The latest details about Russia’s attack on Ukraine:

Russia’s ‘poor planning’ to blame for slowed advance in Ukraine

1:12 p.m. EST March 11

Despite a large, well-equipped force, Russia is making a lot less progress in Ukraine than was expected.

The first issue, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters Friday, is that Russia’s intelligence gathering didn’t account for how much resistance they would meet once they invaded.

Then there’s the issue of their training and experience.

“We don’t believe that they have properly planned/executed to logistics and sustainment of an expeditionary force,” the official said, nor do they coordinate their ground and air operations.

The U.S. military places a major emphasis on integrating capabilities across the services, so that infantry, amor, artillery, air support and any other measures are all working toward the same objective and supporting each other’s efforts. Russia doesn’t do it that way.

“What you’re seeing is poor planning running up against actual execution,” the official said, adding that they appear to be working through some of their challenges in real time.

Another stark reality is that, though they have a huge number of forces and plenty of high-tech equipment, they aren’t necessarily good at operating it.

“It doesn’t appear, again, from our perch, that they have developed the proper operational concepts to use these modern capabilities,” the official said.

Nowhere has that been more clear than in a miles-long column of vehicles that has been at a near stand-still for almost two weeks.

At times believed to be an advance force heading to Kyiv, then a re-supply effort for troops already outside the city, the senior defense official confirmed that what’s left of it has started spreading out.

“They’re not going anywhere. It’s not like they’re off-roading their way to Kiev, but we believe they’ve moved off into tree lines to try to better disguise the vehicles because again, the Ukrainians continue to find ways to attack vehicles,” the official saidl “So we believe they did this as a force protection measure and not as some tactical move to advance the convoy’s progress.”

Finnish leader urges ceasefire in Putin call

9:14 a.m. EST March 11

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Finnish President Sauli Niinistö spoke in a phone call Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the war in Ukraine.

Niinistö's office said in a statement that he informed Putin that he, earlier in the day, had a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and that Zelenskyy was prepared to talk directly with Putin.

The statement said Niinistö called for an immediate ceasefire and the safe evacuation of civilians, but also spoke to Putin about the security of nuclear energy facilities in Ukraine.

Niinisto is one of the few Western leaders who has kept a regular dialogue with Putin ever since the Finnish leader took office in 2012.

Massive convoy near Kyiv splits up, satellite images show

9:05 p.m. EST March 10

Russian forces kept up their bombardment of the port city of Mariupol on Thursday, while satellite photos showed that a massive Kremlin convoy that had been mired outside the Ukrainian capital split up and fanned out into towns and forests near Kyiv, with artillery pieces moved into firing positions.

International condemnation escalated over an airstrike in Mariupol a day earlier that killed three people at a maternity hospital. Western and Ukrainian officials called the attack a war crime. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Russian refusal to permit evacuations from the port city amounted to “outright terror.”

Meanwhile, the highest-level talks held since the invasion began two weeks ago yielded no progress, the number of refugees fleeing the country topped 2.3 million, and Kyiv braced for an onslaught, its mayor boasting that the capital had become practically a fortress protected by armed civilians.

Satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies showed that 40-mile (64-kilometer) convoy of vehicles, tanks and artillery has broken up and been redeployed, the company said. Armored units were seen in towns near the Antonov Airport north of the city. Some of the vehicles have moved into forests, Maxar reported, with towed howitzers nearby in position to open fire.

The convoy had massed outside the city early last week, but its advance appeared to have stalled amid reports of food and fuel shortages. U.S. officials said Ukrainian troops also targeted the convoy with anti-tank missiles.

A U.S. defense official speaking on condition of anonymity said some vehicles were seen moving off the road into the tree line in recent days, but the official could not confirm whether the convoy had dispersed.

In Mariupol, a southern seaport of 430,000, the situation was increasingly dire as civilians trapped inside the city desperately scrounged for food and fuel. More than 1,300 people have died in the 10-day siege of the frigid city, according to Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.

Residents of the southern seaport of 430,000 have no heat or phone service, and many have no electricity. Nighttime temperatures are regularly below freezing, and daytime ones normally hover just above it. Bodies are being buried in mass graves. The streets are littered with burned-out cars, broken glass and splintered trees.

“They have a clear order to hold Mariupol hostage, to mock it, to constantly bomb and shell it,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation. He said the Russians began a tank attack right where there was supposed to be a humanitarian corridor.

