Every week we wrap up the must-reads from our coverage of the Ukraine war, from news and features to analysis, visual guides and opinion.
Battle for the Donbas begins
On Monday, Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced the Russian military had begun its long-awaited push to seize the east of Ukraine. As Kyiv’s presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak put it: “The second phase of the war has started.”
While Luke Harding covered the developments on the ground, Julian Borger wrote about the 20,000 mercenaries from Syria, Libya and elsewhere deployed by Russian its new offensive.
The mercenaries are being thrown into the Russian attempt to capture as much as possible of eastern Ukraine, in what western defense officials have described as a rush to have some sort of victory that Vladimir Putin can announce at the 9 May military parade in Moscow commemorating the second world war, he wrote.
The Kremlin is seen as having four objectives in this second phase of its war in Ukraine, the European official said: capturing the Donbas, securing a land bridge to Crimea in which the besieged city of Mariupol is crucial, seizing Kherson oblast to secure a supply of freshwater to Crimea, and capturing additional territory that could be used as a buffer or a bargaining chip in negotiations.
For more on the battle for the Donbas, read Ed Ram and isobel koshiw on the fall of the town of Kreminna. Isobel and Ed also reported from Chasiv Yar, Donetsk region on the elderly people waiting to be moved out as Russian troops advance.
‘Facing our last days’: Ukrainians fight to the death in Mariupol
The battle for the key south-eastern Ukraine port of Mariupol has been the focus of the war this week, with the defending forces defying several Russian demands to surrender. Surrounded on sides by Russian troops, the Ukrainians appear to be fighting to the death in their last stronghold in the city’s Azovstal steelworks.
A Ukrainian marine commander there said on Wednesday that his forces were “maybe facing our last days, if not hours”. In a dramatic video post on Facebook, Serhiy Volyna, a commander from the 36th separate marine brigade, said: “The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to one. We appeal and plead to all world leaders to help us. We ask them to use the procedure of extraction and take us to the territory of a third-party state.” Putin has since ordered his forces not to storm the last stronghold but to blockade the area “so that a fly can’t get through”.
For further coverage of the desperate situation in Mariupol, read Andrew Roth and Luke Harding on claims that Russia has been hiding evidence of its “barbaric” war crimes in Mariupol by burying the bodies of civilians killed by shelling in a new mass grave.
‘We need answers’: relatives seek Moskva warship’s missing crew
Family members of sailors who served onboard the Moskva are demanding answers as the ministry has sought to suppress information about what happened to the ship or its estimated 510-strong crew, report Pjotr Sauer and Andrew Roth.
For days after the Moskva cruiser sank in the Black Sea, Yulia Tsyvova had been desperately searching for information about her son Andrei.
Like hundreds of other Russian families of crew members, she had not been told whether he had survived the reported Ukrainian missile attack that had sunk the Russian flagship of the Black Sea fleet.
Then on Monday morning she received a call from the Russian defense ministry. Her son of her was dead. “He was only 19, he was a conscript,” said Tsyvova, who wept as she spoke by telephone. “They didn’t tell me anything else, no information on when the funeral would be.”
For more on the topic, Andrew Roth also wrote about why the loss of the Moskva is such a blow to Russia.
Russia’s latest military failures polarize society even more
Andrew Roth and Pjotr Sauer looked at the cost of the war inside Russia as the invasion enters its third month. While Kremlin officials have shown no signs of contrition, some unlikely critics of the war have also grown more outspoken.
“I don’t see a SINGLE beneficiary of this mad war!” wrote businessman Oleg Tinkov in a statement on Tuesday. “Innocent people and soldiers are being killed. Generals have woken up from their hangover to understand they have a shit army. And why would the army be good, if everything else in the country is shit and rife with nepotism, lackyism, and servility?
On both sides of a polarized Russian society, they write, the failures of the first stage of the war have raised the stakes of the conflict, turning what the Kremlin calls a “special operation” into an existential one.
‘All I can do is pray’: the Ukrainian women going home despite the danger
Since Russia’s invasion on 24 February, of the more than 2.5 million people who have entered Poland, about 502,000 are estimated to have returned. Lorcan Lovett traveled to the border to talk to some of those going home.
There, he met women making the perilous journey for different reasons. One of them was Ann, a resident of Odesa who had heard the pleas of her friends from her abroad and fled to Holland after the war began. A month later, as she tried to calm her son over the phone while Russian missiles shook the Black Sea port city around him, she decided to return. “I couldn’t stick it,” she says. “I needed to get home.”
The 50-year-old mother moved through a crowd of women and children at Przemyśl train station in Poland on a Wednesday afternoon to board her train. “I don’t care what will happen to me,” Ann said. “If something happens to my family, why do I need to live?”
Our visual guide to the invasion is updated regularly and can be found here.