Russia shuffles its headquarters in Ukraine as thousands flee the East

Russia reorganized its offensive command in Ukraine on Saturday, choosing for the task of a general who is accused of ordering attacks on residential areas in Syria, as Western nations pour in more weapons. gas into the country in anticipation of a new Russian offensive in the east.

The appointment of General Aleksandr V. Dvornikov as top field commander comes as Britain announced that it was sending missiles aimed at planes, tanks and even ships, and as Slovakia assigned the Ukrainian military a S-300 long-range air defense system. system, with the blessing of the United States.

In another show of support for Ukraine, Prime Minister Boris Johnson Britain made a surprise visit on Saturday to the capital Kyiv, where he met Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and discussed a “new package of financial and military support”, the British government said.

Zelensky called on other Western leaders to provide similar military assistance to Ukraine and impose more sanctions on Russia.

“Other Western democracies should follow the UK’s example,” Mr Zelensky said after meeting Mr Johnson.

The two leaders walked through the mostly empty cobbled streets of Kyiv expressing confidence that the Ukrainian capital is now safe from Russian attacks. Outside a shop, a man warmly greeted them, thanking Mr Johnson for his British support in boisterous Ukrainian as Mr Zelensky translated it.

“In recent weeks, the world has found new heroes, and those heroes are the people of Ukraine,” Mr. Johnson said.

He added: “What Putin has done in places like Bucha and Irpin, his war crimes, has permanently polluted his reputation and his government. “There is a lot of work to be done to ensure that Ukraine succeeds, Ukraine wins and Putin fails.”

Mr Johnson’s attempt to bolster Ukraine comes as fears of a fresh Russian onslaught escalate. Despite its large army and considerable military power, Russia has been unable to capture Kyiv and now appears to be vying for dominance in the southeast of Ukraine, appointing a new commander for the offensive and withdrawing. troops from the capital to an area where they had an advantage. support from local Russian nationalist separatist forces.

A report from the Institute for the Study of War said: “Russian forces continue to attempt to regroup and redeploy units withdrawn from northeastern Ukraine to support an attack in eastern Ukraine, but units This position is unlikely to make a breakthrough in Russia and face poor morale.” , a Washington consultant.

Despite this, Russia’s air campaign and missile continued to cause serious damage. One missile attack on a train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk on Friday killed more than 50 people, including children, and wounded many others who were listening to the official warning to flee.

Moscow denies responsibility for the attack, but US military officials and independent analysts in Washington said they believe Russian forces launched the missile.

In a statement condemning the train station attack, the European Union on Saturday said Russia was clearly to blame and that “Russia’s efforts to conceal its responsibility for this and other crimes Other use of disinformation and media manipulation is unacceptable.”

Mr Zelensky described the attack as “another war crime” and said it would be investigated, along with other atrocities committed by the Russian military, including the killing of civilians in Bucha , a suburb of Kyiv.

“Like the Bucha massacre, as with many other Russian war crimes, the missile attack on Kramatorsk should be one of the charges in court, it will,” Zelensky said. , Zelensky said, calling on Russian commanders facing such trials to face the Nazis in Nuremberg after World War II.

Japan said it would join the United States and European nations in supporting the investigations and would expel eight Russian diplomats, ban the use of Russian coal and restrict imports of wood, vodka and machinery. Russia.

Japan accuses Russia of repeatedly attacking civilians and nuclear power plants, a sore point for Japan following the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, said: “We must hold Russia strictly accountable for these atrocities.

Legal experts have said that bringing alleged war crimes against Kremlin officials will be very difficult. The burden of proof is very high, requiring prosecutors to show that the soldiers and their commanders intended to violate international law that establishes the rules of war.

Western analysts and European intelligence officials believe that Russian President Putin is trying to achieve profits on the battlefield on May 9, as he was due to give a victory day speech commemorating both the Soviet victory in World War II and the military campaign in Ukraine.