On Thursday, firefighters tried to free a boy trapped in the rubble. One grasped the boy’s hand. His eyes blinked, but he was otherwise still. It was not clear if he survived. Nearby, at a mangled truck, a woman wrapped in a blue blanket shuddered at the sound of an explosion.

Grocery stores and pharmacies were emptied days ago by people breaking in to get supplies, according to a local official with the Red Cross, Sacha Volkov. A black market is operating for vegetables, meat is unavailable, and people are stealing gasoline from cars, Volkov said.

Places protected from bombings are hard to find, with basements reserved for women and children, he said. Residents, Volkov said, are turning on one another: “People started to attack each other for food.”

The local fire department and the city’s State Technical University were bombed.

An exhausted-looking Aleksander Ivanov pulled a cart loaded with bags down an empty street flanked by damaged buildings.

“I don’t have a home anymore. That’s why I’m moving,” he said. “It doesn’t exist anymore. It was hit, by a mortar.”

Repeated attempts to send in 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 make them starve,” Vereshchuk said. “It’s a war crime.”

All told, some 100,000 people have been evacuated during the past two days from seven cities under Russian blockade in the north and center of the country, including the Kyiv suburbs, Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy told Russian leaders that the invasion will backfire on them as their economy is strangled. Western sanctions have already dealt a severe blow, causing the ruble to plunge, foreign businesses to flee and prices to rise sharply.

“You will definitely be prosecuted for complicity in war crimes,” Zelenskyy said in a video address. “And then, it will definitely happen, you will be hated by Russian citizens — everyone whom you have been deceiving constantly, daily, for many years in a row, when they feel the consequences of your lies in their wallets, in their shrinking possibilities, in the stolen future of Russian children.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed such talk, saying the country has endured sanctions before.

″We will overcome them,” he said at a televised meeting of government officials. He did, however, acknowledge the sanctions create “certain challenges.”

In addition to those who have fled the country, millions have been driven from their homes inside Ukraine. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said about 2 million people — half the population of the metropolitan area — have left the capital.

“Every street, every house … is being fortified,” he said. “Even people who in their lives never intended to change their clothes, now they are in uniform with machine guns in their hands.”

On Thursday, a 14-year-old girl named Katya was recovering at the Brovary Central District Hospital on the outskirts of Kyiv after her family was ambushed as they tried to flee the area. She was shot in the hand when their car was raked with 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 blown-out tires, underwent surgery. His wife said he had been shot in the head and had two fingers blown off.

Western officials said Russian forces have made little progress on the ground in recent days and are seeing heavier losses and stiffer Ukrainian resistance than Moscow apparently anticipated. But Putin’s forces have used air power and artillery to pummel Ukraine’s cities.

Early in the day, the Mariupol city council posted a video showing a convoy it said was bringing in food and medicine. But as night fell, it was unclear if those buses had reached the city.

A child was among those killed in the hospital airstrike Wednesday. Seventeen people were also wounded, 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.” Britain’s Armed Forces minister, James Heappey, said that whether the hospital was hit by indiscriminate fire or deliberately targeted, “it is a war crime.”

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, on a visit to Ukraine’s neighbor Poland, backed calls for an international war-crimes investigation into 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.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed concerns about civilian casualties as “pathetic shrieks” from Russia’s enemies, and denied Ukraine had even been invaded.

Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, held talks in a Turkish resort in their first meeting since the invasion.

The two sides discussed a 24-hour cease-fire but made no progress, Kuleba said. He said Russia still wanted Ukraine to surrender but insisted that will not happen.

Lavrov said Russia is ready for more negotiations, but he showed no sign of softening Moscow’s demands.

Russia has alleged that Western-looking, U.S.-backed Ukraine poses a threat to its security. Western officials suspect Putin wants to install a government friendly to Moscow in Kyiv as part of an effort to draw the former Soviet state back into its orbit.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, 91-year-old Alevtina Shernina sat wrapped in a blanket, an electric heater at her feet, as cold air blew in through a damaged window. She survived the brutal World War II siege of Leningrad, now St. Petersburg.

Her daughter-in-law Natalia said she was angry that Shernina “began her life in Leningrad under the siege as a girl who was starving, who lived in cold and hunger, and she’s ending her life” in similar circumstances.

“There were fascists there and there are fascists here who came and bombed our buildings and windows,” she said.

Associated Press journalists Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and Felipe Dana and Andrew Drake in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed along with other reporters around the world.

