ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces fired cruise missiles at the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa on Saturday and bombarded a besieged steel mill in Mariupol, hoping to complete their conquest of the port in time for Victory Day celebrations. Officials announced that the last women, children and older adults had been evacuated from the mill, but Ukrainian fighters remained trapped.
In a sign of the unexpectedly effective defense that has sustained the fighting into its 11th week, Ukraine's military flattened Russian positions on a Black Sea island that was captured in the war's first days and has become a symbol of resistance. Western military analysts also said a Ukrainian counteroffensive was advancing around the country's second-largest city, Kharkiv, even as it remained a key target of Russian shelling.
The largest European conflict since World War II has developed into a punishing war of attrition that has killed thousands of people, forced millions to flee their homes and destroyed large swaths of some cities. Ukrainian leaders warned that attacks would only worsen in the lead-up to Russia's holiday on Monday celebrating Nazi Germany's defeat 77 years ago, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged people to heed air raid warnings.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday that Zelenskyy and his people "embody the spirit of those who prevailed during the Second World War." He accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying "to twist history to attempt to justify his unprovoked and brutal war against Ukraine."
"As war again rages in Europe, we must increase our resolve to resist those who now seek to manipulate historical memory in order to advance their own ambitions," Blinken said in a statement as the United States and United Kingdom commemorated the Allied victory in Europe.
The most intense fighting in recent days has been in eastern Ukraine, where the two sides are entrenched in a fierce battle to capture or reclaim territory. Moscow's offensive there has focused on the industrial Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.
Moscow also has sought to sweep across southern Ukraine both to cut off the country from the sea and create a corridor to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, long home to Russian troops. But it has struggled to achieve those objectives.
On Saturday, six Russian cruise missiles fired from aircraft hit the Odesa region, where a curfew is in place until Tuesday morning. Videos posted on social media showed thick black smoke rising over the Black Sea port city as sirens wailed.
Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed Ukraine targeting Russian-held Snake Island in a bid to impede Russia's efforts to control the Black Sea. An image taken early Saturday by Planet Labs PBC showed that most of the island's buildings had been destroyed by Ukrainian drone attacks, as well as what appeared to be a Serna-class landing craft against the island's northern beach.
The image corresponds with a Ukrainian military video showing a drone striking the Russian vessel, engulfing it in flames. Snake Island, located some 35 kilometers (20 miles) off the coast, figured in a memorable incident early in the war when Ukrainian border guards stationed there defied Russian orders to surrender, purportedly using colorful language.
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters made a final stand against a complete Russian takeover of the strategically important city, which would give Moscow a land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, annexed from Ukraine during a 2014 invasion.
Satellite photos shot Friday by Planet Labs PBC showed vast devastation at the sprawling Azovstal seaside steel mill, the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the city. Buildings had gaping holes in the roofs, including one under which hundreds of fighters were likely hiding.