Fully Locked-down Kyiv Braces for a New Wave of Russian Attacks

Following a week in which the Russians made no advances on the ground, intelligence assessments assert Russian troops are preparing a second major offensive, including a renewed attempt to encircle Ukraine's capital

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Retroville shopping mall in Kyiv after being hit by a missile on Monday
Retroville shopping mall in Kyiv after being hit by a missile on MondayCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

KYIV – A full curfew was announced for 35 hours Monday night in Kyiv to allow the Ukrainian army to continue counterattacking and to prepare for renewed efforts by the Russian army to achieve its invasion objectives.

The Ukrainians believe a new Russian offensive is imminent and that the short lull in their attacks around Kyiv was for regrouping. On Saturday afternoon, rocket attacks began again on the Ukrainian capital, especially on the western side of the city, after a break of just over 48 hours.

Among the targets of the Russian strikes was the Sviatoshyn neighborhood, where a small airfield, the closest airstrip to central Kyiv, is situated. It began taking hits on Sunday afternoon. In another strike, a salvo of Grad rockets hit a large shopping mall in the Podyl area, where at least eight people were killed. The Retroville Mall was badly damaged.

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Local citizens claimed that the people killed were in a bakery near the mall, but according to a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry, they were soldiers and the mall was targeted because of Ukrainian military vehicles based there.

Footage of the mall does indeed show military trucks parked there on an underground level, but it is unclear when the images were taken (Ukrainian officials claim it was last month).

Remains of a residential building in Kyiv after being hit by missile on MondayCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

On Monday morning, a Ukrainian artillery battery about a kilometer (0.6 miles) north of the mall fired a salvo of rockets at Russian positions to the west. According to Ukrainian military sources, armored Russian forces are situated about 25 kilometers from the center of Kyiv, but based on the trajectory of the Ukrainian rockets, they appear to be much closer.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry announced Saturday that its forces had launched counterattacks in recent days, particularly around Kyiv. On Monday, they reported the recapture of Makariv, a small town about 60 kilometers west of Kyiv, which has changed hands a number of times over the past three weeks. If true, the Ukrainian advance is significant as it reopens the road between Kyiv and Zhytomyr to the west, and beyond to Lviv and the Polish border.

Ukrainian authorities claim that the 35-hour curfew order issued by Kyiv Mayor Vitali Kllitschko and in effect until Wednesday morning is for “operational reasons.” According to security officials who spoke with Haaretz, the main reason is intelligence assessments that, following about a week in which the Russians made no advances on the ground, they are preparing to begin a second major offensive at any moment on all fronts, including a renewed attempt to encircle Kyiv.

Cars destroyed by a missile strike on a residential building in Kyiv on MondayCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Another Russian objective could be the city of Odessa, which would be attacked by naval forces landing on the Black Sea coast. On Monday, Russian warships were seen off Odessa and Ukrainian coastal batteries opened fire on them.

Another cause for Ukrainian concern is the improving weather conditions that will make it easier for the Russian military to operate at sea – and on land, where until now their armored vehicles found it difficult to maneuver off-road in the deep mud and therefore remained exposed to Ukrainian anti-tank ambushes.

In the air as well, there is an increase of Russian activity, with 300 sorties reported to have taken place in Ukrainian airspace over a 24-hour period on Sunday. From the videos released by the Russian Defense Ministry of the attack on the Retroville Mall, it seems that their surveillance drones are operating freely over the capital, despite the efforts by Ukrainian aerial defense to intercept them.

According to the Wall Street Journal, those air-defense units are set to receive a significant boost within days, with the United States about to supply Ukraine with batteries of Russian-made S-300 missiles purchased from an unknown source. The S-300 is capable of tracking and shooting down multiple targets simultaneously, including aircraft, drones and ballistic missiles.

Soldiers walk around bombarded buildings in Kyiv on MondayCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Beyond Ukrainian concern for Russian advances on Kyiv and Odessa, the main worry right now is for the city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, where 400,000 residents have been under intense artillery fire for more than three weeks now. On Sunday night, the Russians issued an ultimatum to the Ukrainian defenders to surrender and be granted safe passage out of town. The Ukrainians did not respond.

Government sources in Kyiv voiced concern that if Mariupol falls to the Russians, it would have an adverse effect on the national morale and on public opinion, which is now squarely behind the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the management of the war crisis so far.

Another city that could be in for a pounding from Russian artillery is Mykolaiv, which is seen as the key to taking the Black Sea coast. On Friday, a Ukrainian base near the city was hit by a Russian hypersonic missile that killed at least 50 soldiers. On the ground, however, the Ukrainians are gaining and on Monday they recaptured two villages to the north of the city.

Mediation efforts

There isn’t much optimism right now in Kyiv regarding the prospects of various mediation attempts, including those of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. The assumption is that they serve Russian President Vladimir Putin's interest by deflecting attention away from his army’s operational failures and the civilian casualties it is inflicting.

But when asked by Haaretz about Bennett’s diplomatic initiative, a senior Ukrainian official said, “We are happy with anyone who tries. I hope it succeeds.”

In recent days, the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem has been planning a possible visit by Bennett to Kyiv for a meeting with President Zelenskyy to discuss a potential cease-fire agreement. If the visit indeed takes place, Bennett will not be the first prime minister to meet Zelenskyy in Kyiv since the war began. Last week, the Ukrainian president hosted the prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, who made their way to Kyiv by train from Lviv, as Ukrainian airspace is closed. The Ukrainian national railway is keeping the country running by transporting evacuees and a large proportion of supplies, in addition to getting wounded soldiers away from the front lines. The management of the railroad company is working according to an emergency plan that includes having senior executives continuously on the move, dispersed on various trains.

United Nations aid organizations have so far reported the deaths of 925 Ukrainian civilians in 26 days of fighting, although the actual number is almost certainly much higher. Ukrainian authorities believe that in Mariupol alone, thousands have been killed by Russian bombardments.

About 3.5 million civilians have fled the country, becoming refugees, and about 7 million are currently displaced inside of Ukraine. In total, around a quarter of Ukraine’s population has so far been uprooted from their homes by the war.

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