to flee their homes since the invasion, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, which provides aid to children around the world.
“One month of war in Ukraine has led to the displacement of 4.3 million children — more than half of the country’s estimated 7.5 million child population,” it said in a Thursday statement.
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The number includes more than 1.8 million children who have crossed into neighboring countries as refugees and 2.5 million who are now internally displaced inside Ukraine. In all, estimates suggest 3.6 million people have left Ukraine, making the conflict one of Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crises since World War II.
“This is a grim milestone that could have lasting consequences for generations to come,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said in a statement.