US misjudged Ukraine’s will to fight Russia, officials admit

4:15 p.m. EST March 10

Top U.S. intelligence officials admitted Thursday that they underestimated Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against Russia’s invasion, a mistake for intelligence agencies that have otherwise been lauded for accurately predicting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intention to launch a war.

“My view was that, based on a variety of factors, that the Ukrainians were not as ready as I thought they should be,” said Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. “Therefore, I questioned their will to fight. That was a bad assessment on my part because they have fought bravely and honorably and are doing the right thing.”

The White House has faced Republican criticism that it isn’t providing enough weapons or intelligence to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The Biden administration is currently opposed to a Polish plan to donate old Russian-made warplanes to Ukraine, out of concern that Putin may view that as an escalation by the U.S. or NATO.

Berrier testified alongside other top officials before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Generally, U.S. intelligence agencies have won praise from lawmakers of both political parties for their handling of the crisis.

Much of the hearing focused on the unprecedented U.S. campaign to declassify intelligence about alleged attempts by Russia to create a fake pretext for its invasion. Even though Putin ordered the invasion anyway, lawmakers say the campaign helped develop support for sanctions that have crippled Russia’s economy and pushed previously reluctant Western countries to give military aid to Ukraine.

Two weeks into its invasion, Russia has failed to win control of Ukraine’s airspace or subdue the capital of Kyiv or other major cities. But the war has had devastating consequences already: An airstrike hitting a maternity hospital, attacks on nuclear plants, and more than 2 million refugees having already fled the country with accounts of possible war crimes.

There’s no sign Putin intends to de-escalate. Russian propaganda outlets in recent days have promoted false theories that the U.S. and Ukraine are developing chemical weapons. The White House in turn has warned Russia is setting the pretext for its own chemical or biological attack.

Berrier, who leads the Pentagon’s primary intelligence arm, said at Thursday’s hearing that just as Putin appeared to have misjudged his army’s ability to subdue Ukraine’s much smaller armed forces, so did the U.S.

“We made some assumptions about his assumptions, which proved to be very, very flawed,” said Berrier. “I think assessing will, morale, and a will to fight is a very difficult analytical task. We had different inputs from different organizations and we — at least from my perspective as the director — I did not do as well as I could have.”

Berrier’s admission follows another misjudgment in Afghanistan, whose U.S-backed government collapsed far more quickly to the Taliban than Washington expected. Officials believed the Afghan forces — long trained and funded by the U.S. — could hold out for potentially months after the American withdrawal. Instead, lacking U.S. air power and intelligence support, Afghan forces gave up many cities without a fight last summer.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said that Putin had underestimated the resistance he would face from the Ukrainians. But Haines added: “We did not do as well in terms of predicting the military challenges that he has encountered with his own military.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who questioned Berrier and Haines, noted that assessing a foreign military’s will to fight was particularly difficult.

“But these mistakes had potentially real-world policy implications about the willingness of the president or other NATO leaders to provide weapons that they thought might have fallen into the hands of Russians in a matter of hours,” he said.

Cotton and several other Republicans on the intelligence committee criticized the Biden administration’s current refusal to support a Polish plan to donate Russian-made warplanes to Ukraine. Biden administration officials have warned that Putin might view that as an escalation of the conflict. They say planes would go beyond the weapons the Pentagon and Western allies have already given Ukraine, including anti-tank systems and surface-to-air missiles to shoot down Russian aircraft.

Asked if the White House was pressuring analysts to assess that the transfer of planes would be seen as escalatory, Haines responded that objectivity was a “core ethic” of intelligence.

-Nomaan Merchant, The Associated Press

Putin dismisses backlash

12:25 p.m. EST March 10

A Russian airstrike on a Mariupol maternity hospital that killed three people brought condemnation down on Moscow on Thursday, with Ukrainian and Western officials branding it a war crime, while the highest-level talks yet yielded no progress toward stopping the fighting.

Emergency workers renewed efforts to get food and medical supplies into besieged cities and get traumatized civilians out.

Ukrainian authorities said a child was among the dead in Wednesday’s airstrike in the vital southern port of Mariupol. Seventeen people were also wounded, including women waiting to give birth, doctors, and children buried in the rubble.

Images of pregnant women covered in dust and blood dominated news reports in many countries and brought a new wave of horror over the 2-week-old war sparked by Russia’s invasion, which has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians, shaken the foundations of European security and driven more than 2.3 million people from Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Russian leaders that the invasion will backfire on them as their economy is strangled. Western sanctions have already dealt a severe blow to the economy, causing the ruble to plunge, foreign businesses to flee — including, on Thursday, investment bank Goldman Sachs — and prices to rise sharply.

