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Live updates on the Russian-Ukrainian war: Odessa airport and news from Mariupol

Russia is calling in troops based in its Far East to join the battle in Ukraine, Ukraine’s military high command said on Saturday, as Moscow seeks to bolster its combat force amid heavy casualties and signs that its will to s seizing eastern Ukraine has stalled. .

Adding to a sense that both sides appeared to be preparing for a war of attrition, Ukrainians lined up at gas stations across the country on Saturday as the government struggled to deal with a fuel shortage caused by Russian attacks against oil infrastructure.

“Queues and rising prices at gas stations are observed in many regions of our country,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening speech on Friday. “The occupiers are deliberately destroying the fuel production, supply and storage infrastructure.”

He said a Russian blockade of Ukrainian seaports meant replacement stocks could not be brought in by tanker. The war has also crippled grain harvests in Ukraine, known as Europe’s breadbasket, disrupting global food supplies and deepening a food crisis in East Africa.

As Western allies have dumped more heavy weapons into Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland, the two NATO nations, have reached a deal that could presage the transfer of MIG-29 fighter jets to the Ukraine. Slovakia said Polish F-16 planes would patrol its skies, freeing up a Slovak fleet of Soviet-made MIGs.

After a meeting between the two countries’ defense ministers on Friday, Poland said its air force would begin patrols over Slovakia as part of their joint efforts to help Ukraine.

Credit…Marko Djurica/Reuters

Slovakia did not say explicitly that it would send its MIGs to Ukraine, but it raised the possibility of doing so, provided that it could find another way to protect its airspace, which the agreement with the Poland seems to achieve.

Poland last month refused to supply its own fleet of MIG-29s directly to Ukraine, offering instead to fly the planes to a US military base in Germany, where they could then be transported to Ukraine. . Washington, anxious to provoke Russia, declined the offer.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov claimed that the United States and the European Union, by supplying more powerful weapons to Ukraine, were fighting a proxy battle against Russia, whatever the cost in civilian lives.

The flow of weapons from the West, Lavrov said, had nothing to do with supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty, but rather enabling the United States and the European Union to fight Russia “to the last Ukrainian”.

Fuel shortages in Ukraine followed Russian attacks this week on Ukraine’s main producer of petroleum products and other major refineries. Russia said it also hit storage facilities for petroleum products used by the Ukrainian military.

A senior Pentagon official said these types of attacks were aimed at undermining the Ukrainian military’s ability to “resupply its own reserves and build up strength.”

In response, officials in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, have urged residents to use public transport rather than private vehicles to save fuel. “We must keep in mind the needs of the military and our defenders,” the city administration said.

The Kremlin’s deployment of troops from eastern Russia to the battlefront in Ukraine has suggested that Moscow may be trying to regain momentum in what the Pentagon has described as a ‘laborious’ offensive in the east from Ukraine.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

The Ukrainian military said the additional Russian forces were first sent to a Russian town near the Ukrainian border and then to the town of Izium in northeastern Ukraine, where the Russians encountered a fierce resistance. He did not specify how many soldiers were deployed.

Western analysts said Russia’s offensive in the east had slowed as it struggled to overcome many of the same logistical problems involving shipments of food, fuel, weapons and ammunition that have hampered the initial phase of its invasion more than two months ago.

On Saturday, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russia was trying to address issues that had limited its invasion by geographically concentrating combat power, shortening supply lines and simplifying command and control.

But Russia “still faces considerable challenges,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence update on the war. “He was forced to merge and redeploy depleted and disparate units from failed advances in northeastern Ukraine. Many of these units are probably suffering from low morale.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine has taken a heavy toll on both armies. The Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday its forces fired at 389 targets across Ukraine, including facilities housing soldiers, killing 120 Ukrainians.

Ukraine said its special forces hit a command center near Izium, destroying dozens of tanks and armored vehicles.

