Fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine intensified on May 10 as missile strikes hit the southern port of Odesa in an apparent effort to disrupt supply lines, and the United States warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing for a long war.
Washington’s prediction came as Germany sent its foreign minister to Kyiv for talks with her Ukrainian counterpart, who praised Berlin for changing its stance on a Russian oil embargo and on supplying arms to Ukraine.
Ukraine said its forces had recaptured villages from Russian troops near the city of Kharkiv in the northeast of Ukraine, while Russian forces escalated their attacks on a steel plant in the southern port of Mariupol where the last Ukrainian defenders, many of them wounded, and at least 100 civilians were still holed up.
Deputy Ukrainian Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on May 10 that more than 1,000 Ukrainian fighters remained in the sprawling Azovstal steel plant, the last pocket of resistance after almost three months of heavy fighting that has leveled the city.
“Hundreds are wounded. There are people with serious injuries who require urgent evacuation. The situation is deteriorating every day,” Vereshchuk told the AFP news agency.
Although the majority of noncombatants have been evacuated from Azovstal, at least 100 civilians remain inside, an aide to the city’s mayor said on May 10.
Russian forces have so far failed to complete the occupation of Mariupol, which would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, give Russia a land corridor to the illegally annexed Crimean Peninsula, and free troops up for fighting elsewhere.
The Odesa city council said late on May 9 that missiles were fired into the city, destroying several buildings. One person was killed and five injured when seven missiles hit a shopping center and a depot, Ukraine’s armed forces said on Facebook.
The port city is a gateway for grain shipments, and its blockade by Russia already threatens global food supplies.
Defense Ministry adviser Yuriy Saks said the Ukrainian successes in recapturing towns around Kharkiv were pushing Russian forces out of range of the city.
The United Nations said on May 10 that the number of civilian casualties in Ukraine has edged past 7,000 since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion in February.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a statement that as of the start of May 9, 3,381 people, including 235 children, had been killed, with another 3,680 people injured.
The office said that most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes.
“OHCHR believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration,” it added, pointing to cities such as Mariupol, Izyum, and Popasna, where there are allegations of numerous civilian casualties.
But the head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said that the actual death toll was thousands higher than the official UN figures.
“We have been working on estimates, but all I can say for now is that it is thousands higher than the numbers we have currently given to you,” Matilda Bogner told a news briefing in Geneva.
On the diplomatic front, the foreign ministers of Germany and the Netherlands made a surprise visit to Ukraine, stopping in the Kyiv suburbs of Bucha and Irpin, where Russian forces are accused of committing war crimes before retreating last month.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock became the first German cabinet minister to visit Kyiv since Russia launched its unprovoked attack on Ukraine in late February.
Baerbock announced the German Embassy would reopen in Kyiv and vowed to wean Germany off Russian energy “forever.”
Wopke Hoekstra, her Dutch counterpart, also made the trip, and the two met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba later in the day.
Kuleba pushed for the European Union to admit his country.
“Ukraine’s membership in the EU is a matter of war and peace in Europe,” said Kuleba after meeting Baerbock. “One of the reasons that this war started is that Putin was convinced that Europe doesn’t need Ukraine.”
Zelenskiy said 36 foreign missions are operating in the capital, and the resumption of diplomatic work in Kyiv “confirms Europe’s confidence in the future of Ukraine.”
The European Union’s planned sixth package of sanctions against Russia, including an oil embargo, is “certainly a package that we need” along with energy sanctions, Zelenskiy told Slovakia’s parliament on May 10 in a video address.
The British Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence bulletin on May 10 that Russia’s misjudging of Ukrainian resolve resulted in failures on the battlefield and stopped Russian President Vladimir Putin from boasting success during his speech at the May 9 military parade in Moscow.
Underestimating Ukrainian resistance led to “demonstrable operational failings,” the ministry said, “preventing Putin from announcing significant military success” on May 9.
In Washington, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told a Senate committee that the United States believes Putin is preparing for a long conflict in Ukraine.
There are indications Russia wants to extend a land bridge to Transdniester, Moldova’s breakaway region, Haines said, adding that Putin is counting on Western resolve to weaken over time.
Haines also told the committee that Putin is expected to become more unpredictable and could order martial law in Russia.
Lieutenant General Scott Berrier, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the committee that Russia has resorted to indiscriminate and brutal methods in response to Ukrainian resistance. He said between eight and 10 Russian generals have been killed in the war and neither side currently is winning.
“The Russians aren’t winning and the Ukrainians aren’t winning and we’re at a bit of a stalemate here,” said Berrier.