“You will definitely be prosecuted for complicity in war crimes,” Zelenskyy said in a video address. “And then, it will definitely happen, you will be hated by Russian citizens — everyone whom you have been deceiving constantly, daily, for many years in a row, when they feel the consequences of your lies in their wallets, in their shrinking possibilities, in the stolen future of Russian children.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed such talk, saying the country has endured sanctions before.

″Just as we overcame these difficulties in the previous years, we will overcome them now,” he said at a televised meeting of government officials. He did, however, acknowledge the sanctions create “certain challenges.”

Millions more have been displaced inside Ukraine. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said about 2 million people — half the population of the metropolitan area — have left the capital, which has become practically a fortress.

“Every street, every house … is being fortified,” he said. “Even people who in their lives never intended to change their clothes, now they are in uniform with machine guns in their hands.”

Bombs fell on two hospitals in a city west of Kyiv on Wednesday, its mayor said. The World Health Organization said it has confirmed 18 attacks on medical facilities since the invasion began.

Western officials said Russian forces have made little progress on the ground in recent days. But they have intensified the bombardment of Mariupol and other cities, trapping hundreds of thousands of people, with food and water running short.

Staff at one hospital on the outskirts of Kyiv say they’ve never seen anything like the flood of often-badly injured patients streaming through their doors. Many are civilians.

At a hospital on the outskirts of Kyiv, a 14-year-old girl named Katya was recovering Thursday after her family was ambushed as they tried to flee the area. She was shot in the hand when their car was raked with 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 blown-out tires, was in surgery at the Brovary Central District Hospital. His wife said he had been shot in the head and had two fingers blown off.

Temporary cease-fires to allow evacuations and humanitarian aid have repeatedly faltered, with Ukraine accusing Russia of continuing its bombardments. But Zelenskyy said 35,000 people managed to get out on Wednesday from several besieged towns, and more efforts were underway on Thursday in eastern and southern Ukraine — including Mariupol — as well as in the Kyiv suburbs.

The Mariupol city council posted a video showing buses driving down a highway. It said a convoy bringing food and medicine was on the way despite several days of thwarted efforts to reach the city.

“Everyone is working to get help to the people of Mariupol. And it will come,” said Mayor Vadym Boychenko.

Images from the city, where hundreds have died and workers hurried to bury bodies in a mass grave, have drawn condemnation from around the world. Residents have resorted to breaking into stores for food and melting snow for water. The city has been without heat for days as nighttime temperatures fall below freezing and daytime ones hover just above it.

“The only thing (I want) is for this to be finished,” Volodymyr Bykovskyi said as he stood by a freshly dug trench where bodies were being buried. “I don’t know who’s guilty, who’s right, who started this. Damn them all, those people who started this!”

When the series of blasts hit the children’s and maternity hospital in Mariupol, the ground shook more than a mile away. Explosions blew out windows and ripped away much of the front of one building. Police and soldiers rushed to the scene to evacuate victims, carrying a bleeding woman with a swollen belly on a stretcher past burning and mangled cars. Another woman wailed as she clutched her child.

Britain’s Armed Forces minister, James Heappey, said that whether the hospital was hit by indiscriminate fire or deliberately targeted, “it is a war crime.” French President Emmanuel Macron called it “a shameful and immoral act of war.”

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, on a visit to Ukraine’s neighbor Poland, backed calls for an international war-crimes investigation into 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.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed concerns about civilian casualties as “pathetic shrieks” from Russia’s enemies, and denied Moscow had even invaded.

He also claimed without providing evidence that the Mariupol hospital had been seized by far-right radical fighters who were using it as a base — despite the fact that photographs from the aftermath showed pregnant women and children at the site.

“We have not invaded Ukraine,” he insisted.

Several rounds of talks have not stopped the fighting, and a meeting in a Turkish Mediterranean resort between Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, failed to find much common ground.

In their highest-level talks since the war began, the two sides discussed a 24-hour cease-fire but did not make progress, Kuleba said. He said Russia was still seeking “surrender from Ukraine.”

“This is not what they are going to get,” he said, adding that he was willing to continue the dialogue.

Lavrov said Russia was ready for more negotiations but showed no sign of softening Moscow’s demands.