In a measure of the growing civilian toll, Ukrainian authorities said police had received more than 7,000 missing person reports since the invasion began on February 24, with half of the cases still unresolved.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Ukrainian officials called the figure “unprecedented in modern history” and called on allies to send forensic experts and specialists in the management of missing persons registers.

In a long-awaited but often frustrated development in Mariupol, the crumbling port in southern Ukraine occupied by Russian forces, around 20 women and children have been evacuated from the Azovstal steelworks where the last Ukrainian fighters of the city ​​were entrenched along with hundreds of increasingly desperate people. civilians.

The news, from Captain Svyatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment, came amid UN-backed efforts to broker a ceasefire to allow trapped civilians and Ukrainian fighters to escape from factory.

Captain Palamar said in a video posted on Telegram that an evacuation column had arrived in the evening to bring civilians to a safe place, adding that he hoped wounded soldiers would also be granted safe passage.

He did not provide further details, although Russian news agency TASS said a correspondent there had reported that 25 people, including six children, walked out of the factory. It was not immediately clear if they were free to seek refuge in Ukraine or if they were being held by Russian forces.

Nearly a million Ukrainians have been displaced from Ukraine to Russia, Lavrov said in an interview published by Chinese state media on Saturday. He called the moves voluntary “evacuations,” a claim that contradicts witnesses, Ukrainian officials and Western observers who said many Ukrainians were forcibly evicted.

Lavrov’s claim echoes Russian propaganda’s false claims that his forces are liberating ethnic Russians and others in Ukraine from what Russian President Vladimir V. Putin calls the “openly neo-Nazi” Ukrainian government.

Ukraine has argued that Russia is forcibly migrating its citizens, which is a war crime, to be used as leverage in any peace talks.

Credit…Andreï Borodulin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ukraine has also accused Russian forces of stealing cultural objects from occupied cities.

In Mariupol, city officials said Russian forces had taken more than 2,000 items – including icons, medals and works by Russian painters – from city museums in Donetsk, the capital of an eastern region controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

In the southern Ukrainian town of Melitopol, local officials say a mysterious man in a white coat used long tweezers and gloves to extract dozens of older gold artifacts 2,300 years old in cardboard boxes from a local museum, as a squad of Russian soldiers stood behind him with guns, watching expectantly. The objects came from the Scythian Empire and dated back to the 4th century BC.

“The orcs have taken our Scythian gold,” Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fyodorov said, using a pejorative term many Ukrainians reserve for Russian soldiers. “This is one of the largest and most expensive collections in Ukraine, and today we don’t know where they took it.”

A series of explosions inside Russia in recent weeks have also heightened concerns about the spread of war beyond Ukraine’s borders and triggered the first air raid siren on Russian soil since the Second World War.

Incidents include a Russian fuel depot that caught fire moments after surveillance video captured bright footage of rockets being fired from low-flying helicopters, and a fire that broke out at a military research institute near Moscow.

Russia has accused Ukraine of carrying out the helicopter attack, while military analysts have suggested Ukrainian sabotage was likely responsible for other fires. Ukraine responded with deliberate ambiguity.

Credit…Pavel Kolyadin/BelPressa, via Reuters

“We don’t confirm and we don’t deny,” said Oleksei Arestovych, adviser to Mr Zelensky’s chief of staff, in an interview.

Mr. Arestovych described the policy as a strategic position, and he compared it to Israel’s longstanding policy of ambiguity on nuclear weapons, another issue of extraordinary geopolitical sensitivity.

“After what happened,” he said, “officially, we don’t say yes and we don’t say no, just like Israel.”

The report was provided by Steven Erlanger, Andre Higgins, Maria Varenikova, Jean Ismay, david phillips, Valeriya Safronova, Lauren McCarthy, victoria kim, Christian Triebert, Alexander Koroleva, Andrew E. Kramer, Jeffrey Gettleman, Michael Schwirtz and Christine Hauser.