Ukraine Mounts Counteroffensive to Drive Russians Back From Kyiv, Key Cities

KYIV, Ukraine—Ukraine said its military had launched a counteroffensive in its capital, Kyiv, and other key cities, as President

Volodymyr Zelensky

urged the U.S. Congress to provide more weapons and increase economic pressure on Russia.

The thump of distant shelling echoed through the center of Kyiv overnight, while Ukrainian forces appeared to counterattack in the outlying towns of Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel, which have been severely damaged in weeks of street fighting and artillery exchanges. The city and the surrounding region were under an all-day curfew Wednesday.

Ukrainian forces also said they pressed an offensive south and east of the southern port of Mykolaiv, moving in the direction of Kherson, the only Ukrainian regional capital occupied by Russia since the war began Feb. 24. Ukraine said it carried out an airstrike on the Kherson airport, which is now a Russian air base, and satellite imagery of the tarmac showed seven destroyed or damaged Russian helicopters, some of them engulfed in flames. Kyiv also said it shot down two Russian Su-30SM jets over the Black Sea off Odessa.

Moscow has largely not commented on combat losses and said its campaign was progressing.

Satellite imagery showed the aftermath of a suspected Ukrainian strike Tuesday on Russian forces at Kherson’s airport.



Photo:

Planet Labs PBC/Associated Press

Wounded Ukrainian service members sat on a bus turned into an ambulance Tuesday in Mykolayiv, southern Ukraine.



Photo:

NACHO DOCE/REUTERS

Mr. Zelensky, in a virtual address to members of Congress on Wednesday, thanked the U.S. for its support as Ukraine tries to fend off Russia’s invasion, but he added, “In the darkest time for our country, for the whole of Europe, I call for you to do more.”

He renewed his appeal for a no-fly zone and added that, absent such a move—which the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has ruled out—more weapons should be provided. He also called for the imposition of further sanctions on Russia. And he asked members to pressure American companies in their districts to stop doing business in Russia.

President Biden said Wednesday the U.S. would send an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, amounting to a total of $1 billion in such assistance over the past week.

“We’re going to give Ukraine the arms to fight and defend themselves through all the difficult days ahead,” Mr. Biden said at the White House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky before his address to Congress.



Photo:

J. Scott Applewhite-Pool/Press Pool

Ukrainian officials say Russian forces destroyed a theater in the city of Mariupol where hundreds of people were sheltering.



Photo:

Maxar Technologies/Associated Press

In a video address late Wednesday, Mr. Zelensky said he was grateful to the U.S. for its assistance “but the war does not end. Russia’s war crimes do not stop.’’ He called for more sanctions against Russia and for more air defense systems, aircraft, weapons and ammunition. “The world must finally officially recognize that Russia has become a terrorist state,’’ he said.

Mr. Zelensky’s appeal came as civilian casualties mounted from Russia’s air and artillery strikes.

In the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, a Russian bomb destroyed the city’s main drama theater where hundreds of residents had taken refuge from shelling, city officials said. A bomb shelter under the theater was blocked by rubble, and the city hadn’t yet counted casualties, officials said.

In the western city of Rivne, officials raised the death toll from an attack on a television tower earlier this week, saying 21 people were killed, up from nine fatalities on the day of the strike.

At least 10 people standing in line outside a bakery in the northern city of Chernihiv were killed when an artillery shell landed nearby, Ukrainian news services said. The U.S. Embassy Twitter account said they had been shot dead by Russian forces.

International Criminal Court Prosecutor

Karim Khan

was in Ukraine with an investigative team, which is working with Ukrainian law enforcement to collect evidence of war crimes.

Russian President

Vladimir Putin

said Wednesday that Moscow doesn’t intend to occupy Ukraine and is ready to discuss the country’s neutral status during negotiations with Kyiv. Ukrainian negotiators have rejected such a status for their country.

“The appearance of Russian troops near Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine is not connected with the intention to occupy this country,” Mr. Putin said in televised remarks before meeting with government officials.

Mr. Putin sought to justify the war by repeating allegations refuted by Ukraine and the West that Kyiv was looking to acquire nuclear and biological weapons.

“We were simply left with no options to peacefully resolve problems that arise through no fault of ours,” Mr. Putin said, adding that all goals of the military campaign would be achieved. “We will reliably ensure the security of Russia and our people,” he said.

Russia aimed for a quick capture of Kyiv, and its forces thrust deep into Ukrainian territory up to the city’s outskirts in the north, west and east in the first days of the war. But that offensive stalled out amid poor planning and logistics, and unexpectedly stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces armed with Western-provided antitank and antiaircraft missiles.

Russian shelling continued in the Ukrainian capital, which is under curfew until Thursday. Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the U.S. Congress on Wednesday and pressed for more military aid, a no-fly zone and more sanctions against Russia. Photo: Andrew Marienko/Associated Press

The counteroffensive by Ukrainian armed forces “radically changes the parties’ disposition,” tweeted

Mykhailo Podolyak,

a Ukrainian presidential adviser who is negotiating a possible cease-fire with Russia.

Late Wednesday, Mr. Zelensky’s office said that Ukrainian forces freed the mayor of the southern city of Melitopol who was kidnapped from his office earlier this month by Russian troops who had put a plastic bag over his head.

The Ukrainian push elsewhere in the south reversed some early Russian gains of the invasion, officials said. Ukrainian troops pushed Russian forces far from the regional capital of Mykolaiv, which they had been threatening, according to the regional governor,

Vitaly Kim.