Russia has alleged that Western-looking, U.S.-backed Ukraine poses a threat to its security. Western officials suspect Putin wants to install a government friendly to Moscow in Kyiv as part of an effort to draw the former Soviet state back into its orbit.

Russia’s military is struggling, facing heavier losses and stronger Ukrainian resistance than it apparently anticipated. But Putin’s forces have used airpower to pummel key cities, often shelling populated areas.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, 91-year-old Alevtina Shernina sat wrapped in a blanket, an electric heater at her feet, as cold air blew in through a damaged window. She survived the brutal World War II siege of Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, and is now under siege again, her health too fragile to be moved.

Her daughter-in-law Natalia said she was angry that Shernina “began her life in Leningrad under the siege as a girl who was starving, who lived in cold and hunger, and she’s ending her life” in similar circumstances.

“There were fascists there and there are fascists here who came and bombed our buildings and windows,” she said.

-Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka,The Associated Press. Associated Press journalists Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and Felipe Dana and Andrew Drake in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed along with other reporters around the world.

In Mariupol, three died in the bombing of a maternity hospital

5:45 a.m. EST March 10

As more than 2 million refugees from Ukraine begin to scatter throughout Europe and beyond, some are carrying valuable witness evidence to build a case for war crimes.

More and more, the peope who are turning up at border crossings are survivors who have fled some of the cities hardest hit by Russian forces.

“It was very eerie,” said Ihor Diekov, one of the many people who crossed the Irpin river outside Kyiv on the slippery wooden planks of a makeshift bridge after Ukrainians blew up the concrete span to slow the Russian advance.

He heard gunshots as he crossed and saw corpses along the road.

“The Russians promised to provide a (humanitarian) corridor which they did not comply with. They were shooting civilians,” he said. “That’s absolutely true. I witnessed it. People were scared.”

Such testimonies will increasingly reach the world in the coming days as more people flow along fragile humanitarian corridors.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday said three such corridors were operating from bombarded areas. People left Sumy, in the northeast near the Russian border; suburbs of Kyiv; and Enerhodar, the southern town where Russian forces took over a large nuclear plant. In all, about 35,000 people got out, he said.

More evacuations were announced for Thursday as desperate residents sought to leave cities where food, water, medicines and other essentials were running out.

Nationwide, thousands of people are thought to have been killed across Ukraine, both civilians and soldiers, since Russian forces invaded two weeks ago. City officials in the blockaded port city of Mariupol have said 1,200 residents have been killed there, including three in the bombing of a children’s hospital. In Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, the prosecutor’s office has said 282 residents have been killed, including several children.

The United Nations human rights office said Wednesday it had recorded the killings of 516 civilians in Ukraine in the two weeks since Russia invaded, including 37 children. Most have been caused by “the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area,” it said. It believes the real toll is “considerably higher” and noted that its numbers don’t include some areas of “intense hostilities,” including Mariupol.

Some of the latest refugees have seen those deaths first-hand. Their testimonies will be a critical part of efforts to hold Russia accountable for targeting civilians and civilian structures like hospitals and homes.

The International Criminal Court prosecutor last week launched an investigation that could target senior officials believed responsible for war crimes, after dozens of the court’s member states asked him to act. Evidence collection has begun.

Those who manage to flee fear for those who can’t.

“I am afraid,” said Anna Potapola, a mother of two who arrived in Poland from the city of Dnipro. “When we had to leave Ukraine my children asked me, ‘Will we survive?’ I am very afraid and scared for the people left behind.”

Russians hitting health facilities and ambulances

The World Health Organization said it has confirmed 18 attacks on health facilities and ambulances since the fighting began, killing 10 people. It was not clear if that number included the assault on the maternity hospital.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken condemned Russia’s “unconscionable attacks” in a call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, the State Department said.

Two weeks into Russia’s assault on Ukraine, its military is struggling more than expected, but Putin’s invading force of more than 150,000 troops retains possibly insurmountable advantages in firepower as it bears down on key cities.

Despite often heavy shelling on populated areas, American military officials reported little change on the ground over the past 24 hours, other than Russian progress on the cities of Kharkiv and Mykolaiv. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to assess the larger military situation.

Authorities announced new cease-fires to allow thousands of civilians to escape bombarded towns. Zelenskyy said three humanitarian corridors operated on Wednesday, from Sumy in the northeast near the Russian border, from suburbs of Kyiv and from Enerhodar, the southern town where Russian forces took over a large nuclear plant.

In all, he said, about 35,000 people got out. More evacuations were planned for Thursday.

