Source: AP

Explosions and bursts of gunfire shook Kyiv, and black smoke rose from a spot in the north. Intensified artillery fire could be heard from the northwest, where Russia has sought to encircle and capture several suburban areas of the capital, a crucial target.

Residents sheltered at home or underground under a 35-hour curfew imposed by authorities in the capital that runs to Wednesday morning.

Russian forces also pressed their siege of Mariupol after the southern port city’s defenders refused demands to surrender, with fleeing civilians describing relentless bombardments and corpses lying in the streets. But the Kremlin’s ground offensive in other parts of the country advanced slowly or not at all, knocked back by lethal hit-and-run attacks by the Ukrainians.

Early Tuesday, Ukrainian troops forced Russian forces out of the Kyiv suburb of Makariv after a fierce battle, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said. The regained territory allowed Ukrainian forces to retake control of a key highway and block Russian troops from surrounding Kyiv from the northwest.

Still, the Defense Ministry said Russian forces battling toward Kyiv were able to partially take other northwest suburbs, Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, some of which had been under attack almost since Russia’s military invaded almost a month ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces are increasingly concentrating their air power and artillery on Ukraine’s cities and the civilians living there.

The invasion has driven 10 million people from their homes, a number similar to the population of Portugal and almost a quarter of Ukraine’s pre-war population, according to the United Nations. The U.N. has confirmed over 900 civilian deaths while saying the real toll is probably much higher. Estimates of Russian military deaths vary, but even conservative figures are in the low thousands.

U.S. and British officials say Kyiv remains Russia’s primary objective. The bulk of Moscow’s forces remain miles from the center, but missiles and artillery have destroyed apartment buildings and a large shopping mall, which was left a smoking ruin after being hit late Sunday by strikes that killed eight people, according to emergency officials.

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A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the military’s assessment, said Russia had increased air sorties over the past two days, carrying out as many as 300 over a 24-hour period, and has fired more than 1,100 missiles into Ukraine since the invasion began.

Perched on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol is a crucial port for Ukraine and lies along a stretch of territory between Russia and Crimea. As such, it is a key target that has been besieged for more than three weeks and has seen some of the worst suffering of the war.

It is not clear how close its capture might be. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday that their forces were still defending the city and had destroyed a Russian patrol boat and electronic warfare complex, and Britain’s Defense Ministry said its intelligence showed that “Ukrainian forces continue to repulse Russian attempts to occupy” the city.

Mariupol had a prewar population of about 430,000. Around a quarter are believed to have left in the opening days of the war, and tens of thousands escaped over the past week by way of the humanitarian corridors. Other attempts have been thwarted by the fighting.

Mariupol officials said on March 15 that at least 2,300 people had died in the siege, with some buried in mass graves. There has been no official estimate since then, but the number is feared to be far higher.

Those who have made it out of Mariupol told of a devastated city.

“There are no buildings there anymore,” said 77-year-old Maria Fiodorova, who crossed the border to Poland on Monday after five days of travel.

A long line of vehicles stood on a road in Bezimenne, east of Mariupol, as residents sought shelter at a temporary camp set up by Russian-backed separatists in the Donetsk region. An estimated 5,000 people from Mariupol have taken refuge in the camp. Many arrived in cars with signs that said “children” in Russian.

A woman who gave her name as Yulia said she and her family sought shelter in Bezimenne after a bombing destroyed six houses behind her home.

“That’s why we got in the car, at our own risk, and left in 15 minutes because everything is destroyed there, dead bodies are lying around,” she said.