On Saturday, Russian forces stepped up shelling in eastern Ukraine, with explosions reported in the Odesa and Kharkiv regions. The influx of Russian forces into the region, following their withdrawal from areas around Kyiv, has prompted officials in the east to urge residents to flee. And thousands of people have.

Svitlana Kyrychenko, 47, who evacuated from Kramatorsk with her 18-year-old daughter, elderly mother and aunt on Saturday morning, said: “The Russian army is coming, so we will leave to save her life. me. She is at the train station in downtown Dnipro, looking for a place to stay.

“I brought nothing with me,” she said. “I just brought documents and clothes to change into for a few days.”

Elsewhere in Dnipro, dozens of people waited to board buses bound for Bulgaria.

Ludmila Abramova, 62, who has fled Pavlograd, a city near the Donbas region where Russia is regrouping, said: “Air strikes are becoming more and more frequent. “I’m going.”

“But everything will be fine,” Ms. Abramova added. “I will be back soon.”

More than 6,600 people managed to flee Ukraine’s besieged cities on Friday – a record number for the week – according to the country’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk.

But in Kramatorsk, there was no sense of panic after the train station attack, said mayor Oleksandr Honcharenko. He said he expected about a quarter of the city’s 200,000 residents to stay there and was preparing food, water and medical supplies.

“The only thing that can convince them to leave the city is if it is besieged,” Honcharenko said.

Fewer than 400 people, he said, boarded the bus leaving Kramatorsk on Saturday, presumably headed for the supposedly safer western regions.

The European Commission on Saturday said the global fundraising effort “Stand Up for Ukraine” had raised 9.1 billion euros, including 1 billion euros from the commission, for people fleeing the conflict. Russian invasion.

More than seven million Ukrainians had left their home since the invasion on February 24, and more than 4.4 million have left the country altogether, in the fastest exodus of European refugees since World War Two, according to the United Nations.

The appointment of General Dvornikov came when Institute for War StudiesA Washington tank that monitors the fighting, said in its latest assessment that Russian forces in the east appear to be stalled and “unlikely to produce a breakthrough by Russia and the opposition.” face poor morale.”

General Dvornikov was the first commander sent by Moscow to oversee Russian forces in Syria’s civil war in 2015 after the Kremlin intervened to bolster President Bashar al-Assad’s struggling army.

General Dvornikov was there for about a year and was named Hero of the Russian Federation for his role. He oversaw forces widely accused of bombing residential areas, targeting hospitals and using other earth-shattering tactics to prop up an insurgency seeking to topple Mr. Assad.

“Bashar al-Assad is not the only person responsible for the killing of civilians in Syria. So should the Russian generals,” said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war watchdog. “As the commander of military operations, that means he’s behind the killing of Syrian civilians by giving orders.”

The actions of the Syrian government and Russian forces have been widely criticized by Western officials and human rights groups, who consider some of their tactics tantamount to war crimes.

The commander of a Syrian Christian militia that receives support and fights alongside Russian forces in Syria said General Dvornikov has participated in battles in various parts of the country.

“He’s a real, very serious commander who is proud of the Russian army and its military history,” the commander said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the officials. newspaper.

Russia has been conducting a military campaign against Ukraine outside of Moscow, with no central command on the ground to coordinate air, land and sea units. That approach helped explain why the invasion struggled against unexpected Ukrainian resistance, and was stymied by poor logistics and high morale, US officials said.

The disorganized attack also contributed to the deaths of at least seven Russian generals, as senior officers were pushed to the front lines to untangle tactical problems that Western armies would leave behind for many. junior officials or senior enlisted military personnel.

Eric Schmitt report from Washington, Jane Arraf from Lviv, Ukraine, and Michael Levenson from New York. Reporting contributed by Andrew Higgins of Kosice, Slovakia, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak from Dnipro, Ukraine, Cora Engelbrecht from Krakow, Victoria Kim from Seoul, Julian E. Barnes from Washington, Ben Hubbard and Hwaida Saad from Beirut and Steven Erlanger and Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels.

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