In a Telegram channel, Mr. Kim said that Mykolaiv “will be a rear city.”

Ukrainian media footage of the aftermath of the strike on the Russian-held airport near Kherson showed rows of burning Russian military trucks and an airfield strewn with debris.

Mr. Podolyak, the Ukrainian presidential adviser, said there was room for compromise despite “fundamental contradictions.”

The main area of progress between the two sides concerns addressing mutual security concerns, a Ukrainian official said. Ukraine, ready to recognize that membership in NATO is unlikely anytime soon, is considering dropping that in exchange for binding security guarantees from its Western partners and Russia, the official said. That, however, is only one item on the agenda, and there is little scope for compromise on Russia’s demands that Kyiv recognize the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Moscow and the self-proclaimed independence of the Russian-backed statelets in Donetsk and Luhansk.

“I don’t see a breakthrough—at this stage both sides believe they can win the war,” the official said.

A Kyiv resident helped clear debris after a Russian strike in the city’s Podil district.



Photo:

Christopher Occhicone for The Wall Street Journal

Kyiv residents watched their apartment building burn Tuesday after a Russian strike.



Photo:

Christopher Occhicone for The Wall Street Journal

“Any war ends in agreement,” Mr. Zelensky said in an overnight address. “As I am told, the positions in the negotiations sound more realistic. However, time is still needed for the decisions to be in Ukraine’s interests.”

Russian Foreign Minister

Sergei Lavrov

on Wednesday said negotiations with Ukraine aren’t easy, but there are signs of compromise. Mr. Lavrov, cited by Russian state news agency TASS, said the two sides were close to agreeing on some issues and that he held out hope that this could include the topic of Ukraine’s neutral status.

The Kremlin said Wednesday that a neutral status similar to those of Sweden or Austria could be a model for Ukraine. Kyiv has rejected that idea, seeking clear security guarantees.

Oleksiy Arestovych,

an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, said in an interview with Ukrainian media Tuesday that fighting in Ukraine could stop “relatively soon—that is in a week or two” if negotiations are successful.

Mr. Arestovych said Ukraine is insisting that Russia withdraw all its forces from the country, and won’t recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea or the Russian-backed statelets.

He said Mr. Putin could still back out of the invasion by declaring victory and telling Russians at home that he has effectively demilitarized Ukraine by destroying its military equipment. Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO, he said, aren’t an impediment, because the alliance’s members don’t want Ukraine to join.

Areas no longer controlled by Ukraine as of Friday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Primary refugee crossing locations

Chernobyl

Not in operation

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

Controlled by

separatists

Areas no longer controlled by Ukraine as of Friday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

Primary refugee crossing locations

Chernobyl

Not in operation

Controlled by

separatists

Areas no longer controlled by Ukraine as of Friday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Primary refugee crossing locations

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

Chernobyl

Not in operation

Controlled by

separatists

Areas no longer controlled by Ukraine as of Friday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Primary refugee crossing locations

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

Areas no longer controlled by Ukraine as of Friday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Primary refugee crossing locations

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

Mr. Zelensky’s speech to Congress on Wednesday followed similar appeals for international support.

In recent speeches to the European Union, the House of Commons in the U.K. and Canada’s parliament, Mr. Zelensky has pushed for increased military aid and sanctions by evoking local history and the power of global alliances of democratic nations.

On Tuesday, leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia traveled to Kyiv and met with Mr. Zelensky in a show of support for Ukraine.

Mr. Zelensky on Thursday will address the German parliament, he said on his official website.

Weapons already provided by the U.S. and others have been indispensable in allowing Ukrainian forces to repel Russian attacks and hold the line so far, according to Ukrainian officials. However, as Russian airstrikes and missiles devastate Ukrainian cities, Kyiv is pleading for more, particularly equipment that would shore up the country’s air defenses.

Since Russian troops began their assault three weeks ago, they have seized territory in the south of Ukraine but have been stopped short around Kyiv and elsewhere. Increasingly, Russian forces have resorted to bombing residential areas and civilian infrastructure in an effort to wear down Ukrainian resistance.

A police officer showed the covered bodies of people killed by shelling at a hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Tuesday.



Photo:

Evgeniy Maloletka/Associated Press

People lined up for food distribution on Monday in front of a supermarket in Mykolayiv.



Photo:

bulent kilic/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

In Mariupol, an adviser to the mayor said the city’s death toll was significantly higher than the 2,357 casualties officially confirmed, putting it closer to 20,000. “It is currently impossible to determine the exact number of victims,” said

Petro Andryushchenko.

Bodies lie in the street, as heavy shelling prevents residents from burying them, he said. “Death is everywhere.”

Survivors are crammed into basements without food, reduced to drinking water from drains, Mr. Andryushchenko said. Russian forces have also trapped several hundred people in a hospital in Mariupol, according to

Pavlo Kyrylenko,

head of the regional military administration in the eastern region of Donetsk.

A convoy of food, water and medicine destined for the city has been held up for several days by Russian forces near Berdyansk. Some 20,000 people managed to flee Mariupol in their own vehicles on Tuesday, Mr. Zelensky said.

More than three million people have fled Ukraine since the war began, according to United Nations figures.

Write to Alan Cullison at [email protected], Isabel Coles at [email protected] and Yaroslav Trofimov at [email protected]

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