The battle for Ukrainian cities rages in its suburbs, with the Ukrainian army retaking a key district near kyiv and the invading Russian forces stepping up air raids that have left countless dead and more than 3.5 million fleeing of people.

Ukraine’s military said Tuesday morning it had forced Russian troops out of a strategically important suburb of kyiv. However, Russian forces were able to partially take three northwestern suburbs where fighting has been going on for weeks.

Civilians escaping dangerously from the beleaguered port city of Mariupol described fleeing through street-to-street gunfights and past unburied corpses as continued Russian shelling attempted to subdue the city. There were no immediate signs of a diplomatic breakthrough that could bring even temporary relief.

Here are some key things to know about the conflict:

WHY ARE SUBURBS TURNING INTO BATTLEGROUNDS?

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The suburbs could be a barrier to Ukrainian cities or a gateway for Russian troops, with the capital of kyiv seen as Moscow’s main military target in Vladimir Putin’s war.

Outside devastated Mariupol, the Kremlin’s ground offensive progressed slowly, repelled by deadly hit-and-run attacks by Ukrainians.

The regained outskirts of kyiv allowed Ukrainian forces to regain control of a key highway to the west and prevent Russian troops from encircling the capital from the northwest.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Russian forces advancing towards kyiv were able to partially take the northwestern suburbs of Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, some of which had come under attack almost since the Russian military invasion on February 24.

Yet Putin’s forces are increasingly focusing their airpower and artillery on Ukrainian cities and the civilians who live there.

A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the military’s assessment, said Russia had increased air sorties in recent days, flying up to 300 over the weekend -end, and had fired more than 1,100 missiles at Ukraine since the start of the invasion. .

WHAT’S NEW ON MARIUPOL?

The Russian assault turned life in Mariupol into a fight for survival.

Electricity, water and food were cut, as well as communications with the outside world. It is unknown how many of the city with a pre-war population of 430,000 remain. About a quarter of them are believed to have fled at the start of the war and tens of thousands more have escaped over the past week through humanitarian corridors. The Mariupol City Council claims that several thousand residents were taken to Russia against their will.

Further attempts to leave were thwarted by Russian efforts to subjugate Mariupol. On this point, Moscow has not succeeded, the British Ministry of Defense said in a social media post on Tuesday. But Russia currently controls the land corridor from Crimea, the peninsula it annexed in 2014, and is blocking Ukraine’s access to the Sea of ​​Azov.

The United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday that more than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion.

Those who came out of Mariupol described a devastated landscape.

“There are no more buildings there,” said Maria Fiodorova, 77, who crossed the border into Poland on Monday after five days of travel.

Olga Nikitina, who fled Mariupol for the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, said gunshots blasted through her windows and her apartment fell below zero.

“Battles took place in all the streets. Every house has become a target,” she said.

WHAT DID THE AP DIRECTLY WITNESS OR CONFIRM?

In the Russian-occupied southern city of Kherson on Monday, Russian forces fired into the air and fired stun grenades at protesters who were chanting “Go home!” Earlier this month, Kherson became the first major city to fall under the Russian offensive.

In Kyiv, a shopping center in the densely populated Podil district near the city center remained a smoldering ruin after being hit by a bombardment on Sunday night that left eight people dead, according to emergency officials. The attack shattered all the windows of a nearby skyscraper.

Russia’s war against Ukraine has jeopardized grain supplies to a region known as the “breadbasket of the world”, forcing farmers and governments to rethink crop planning to compensate for the losses due to conflict, drought and rising fuel prices.

Ukraine and Russia account for a third of global wheat and barley exports, which countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East rely on to feed millions of people in need. About half of the grain the World Food Program buys to feed 125 million people around the world comes from Ukraine. The double whammy of rising food prices and falling wheat exports from the war is a recipe for “catastrophe not only in Ukraine, but potentially in the world”, the agency’s chief warned. United Nations food aid.

Major grain producers like the United States, Canada, France, Australia and Argentina are being watched closely to see if they can quickly ramp up production to fill gaps in lost Ukrainian and Russian supplies.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday evening that he was ready to discuss a commitment by Ukraine not to seek NATO membership in exchange for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of troops Russians and a guarantee of Ukraine’s security.

“It’s a compromise for everyone: for the West, which doesn’t know what to do with us vis-à-vis NATO, for Ukraine, which wants security guarantees, and for Russia , which does not want further NATO enlargement,” Zelenskyy said. .

He also reiterated his call for direct talks with Putin. Unless he meets the Russian president, it’s impossible to understand whether Russia even wants to stop the war, Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy also said Kyiv would be ready to discuss the status of Crimea and the eastern Donbass region held by Russian-backed separatists after a ceasefire and steps to provide security guarantees.

The Kremlin asks Ukraine to disarm and declare itself neutral.

US President Joe Biden is traveling to Europe this week, where he will attend a summit with NATO leaders that will seek ways to strengthen the bloc’s deterrence and defense to deal with the now openly confrontational Putin.

The Kremlin bristled at the comments coming from the Americans. The Russian Foreign Ministry warned that relations with the United States were “on the brink of rupture” and summoned the American ambassador.

Biden added a stopover in Poland on his trip, visiting a crucial Ukraine ally that has taken in more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees.

Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov has said he wants to auction off his 2021 Nobel Peace Prize medal to raise money for Ukrainian refugees.

Muratov called in the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which he edits, on Tuesday for people “to share with the refugees, the injured and the children who need urgent care”. including independent media, a Moscow hospice and care for children with spinal problems.

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