Russia Shuffles Command in Ukraine as Thousands Flee the East

Russia has revamped command of its flagging offensive in Ukraine, selecting a general with extensive combat experience in Syria to lead the mission, as Western nations dump more weapons into the country ahead of a fresh assault. Russian in the east.

The appointment of the general, Aleksandr V. Dvornikov, as commander-in-chief of the battlefield came as Britain announced it was sending an anti-aircraft missile system, 800 anti-tank missiles and various armored vehicles to Ukraine , and that Slovakia was handing over a long-range system to the Ukrainian army. S-300 air defense system, with the blessing of the United States.

In another show of support for Ukraine, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a surprise visit to the capital Kyiv on Saturday, where he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky flanked by flags of both nations.

Mr Johnson and Mr Zelensky planned to discuss further support for Ukraine, including a “new package of financial and military aid”, the British government said in a statement.

The push by Mr Johnson and other Western leaders to bolster Ukraine came as fears of another Russian attack intensified a day after a missile attack on a train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk killed more than 50 people, including children, and injured many more who heeded official warnings to flee.

Moscow has denied responsibility for the attack, but US military officials and independent analysts in Washington have said they believe Russian forces launched the missiles.

Mr Zelensky described the attack as “another Russian war crime” in his recorded nightly address to the nation. He said the strike against innocent civilians at the station would be investigated, along with other atrocities attributed to Russian troops, including the apparent killings of civilians in Bucha, a kyiv suburb.

“Like the Bucha massacre, like many other Russian war crimes, the missile strike on Kramatorsk must be one of the charges against the court, which is inevitable,” Zelensky said, calling on military commanders Russians to face trials like those faced by the Nazis at Nuremberg after World War II.

Mr Zelensky thanked Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, who visited Bucha on Friday, “for her personal involvement and help in setting up a joint investigation team to establish any the truth about the actions of the Russian occupiers and bring all those responsible to justice.

Japan said it would join the United States and European nations in supporting investigations into what Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called “unforgivable war crimes” committed by Russian troops.

Mr Kishida accused Russia of repeatedly violating international humanitarian law by attacking civilians and nuclear power plants, a sore point for Japan given its 2011 experience with the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. .

“We must hold Russia strictly accountable for these atrocities,” Kishida said. Japan said it would also expel eight Russian diplomats, ban Russian coal and restrict Russian imports of wood, vodka and machinery.

Legal experts said it would be difficult to bring war crimes charges against the Kremlin. The burden of proof is very heavy, requiring prosecutors to show that the soldiers and their commanders intended to violate international law which establishes the rules of war.

Western analysts and European intelligence officials believe Russian President Vladimir V. Putin is trying to secure battlefield gains by May 9, when he plans to deliver a Victory Day speech to the Russian public, commemorating both the Soviet victory in World War II and the military operation in Ukraine.

Russian troops have regrouped in the east after retreating from areas around kyiv under fire from Ukrainian forces. The gathering of forces prompted officials in Kramatorsk and other eastern towns to urge residents to flee.

On Friday, the day of the missile attack in Kramatorsk, more than 6,600 people managed to flee besieged Ukrainian towns – a record number for the week – the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Kramatorsk Mayor Oleksandr Honcharenko said fewer than 400 people boarded buses out of town on Saturday, presumably heading for areas to the west that would be safer.

Honcharenko said he expected about a quarter of Kramatorsk’s 200,000 residents to remain in the city, despite the expected Russian advance, and said the city was preparing food, water and medical supplies.

“The only thing that will convince them to leave the city is if it is besieged,” he said.

In the central city of Dnipro, dozens of people waited on Saturday to board buses bound for Bulgaria.

“Air raids are becoming more and more frequent,” said Ludmila Abramova, 62, who had fled Pavlograd, a town near the eastern Donbass region, where Russia has refocused its forces. “I leave.”

“But everything will be fine,” Ms. Abramova added. “I come back soon.”

Karina Humuk, 20, accompanied friends who had also left Pavlograd, heading for Bulgaria. “People are afraid of rockets, missiles and explosions coming to Pavlograd,” she said.

The European Commission on Saturday pledged 1 billion euros to support Ukraine and countries hosting refugees fleeing the war, which has triggered the fastest exodus of European refugees since World War II.

More than 7 million Ukrainians have left their homes since the February 24 invasion, and more than 4.4 million have left the country in total, according to the United Nations.

The reorganization of Russian military command came as the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank that tracks the fighting, said in its latest assessment that Russian forces in the east appear to be at a standstill and that it was “unlikely for a breakthrough and facing low morale.

The British Ministry of Defense also highlighted Russian military challenges, while warning that Russia should step up its airstrikes in eastern and southern Ukraine. The ministry said Russian efforts to link its soldiers in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, to Kremlin-backed troops in the Donbas region were being thwarted by Ukrainian counterattacks.

General Dvornikov’s appointment, reported by a senior US official on Saturday, was an effort to turn around that struggling campaign, US officials said.

General Dvornikov, 60, is the second highest rank in the Russian army. He was named a Hero of the Russian Federation for his command of Russian forces in the brutal war in Syria, where Mr Putin deployed Russian fighter jets and missiles to assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a multifaceted conflict between the government. , armed rebels, jihadists and others. In September 2016, the general was appointed commander of Russia’s Southern Military District, responsible for the restive North Caucasus.

Russia was conducting its military campaign against Ukraine from Moscow, with no central wartime commander on the ground to coordinate air, ground and sea units. That approach helped explain why the invasion struggled against surprisingly stiff Ukrainian resistance, and was plagued by poor logistics and low morale, U.S. officials said.

The disorganized assault also contributed to the deaths of at least seven Russian generals, as high-ranking officers were pushed to the front lines to sort out tactical problems that the Western military would have left to junior officers or senior enlisted personnel.

Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, Jane Arraf of Lviv, Ukraine, and Michael Levenson from New York. The report was provided by Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak from Dnipro, Ukraine, Cora Engelbrecht from Krakow, victoria kim from Seoul, Julian E. Barnes of Washington, and Steven Erlanger and Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels.