Russia slaps sanctions on Ukraine in an attempt to curtail Western arms supplies

As the European Union attempted to punish Moscow for its war, it attacked targets in Ukraine with an attack on supply lines for western weapons and intensified the offensive in the east.

Russia slaps sanctions on Ukraine in an attempt to curtail Western arms supplies

As the European Union attempted to punish Moscow for its war, it attacked targets in Ukraine with an attack on supply lines for western weapons and intensified the offensive in the east.

Moscow's military claimed Wednesday that it used air- and sea-launched precision-guided missiles to demolish five electric power stations at Ukrainian railway stations. Artillery and aircraft also hit troop strongholds as well as fuel and ammunition depots.

According to the defense minister, Russian forces had blocked off Mariupol's steel mill. Hundreds of civilians were forced from their homes over the weekend. A second official said they weren't storming the plant as their defenders had stated a day before.

According to Ukrainian authorities, 21 civilians were killed in attacks on the eastern Donbas.

As Russia prepares for Victory Day, which marks the Soviet Union's defeat in Nazi Germany, the flurry of attacks has occurred over the past day. The world is closely watching to see if Russian President Vladimir Putin will declare a limited victory or expand on what he calls a special military operation to a larger war.

Putin could declare war and mobilise the reservists to replace troop losses that Western officials claim have occurred.

Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, dismissed Wednesday's speculation as "untrue” and "nonsense."

Belarus, which Russia used to attack areas in Ukraine, declared military drills. According to the Defense Ministry in Minsk, the exercises began Wednesday and are not threatening any neighboring countries. However, a top Ukrainian official stated that the country is ready to act if Belarus becomes involved in the fighting.

Although the Russians attacked a large area of Ukraine, they concentrated their attacks in Lviv, a western city near the Polish border, which has been a gateway to NATO-supplied weapons.

Late Tuesday night, explosions were heard in the city. The city has only seen sporadic attacks throughout the war and has been a refuge for civilians fleeing from the fighting elsewhere. According to the mayor, the strikes caused damage to three power substations. This knocked out electricity in some areas of the city as well as disrupting water supply. Two people were injured.

According to Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson, the attacks on the rail infrastructure were intended to stop the delivery of Western weapons. Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that his boss was telling top military brass that the West was "stuffing Ukraine" with weapons.

The influx of Western weapons into Ukraine has helped Russia's forces to blunt Russia's initial offensive. It seems certain that the battle for Donbas will be a pivotal part of the conflict. Moscow claims the Donbas is now its main focus after it failed to capture Kyiv in its early weeks.

Ukraine has asked the West to increase its weapons supply ahead of the potentially decisive battle. Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Wednesday that his government was considering providing Ukraine with howitzers in addition to Gepard antiaircraft guns and other equipment. This is a move that had been slow initially to arm Ukraine.

According to the governor of eastern Donetsk, which is located in the Donbass, Russian attacks killed 21 people on Tuesday. This is the highest number of fatalities since April 8, when a missile strike on the Kramatorsk railway station left at least 59 dead.

According to the British Defense Ministry, Russia has sent a large number of troops to the region. They appear to be trying to push in the north as they attempt to eliminate Ukrainian forces. Moscow's push was slow because Ukrainian fighters have been digging in and using long-range weapons against the Russians.

The United States and Europe have tried to punish Moscow by imposing sanctions on Moscow, in addition to providing weapons to Ukraine. On Wednesday, the EU's top diplomat called upon 27 nations to ban Russian oil imports.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, told the European Parliament in Strasbourg that she will ensure that Russian oil is phased out in a systematic manner that allows for alternative supply routes. This will minimize the impact on global markets.

These proposals require unanimous approval from EU members and will likely be the subject of intense debate. Hungary and Slovakia already stated that they will not participate in any oil sanctions. Von der Leyen did not elaborate on whether they would be exempted, though this seems likely.

Von der Leyen also suggested that Sberbank (Russia's largest bank) and two other banks be disassociated from SWIFT, the international banking payment system.

In one of the most important battles of war, Ukrainian fighters claimed that Russian forces stormed the Mariupol steel mill, which was the last pockets of resistance, on Tuesday. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, said Wednesday that this was false.

"There is no assault. "There is no assault." We can see that there are instances of escalation because the militants have taken up the firing positions. These attempts are being stopped very quickly," Peskov stated.

Shoigu, defense minister, stated that the Azovstal mill fighters were "securely blocked" within, while Russian forces continue their demand for their surrender, something they have repeatedly refused.

After weeks of shelling, many civilians were able to flee the underground tunnels of the plant over the weekend.

Although it is not clear how many Ukrainian fighters remain inside, the Russians have put the number at around 2,000 in recent weeks. 500 people were also reported to be injured. According to Iryna Vereshchuk, a few hundred civilians remained.

Officials expressed optimism that more people would be evacuated. Officials have not yet announced any rescues from the plant, but Vereshchuk stated Wednesday that authorities will continue to attempt to evacuate civilians from Mariupol or nearby areas if security conditions permit.

Osnat Lubrani (the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine) said that 101 people, including elderly women and 17 children aged 6 months, were able to escape from the steelworks bunkers to "see daylight after two months."

One evacuee claimed that she used to go to bed at the plant every night, afraid she would not wake up.

Elina Tsybulchenko, 54, said that it was hard to imagine how frightening it is when you are in a bomb shelter in a damp basement. It is shaking and bouncing. She arrived in Zaporizhzhia (a Ukrainian-controlled city) about 140 miles (230 km) northwest of Mariupol.

Mariupol, and in particular the plant, has become a symbol of the human misery caused by war. Two-month Russian siege on the strategically important port left civilians without food, water or heat. Moscow's forces then razed the city to ashes.

Falling the city would leave Ukraine without a crucial port and allow Russia to create a land corridor to Crimea Peninsula. Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 from Ukraine. This would also free up troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbas.

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This story has been updated in order to clarify that von der Leyen was speaking Strasbourg and not Brussels.

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Anna reported from Zaporizhzhia (Ukraine). This report was contributed by Yesica Fisch, Inna Varenytsia, David Keyton and Inna Varenytsia, Associated Press journalists in Zaporizhzhia and David Keyton, Kyiv, Yuras Karamanau in Lviv and Mstyslav Chernov, AP staff from around the globe.

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