People streamed out of Kyiv’s suburbs, many headed for the city center, as explosions were heard in the capital and air raid sirens sounded repeatedly. From there, the evacuees planned to board trains bound for western Ukrainian regions not under attack.

Civilians leaving the Kyiv suburb of Irpin were forced to make their way across the slippery wooden planks of a makeshift bridge, because the Ukrainians blew up the concrete span leading to Kyiv days ago to slow the Russian advance.

With sporadic gunfire echoing behind them, firefighters dragged an elderly man to safety in a wheelbarrow, a child gripped the hand of a helping soldier, and a woman inched her way along, cradling a fluffy cat inside her winter coat. They trudged past a crashed van with the words “Our Ukraine” written in the dust coating its windows.

“We have a short window of time at the moment,’’ said Yevhen Nyshchuk, a member of Ukraine’s territorial defense forces. “Even if there is a cease-fire right now, there is a high risk of shells falling at any moment.”

Previous attempts to establish safe evacuation corridors over the past few days largely failed because of what the Ukrainians said were Russian attacks. But Putin, in a telephone call with Germany’s chancellor, accused militant Ukrainian nationalists of hampering the evacuations.

In Mariupol, a strategic city of 430,000 people on the Sea of Azov, local authorities hurried to bury the dead from the past two weeks of fighting in a mass grave. City workers dug a trench some 25 meters (yards) long at one of the city’s old cemeteries and made the sign of the cross as they pushed bodies wrapped in carpets or bags over the edge.

About 1,200 people have died in the nine-day siege of the city, Zelenskyy’s office said.

Nationwide, thousands are thought to have been killed, both civilians and soldiers, since Putin’s forces invaded. The U.N. estimates more than 2 million people have fled the country, the biggest exodus of refugees in Europe since the end of World War II.

The fighting knocked out power to the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, raising fears about the spent radioactive fuel that is stored at the site and must be kept cool. But the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said it saw “no critical impact on safety” from the loss of power.

The crisis is likely to get worse as Moscow’s forces step up their bombardment of cities in response to what appear to be stronger Ukrainian resistance and heavier Russian losses than anticipated.

Echoing remarks from the director of the CIA a day earlier, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Russia’s assault will get “more brutal and more indiscriminate” as Putin tries to regain momentum.

The Biden administration warned that Russia might seek to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, rejecting Russian claims of illegal chemical weapons development in the country it has invaded.

This week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova — without evidence — accused Ukraine of running chemical and biological weapons labs with U.S. support. White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the claim “preposterous” and said it could be part of an attempt by Russia to lay the groundwork for its own use of such weapons against Ukraine.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said fighting continued northwest of Kyiv. Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol were being heavily shelled and remained encircled by Russian forces.

Russian forces are placing military equipment on farms and amid residential buildings in the northern city of Chernihiv, Ukraine’s military said. In the south, Russians in civilian clothes are advancing on the city of Mykolaiv, a Black Sea shipbuilding center of a half-million people, it said.

The Ukrainian military, meanwhile, is building up defenses in cities in the north, south and east, and forces around Kyiv are “holding the line” against the Russian offensive, authorities said.

On Wednesday, some of Ukraine’s volunteer fighters trained in a Kyiv park with rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

“I have only one son,” said Mykola Matulevskiy, a 64-year-old retired martial arts coach, who was with his son, Kostyantin. “Everything is my son.”

But now they will fight together: “It’s not possible to have it in another way because it’s our motherland. We must defend our motherland first of all.”

In Irpin, a town of 60,000, police officers and soldiers helped elderly residents from their homes. One man was hoisted out of a damaged structure on a makeshift stretcher, while another was pushed toward Kyiv in a shopping cart. Fleeing residents said they had been without power and water for the past four days.

Regional administration head Oleksiy Kuleba said the crisis for civilians is deepening in and around Kyiv, with the situation particularly dire in the suburbs.

The situation is even worse in Mariupol, where efforts to evacuate residents and deliver badly needed food, water and medicine failed Tuesday because of what the Ukrainians said were continued Russian attacks.

The city took advantage of a lull in the shelling Wednesday to hurriedly bury 70 people. Some were soldiers, but most were civilians.

The work was conducted efficiently and without ceremony. No mourners were present, no families to say their goodbyes.

One woman stood at the gates of the cemetery to ask whether her mother was among those being buried. She was.

Associated Press journalists Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and Felipe Dana and Andrew Drake in Kyiv contributed along with other reporters around the world.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT

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