MARIUPOL, Ukraine (AP) – New satellite photos appear to show that a massive convoy outside the Ukrainian capital has split and spread through towns and forests near Kiev, with parts of artillery raised into firing position in a potentially disturbing move by the Russian military.
The photos emerged amid international efforts to isolate and sanction Russia, particularly after a deadly airstrike on a maternity hospital in the port city of Mariupol that Western and Ukrainian officials decried as a war crime. The United States and other nations were set to announce on Friday the revocation of Russia’s “most favored nation” trade status, which would allow tariffs to be imposed on Russian imports.
Sanctioned Russia continued its bombardment of Mariupol as Kiev prepared for an assault, its mayor boasting that the capital had become virtually a fortress protected by armed civilians.
Satellite images from Maxar Technologies showed a 40-mile (64 kilometer) convoy of vehicles, tanks and artillery broke up and redeployed, the company said. Armored units were seen in towns near Antonov Airport north of the city. Some of the vehicles moved into the forests, Maxar reported, with howitzers towed nearby in position to open fire.
The convoy had massed outside the city early last week, but its advance appeared to stall as reports of food and fuel shortages circulated. US officials said Ukrainian troops also targeted the convoy with anti-tank missiles.
Still, the imminence of the threat against Kyiv was unclear. A US defense official speaking on condition of anonymity said Russian forces heading towards Kiev had advanced about 5 kilometers (about 3 miles) in the past 24 hours, with some elements as close as 15 kilometers (about 9 miles) from the city.
The official gave no indication that the convoy had dispersed or repositioned significantly, saying some vehicles had been seen running off the road into the tree line in recent days.
In Mariupol, a southern seaport of 430,000 people, the situation grew increasingly dire as civilians trapped inside the city searched for food and fuel. More than 1,300 people died in the 10-day siege of the freezing city, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
Residents have no heating or telephones, and many have no electricity. Nighttime temperatures are regularly below freezing, and daytime temperatures are normally just above freezing. The bodies are buried in mass graves. The streets are littered with burnt-out cars, shattered glass and splintered trees.
“They have a clear order to hold Mariupol hostage, mock him, bomb him and bomb him constantly,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation. He said the Russians launched a tank attack where there was supposed to be a humanitarian corridor.
On Thursday, firefighters tried to free a boy trapped in the rubble. One grabbed the boy’s hand. His eyes were blinking, but he was otherwise still. It was unclear if he survived. Not far away, near a mutilated truck, a woman wrapped in a blue blanket shivered at the sound of an explosion.
Grocery stores and pharmacies were emptied days ago by people who broke in to stock up, according to local Red Cross official Sacha Volkov. A black market operates for vegetables, meat is unavailable and people steal gasoline from cars, Volkov said.
Places safe from shelling are hard to find, with basements reserved for women and children, he said. The locals, Volkov said, are turning on each other: “People started attacking each other for food.”
An exhausted-looking Aleksander Ivanov pulled a cart loaded with bags down a deserted street lined with damaged buildings.
“I no longer have a home. That’s why I’m moving,” he said. ” It does not exist anymore. He was hit by a mortar.
Repeated attempts to send food and medicine and evacuate civilians have been thwarted by Russian shelling, Ukrainian authorities said.
“They want to destroy the people of Mariupol. They want to starve them to death,” Vereshchuk said. “It’s a war crime.
The number of refugees fleeing the country has exceeded 2.3 million and some 100,000 people have been evacuated in the past two days from seven Russian-blockaded towns in the north and center of the country, including the suburbs of Kiev, said Zelenskyy.
Zelenskyy told Russian leaders that the invasion would backfire as their economy was strangled. Western sanctions have already dealt a severe blow, causing the ruble to fall, foreign companies to flee and prices to rise sharply.
“You will definitely be prosecuted for complicity in war crimes,” Zelenskyy said in a video address, warning that “you will be hated by Russian citizens.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the remarks, saying the country had already suffered sanctions.
“We will overcome them,” he told a televised meeting of government officials. He acknowledged, however, that the sanctions create “certain challenges”.
In addition to those who have fled the country, millions of people have been driven from their homes inside Ukraine. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said around 2 million people, half the metropolitan region’s population, have left the capital.
“Every street, every house…is fortified,” he said. “Even people who in their life never intended to change their clothes, now they are in uniform with machine guns in their hands.”
A 14-year-old girl named Katya was recovering in the central district hospital in Brovary on the outskirts of Kiev on Thursday after her family was ambushed as she tried to flee the area. She was shot in the hand when their car was raked by gunfire from a roadside forest, said her mother, who identified herself only as Nina.
The girl’s father, who drove frantically from the ambush on flat tires, underwent surgery. His wife said he had been shot in the head and had two fingers blown off.
Western officials said Russian forces had made little progress on the ground in recent days and were seeing heavier casualties and firmer Ukrainian resistance than Moscow had apparently expected. But Putin’s forces used air power and artillery to strike Ukrainian cities.
Early in the day, the Mariupol City Council released a video showing a convoy it said was bringing food and medicine. But as night fell, it was unclear whether those buses had reached the city.
A child was among three people killed in the hospital airstrike on Wednesday. Seventeen people were also injured, including women waiting to give birth, doctors and children buried in the rubble. Images of the attack, with pregnant women covered in dust and blood, dominated news reports in many countries.
French President Emmanuel Macron called the attack “a shameful and immoral act of war”. UK Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said whether the hospital was hit by indiscriminate fire or deliberately targeted, “it is a war crime”.
US Vice President Kamala Harris, during a visit to Ukraine’s neighboring Poland, backed calls for an international investigation into war crimes in the invasion, saying: “The eyes of the world are on this war and what Russia has done in terms of this aggression and these atrocities.
Associated Press reporters Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and Felipe Dana and Andrew Drake in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed along with other reporters from around the world.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine