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A man stands inside of a damaged school in the city of Zhytomyr in northern Ukraine on 23 March 2022. A significant amount of Ukrainain infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed so far in the war. (Photo by Fadel Senna, AFP, Getty)

News from Ukraine: The Fate of Eastern Cities, Cluster Munition Use, and More

The war in Ukraine is nearing the four-month mark, and the pace of the invasion has slowed to a crawl. Russian forces must battle block-by-block for control of cities and territory in Eastern Ukraine in a painstaking firefight with Ukrainians. Exports of grain are finally moving again out of Ukraine, but bottlenecks and new routes are complicating the response to a looming global food crisis. And amid it all, police and investigators in Ukraine are gathering evidence of potential war crimes.

Ukraine Loses Ground in Eastern Cities

The city of Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine has been heavily contested between Russian and Ukrainian troops for weeks. Over the weekend, Russian forces pushed forward, gaining ground meter by meter. Troops have engaged in “artillery duels and bloody street battles over destroyed neighborhoods” for weeks, The New York Times reported, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the battle decisive for the fate of the Donbas region.

Currently there is just one bridge across the Seversky Donets River into Sievierodonetsk left, and it has been under heavy bombardment. Most of the prewar population of 100,000 people has fled the city, and its infrastructure is largely destroyed. Zelensky called it a “dead” city, but military officials consider it still valuable territory. As of Monday, 13 June, the two armies are battling “for every house and every street,” a provincial governor said.

Civilians continue to flee intense fighting in eastern Ukraine, the Associated Press reported. Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Zelensky, told the BBC that 100 to 200 Ukrainian soldiers were being killed every day as a result of a “complete lack of parity” between Ukraine and Russia.

Ukraine continues to request additional firepower and funding from outside countries to help it face Russian ammunition. 

Indiscriminate Attacks in Kharkiv Kill Civilians

Russian forces continue to bombard Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine. Residential neighborhoods were shelled regularly, and hundreds of civilians were killed or injured, according to a new Amnesty International report. Many of the attacks were carried out using cluster munitions, which are banned in 120 countries—not including Russia or Ukraine. Both sides have reportedly used cluster munitions in the conflict.

“Cluster munitions are controversial because they detonate in the air and release a cluster of smaller bombs which fall indiscriminately over a wide area, potentially putting civilians at risk,” the BBC reported. “The smaller bombs also often fail to detonate on impact, posing a threat for years to come.”

One cluster munitions attack on 15 April in Kharkiv blasted an area of more than 700 square meters. At least nine civilians were killed and more than 35 were injured, including several children, Amnesty noted.

“The repeated bombardments of residential neighbourhoods in Kharkiv are indiscriminate attacks which killed and injured hundreds of civilians, and as such constitute war crimes,” the Amnesty International report said. “This is true both for the strikes carried out using cluster as well as those conducted using other types of unguided rockets and unguided artillery shells, which are indiscriminate when used in the vicinity of concentrations of civilians. The continued use of such inaccurate explosive weapons in populated civilian areas, in the knowledge that they are repeatedly causing large numbers of civilian casualties, may even amount to directing attacks against the civilian population.”

1,200 Bodies Unidenfitied in Ukraine

Up to 1,200 bodies—including some found in mass graves—have not been identified in Ukraine, according to the head of Ukraine’s National Police, Ihor Klymenko. Criminal proceedings have ben opened in connection with the deaths of more than 12,000 people in total. About 75 percent of the dead were men, 2 percent children, and 23 percent women. In the Kyiv region alone, more than 1,500 civilians died, and 116 bodies were found in a single grave in the town of Bucha, the BBC reported.

Klymenko said that the process of identifying the bodies was taking a long time due to the state of decay.

Russia Tries to Solidify Rule in Occupied Territory

12 June was Russia Day. Very few, if any, local residents attended the festivities in occupied cities in southern Ukraine.

Kremlin-installed officials in Kherson and Melitopol have started flying Russian flags in the city centers and issuing Russian passports to people who request them, the AP reported. In Mariupol, a new city sign painted in the colors of the Russian flag was unveiled, and Russian bands played a concert in Kherson in honor of Russia Day. In captured cities, Moscow has introduced the ruble as the official currency, aired Russian news broadcasts, and taken steps to include a Russian school curriculum.

There have been protests against the incorporation of the areas into Russia, and local residents are showing signs of an insurgency. In Melitopol, an explosion in a garbage bin near the city’s police headquarters injured two residents, Russian-installed officials said. Another blast was reported at an electrical substation in Berdyansk.