Pentagon says Russia may be trying to disable Ukraine rail system

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The Kremlin is carrying out strikes on infrastructure that is critical to Ukraine’s efforts to resupply its forces in their defense against Russia’s invasion, Ukrainian officials and the Pentagon said Wednesday.

A senior US defense official, speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, said Ukraine is still able to move weapons through the country.

Russia’s targets on Tuesday and Wednesday included electrical substations, a railroad facility and a bridge in two major cities in western and central Ukraine. Strikes on Tuesday night caused severe damage at three electrical substations in Lviv, a critical hub for assistance entering the country from Eastern Europe, delaying trains and wiping out power for about a quarter of a million people.

“It was a deliberate blow to supply chains,” Lviv’s regional governor, Maksym Kozytskyy, said in a statement.

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The head of Ukrainian railways reported Wednesday night that fresh attacks had targeted a railroad facility and a bridge in the populous central city of Dnipro. Video verified by The Washington Post showed explosions on a bridge in the city’s center that appears to be used by both cars and trains. Dnipro Mayor Borys Filatov reported shelling in the area and warned residents to seek shelter.

“Today, the Russian invaders launched another missile strike at our cities,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly video address. “At Dnipro, Mykolaiv, Odessa, Zaporizhzhia. At the cities of Donbas and other regions of our country. All these crimes will get proper answers. Both legal and quite practical — on the battlefield.”

Ukrainian economists said this week that the country has suffered up to $600 billion in economic losses from Russia’s invasion — including $92 billion in damage to hundreds of factories, medical facilities, schools, bridges, religious facilities, cars and warehouses and other infrastructure.

As the war reached the 10-week mark, Oleksandr Pavliuk, head of the Kyiv Regional Military Administration, said on Telegram that investigators have discovered more bodies with signs of torture in the village of Kalynivka, about 20 miles southwest of the capital.

Kyiv regional police chief Andriy Nebytov said that as of Wednesday, his police had “identified and examined” 1,235 bodies of civilians killed by Russian forces in the region.

A different grim scene was emerging Wednesday in the shattered southern port city of Mariupol, where Ukrainian officials said heavy fighting had engulfed the Azovstal steel plant a day after a United Nations-led humanitarian convoy evacuated more than 150 civilians from underground shelters there.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said Wednesday that Russian troops were using tanks and heavy bombs to strike at the remaining Ukrainian forces inside the complex, who could no longer communicate with him.

“Unfortunately today the connection with the boys broke off. There is no connection to understand what is happening, whether or not they are safe,” Boychenko said.

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Ukrainian officials also said Russian forces were forcing residents who remained in Mariupol — who Boychenko said number more than 100,000 — to help clear debris elsewhere in the city, in preparation for a parade next week. The parade on May 9 would be in celebration of Russia’s Victory Day holiday, which commemorates the Soviet Union’s role in defeating the Nazis at the end of World War II.

“To this end, the city is urgently cleaning the central streets of debris, the bodies of killed and unexploded ordnance,” Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency said Wednesday.

Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor, said residents were being forced to clear the rubble “in exchange for food.” His claims of him could not be independently verified.

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To Russians at home, Putin has cast his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as a response to a revived Nazi threat, a claim not supported by facts. Analysts have speculated that Putin might use the Victory Day holiday to officially declare war on Ukraine, a suggestion that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed Wednesday as “nonsense.”

Peskov, who spoke at a news conference, also told reporters that peace negotiations with Ukraine are at an impasse, and blamed Kyiv. “They change their position every day,” he said. “This does not inspire confidence that this negotiation process can somehow end successfully.”

Ukraine, too, has said the talks are in danger of collapsing, and that the countries have held no face-to-face discussions since March.

In Luhansk on Wednesday, Serhiy Haidai, the regional governor, said the cities of Popasna, Rubizhne and Severodonetsk have seen intensified Russian shelling in recent days that left at least two people dead. Hadai wrote on Telegram that about 50,000 people were in need of evacuation, with water and electricity badly disrupted.

But evacuations are not possible amid the fighting, he said.

Russian media, meanwhile, reported that Ukrainian shelling had set fire to four large tanks at an oil depot in the neighboring Donetsk region, in an area under the control of Russian-backed separatists. One person was reported killed in the incident.

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Belarus, the Kremlin’s major ally on Ukraine’s northern border, announced it had launched large-scale drills to test the readiness of its armed forces to respond quickly to “possible crises” from the air and ground.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the training exercise would not “pose any threat to the European community as a whole or to neighboring countries in particular.”

US defense officials said they saw no sign that Belarus was planning to enter the war, but Ukrainian officials were more wary. Andriy Demchenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s state border guard service, said the border with Belarus was “constantly being strengthened.”

“We do not rule out that the territory of Belarus could be used at some point… against Ukraine,” he said. “So we are ready.”

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Putin, allowed Russian troops to assemble and conduct military drills in the Eastern European country in the run-up to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. And a large contingent of Russia’s invasion force crossed into Ukraine from Belarus.

Also Wednesday, Pope Francis issued a stinging criticism of the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, telling an Italian newspaper that he had warned Patriarch Kirill earlier this spring not to be “Putin’s altar boy.”

The populations of both Russia and Ukraine are majority Orthodox.

In a Tuesday interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Francis said that during a meeting over Zoom on March 16, Kirill read from a sheet of paper to list the justifications for Russia’s invasion.

“Brother, we are not state clerics,” Francis recalled telling Kirill. “We cannot use the language of politics but that of Jesus. We are pastors of the same holy people of God. Because of this, we must seek avenues of peace, to put an end to the firing of weapons.”

Allam reported from Lviv, Ukraine. David Stern in Muchakevo, Ukraine; Dalton Bennett, Karoun Demirjian, Reis Thebault, and Herman Wong in Washington; Amar Nadhir in Bucharest; Bryan Pietsch in Seoul; and Ellen Francis and Adela Suliman in London contributed to this report.

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