There have been no significant Russian advances during the weekend. In the north, Russian troops remain outside northern Kyiv and have made slow advances west of Kyiv. Russian troops have also made slow advances east of the capital. There are reports that Russian forces are laying minefields in its controlled areas outside the city. However, the city centre and southern Kyiv remain under Ukrainian control, albeit subject to continued Russian shelling. Furthermore, the curfew in Kyiv has been extended to 23 March. In Sumy, the Ukrainian army continue to repel Russian advances; however, the city is on the brink of being encircled by Russian forces. Russian shelling continues and in the early hours of 21 March, an ammonia depot was struck. A large area has been affected; however, given current wind directions, the city centre is safe.
In the east, Russia continues to shell the city of Kharkiv; however, Ukrainian forces have been able to repel Russian advances. In the Donbas, Russian forces have made limited advances, occupying the town of Varvarivka.
In the south, the city of Mariupol is epitomising Russia’s change in strategy – from swiftness to attrition. Russia are making slow advances and there have been reports of fighting in the city. Furthermore, it is believed that 90 percent of all the buildings in Mariupol have been damaged. However, the mayor of Mariupol continues to reiterate that they will not surrender.
Elsewhere in the south, as Russian troops start to settle in the occupied areas, installing new mayors supported by Russian police, there have been several demonstrations opposing the Russian presence. Russian advances on the city of Mykolaiv have been repelled. However, according to the Russian Defence Ministry, a hypersonic missile hit a fuel depot in the outskirts of the city.
In the west, there are reports that Russia have kidnapped the mayor of Zaporizhzhia. On 20 March, a Russian missile hit the city of Kamianka-Buzka, north of Lviv. According to the Ukrainian Defence Ministry, there are heightened concerns that Belarusian troops will invade north-western Ukraine. Finally, it is believed that the Wagner group will deploy Libyan fighters in the coming days.
Over the weekend, Ukrainian President Zelensky and French President Macron had a talk over the latest situation in Ukraine. Switzerland also offered to meditate talks between Kyiv and Moscow. On 19 March, the last group of Belarusian diplomats were evacuated from Ukraine and the Ambassador of Belarus in Kyiv stated that the decision was made by Belarusian Foreign Ministry. This interpreted as a sign that Belarus will send troops to help Russia by Ukrainian officials. Ukraine’s National Security Defense Council Secretary has announced that, the country will receive a new party shipment of US weapons in the coming week, which includes Stinger and Javelin missiles.
NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg stated that the upcoming NATO summit will demonstrate the unity of member countries and their support to Ukraine, but also NATO’s readiness to protect and defend all NATO allies. Member countries are expected to discuss enhancements of the financial, military and humanitarian support that giving Ukraine at the summit on 24 March. Additionally, US President Biden will travel to Brussels to meet with NATO allies, G7 and EU leaders. After that, Biden is expected to travel to Poland to discuss the refugee crisis in the country with the Polish president.
Humanitarian and Migration Developments
According to the latest UNHCR data, more than 3.49 million Ukrainians have fled to another country in search of refuge. Lately, the number of people leaving Ukraine has fallen to 70,000 per day. In the first days since the latest Russian invasion began, between 120,000 and 150,000 people fled Ukraine per day. It is also estimated that 6.5 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine.
The humanitarian situation in Mariupol is extremely concerning due to the complexity and inability of safely evacuating people, especially in the west side of the city. This part of Mariupol is cut off from the rest and is not controlled by Ukrainian troops. As the city continues to be besieged, electricity, water and food shortages are increasing. On 21 March, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister has confirmed that eight humanitarian corridors have been agreed, especially in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kyiv regions. Russian authorities have also announced that evacuation corridors from Mariupol will be opened in both east and west directions from 10.00 local time on 21 March.
Forecast for the week
- Continued besiegement and potentially occupation of Mariupol.
- Continued besiegement of Kyiv, with Russia establishing a clear western flank, eventually pushing south to create a southern flank of the city.
- Intense Russian shelling of Kharkiv and Sumy is likely to continue.
- More hypersonic attacks targeting key infrastructure and military bases.
- More international mercenaries joining Russia.
- Extension of the conflict into western Ukraine.