After the Russian invasion, kyiv became a battleground for the soul of Ukraine.
In just five weeks, one of Europe’s busiest capitals has become a place where residential buildings can crumble under strikes at any moment, where street-by-street shootings have raged in suburbs in the north- west and where women are forced to give birth in improvised clandestine places. shelters.
Today’s comments by Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister on Tuesday that Russia would “significantly reduce military activity” near kyiv amid fragile peace talks in Istanbul, led to very cautious optimism that President Vladimir V. Putin may have strayed from his earlier goal of capturing the capital. The comments followed recent indications from the Russian military that it wanted to focus its military energies on consolidating gains in eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s early attempts to recapture kyiv clearly stalled 34 days after its invasion in the face of determined resistance on the ground and in the air, but Western intelligence assessments to inform that Russian forces still pose a significant threat to the city. The battle was characterized by the bombardment of residential buildings, attempts to encircle the city, and a struggle to gain air superiority.
Ukrainian forces have, at least for now, pushed Russian forces into a defensive position in some of the hard-fought strategic suburbs near the capital. But the Pentagon warned on Tuesday that only a small number of Russian forces near kyiv had withdrawn from combat there and that Moscow could be “reposition” its troops before launching new attacks in Ukraine.
Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said that more than a month after President Vladimir V. Putin invaded Ukraine with the aim of overthrowing the government, the Russian military campaign had so far been a failure. While ‘there are still bombs falling,’ Mr Kirby said, ‘you only have to look at what they tried to do in those early days to see that they wanted kyiv, and they didn’t. got”.
On Monday, Ukrainian counterattacks around kyiv pushed Russian forces back to Irpin, a fiercely contested suburb on the capital’s northwestern outskirts. Irpin’s mayor said most Russian troops had withdrawn, although fighting continued in some districts. If Ukrainian soldiers can keep control of Irpin, it would be strategically important to keep their grip on kyiv.
“Our Irpin is freed from the evil of Moscow,” Mayor Oleksandr Markushin of Irpin said on Telegram on Monday. But deputy police chief Oleksandr Bogai offered a more skeptical account in a phone interview, noting that the fighting continued even as most Russian troops appeared to have withdrawn and the Russians continued to shell. the city.
kyiv would be the greatest prize for the Russian military: the seat of government and an intrinsic part of Ukrainian and Russian history. With 3.6 million inhabitants, it covers 325 square miles and is divided by a wide river. It has around 500,000 structures – factories, ornate churches and high-rise buildings – many of which are in narrow, winding streets.
Prior to the invasion, kyiv was known for its colorful buildings and golden domes, its underground nightlife, and its emergence after seven decades of Soviet rule as one of the most vibrant cities in Europe.
For weeks, the Russian army has tried to break into villages and suburbs around kyiv, in what has become a seesaw battle for critical areas that could be used to enter or encircle the capital. Tens of thousands of Russian troops pressed towards the city from the northwest and east, supported by columns of tanks, armored vehicles and artillery.
Inside kyiv, Ukrainian soldiers and civilian volunteers fortified the city center with barriers, anti-tank mines and artillery. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky refused to leave the capital, galvanizing his compatriots in daily motivational speeches and mobilizing world opinion in a parallel war of information and image.
Despite superior numbers and firepower, Russia did not achieve a breakthrough. The Russians suffered heavy casualties and, perhaps most surprisingly, failed to dominate in the air against the less powerful Ukrainian Air Force.
Long-time Putin watchers, however, are skeptical that Moscow will back down from kyiv, aware that throughout the invasion Russia has made bold statements, only to pretend or otherwise. .
The Kremlin may be drawing inspiration from its playbook of wars in Chechnya and Syria, where it showed a willingness to try to target and terrorize local residents into submission.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken questioned Russia’s promise to reduce its military pressure on kyiv. “There is what Russia says and there is what Russia does,” he said. “We focus on the latter. And what Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine.