Ukrainian officials say Russian forces have pounded away at the vital port of Odesa, as part of an apparent effort to disrupt supply lines and weapons shipments.
On the other end of the southern coast, they hammered a steel plant where Ukrainian fighters are preventing Moscow’s full control of another critical port. Days after the dramatic rescue of what some officials said were the last civilians trapped at the plant in Mariupol, authorities said about 100 were still believed to be in the network of underground tunnels.
The strikes come as the grisly toll from battles continued to take shape, with the Ukrainians saying they found the bodies of 44 civilians in the rubble of a building in the northeast that was destroyed weeks ago.
One concern U.S. officials have expressed is that Russia would attempt to annex sections of eastern Ukraine and hold what authorities call "sham elections" in the region.
"First, it is based on the Russian playbook," Ned Price, U.S. State Department spokesperson, said. "It is a Russian playbook that we have seen, that we have seen turned to time and again. In Crimea, in eastern Ukraine, this is what Russian authorities and proto-authorities have done in the past. They have sought to annex. They have sought to conduct sham elections to give their occupation this patina of legitimacy. And our concern remains that they will attempt to do so once again in territory in eastern Ukraine."
While parts of Ukraine continue to undergo constant bombardment, the U.S. said that Ukrainian forces are holding strong.
"Ukrainians have achieved great strides and that they have been able to stand up to an aggressing force, to hold out," Price said. "And we are now more than 10 weeks into this conflict, a conflict that Russian officials, Russian leaders, thought would culminate in a matter of hours or a matter of days with Russia de facto in charge of Ukraine. Of course, that has not happened, and it hasn’t happened because of the tenacity, the grit, the determination, the bravery, the courage of our Ukrainian partners and the enabling assets that the United States and our partners around the world."