• Putin leads Soviet victory celebrations in World War II
  • Russian forces storm Azovstal steelworks
  • Ukrainians claim missiles hit southern port of Odessa
  • Zelenskiy says Ukrainian victory is assured

KYIV/KHARKIV, Ukraine, May 9 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin urged Russians to fight in a defiant Victory Day speech on Monday but remained silent on plans for an escalation in Ukraine, despite Western warnings that he could use his speech in Red Square to order a national mobilization.

In Ukraine, there has been no respite in the fighting, with missile strikes destroying buildings in the southern port of Odessa and another push by Russian forces to defeat the last Ukrainian troops holding out at a steelworks in Ruined Mariupol.

Monday’s annual parade in Moscow – with the usual ballistic missiles and tanks rumbling on the cobbles – was easily the most watched since the defeat of the Nazis in 1945 which it celebrates.

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Western capitals had openly speculated for weeks that Putin was pushing his forces to make enough progress on the symbolic date to declare victory – but with few gains so far, he could instead announce a national call for war.

The Russian president did neither, but repeated his claims that his forces were again fighting the Nazis.

“You are fighting for the fatherland, for its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of the Second World War. So that there is no place in the world for executioners, castigators and Nazis” , Putin said from the rostrum outside the Kremlin walls. .

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in his own speech, promised that the Ukrainians would triumph.

“On Victory Day over Nazism, we are fighting for another victory. The road to it is difficult, but we have no doubt that we will win,” said Zelenskiy, dressed in a simple military uniform with the sleeves of his rolled up shirt.

In Washington, where sources say Democratic lawmakers have agreed to a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, including a massive new weapons package, US President Joe Biden said that he feared that Putin had no way out of the war. Read more

The White House previously described Putin’s remarks as “a revisionist story that has taken the form of disinformation.”

Russia’s war has killed thousands of civilians, driven millions of Ukrainians and reduced cities to rubble. Moscow has little to show beyond a swath of territory to the south and marginal gains to the east.

Sheltered in a metro station in Kharkiv – Ukraine’s second mostly Russian-speaking city that has been bombarded relentlessly since the early days of the war – Vira Mykhailivna, 90, a World War II survivor, buried her stained cheeks tears in her hands.

“I didn’t think this could ever happen to us,” she said. “This day used to be a big party.”

Kateryna Grigoriyevna, 79, a retired bank manager who spent 10 weeks underground in the cavernous station, sat eating an ice cream she had ventured to buy for Victory Day.

“We hate Putin,” she said, glancing around the platform where some 200 people huddle in tents and on thin mattresses.

“I would kill him myself if I could.”

‘ONLY DISHONOR, AND SURELY DEFEAT’

Soviet victory in World War II acquired a quasi-religious status in Russia under Putin, who invoked the memory of the “Great Patriotic War” throughout what he calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Western countries consider this a false analogy to justify unprovoked aggression.

“There can be no day of victory, only dishonor and surely defeat in Ukraine,” said British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.

In Poland, the Russian ambassador was surrounded by protesters at a memorial ceremony and sprayed with red paint. Ambassador Sergei Andreyev, his face dripping and his shirt stained, said he was “proud of my country and my president”.

After an assault on kyiv was repelled in March by strong Ukrainian resistance, Russia sent more troops for a massive offensive in the east last month.

Russian gains have been slow at best and Western weapons are pouring into Ukraine for an expected counterattack.

Western military experts – many of whom initially predicted a quick Russian victory – are now saying Moscow may be short of troops. A full declaration of war would allow Putin to activate reservists and send in conscripts.

“Without concrete steps to build a new force, Russia cannot fight a long war, and time is starting to turn on the failure of its military in Ukraine,” said Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the British University of Saint Petersburg. Andrews.

The war still appears to have strong public support in Russia, where independent journalism is effectively banned and state television says Russia is defending itself against NATO. Conscription would test that support.

Olga, a participant in the St. Petersburg “Immortal Regiment” memorial march, said she feared for her student son.

“I’m really worried about him. I know a lot of mothers whose sons are now of draft age… They’re trying to find a way to keep their children from going into this war.”

Combing out debris

In the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, missiles struck tourist sites, destroying five buildings and injuring two people, its city council said. Firefighters and rescuers combed through piles of rubble and doused the still-smoldering debris.

Officials in Odessa separately said explosions set fire to a shopping mall in the city. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Four people were killed and several houses were destroyed in Russian attacks in the town of Bogodukhov, northwest of Kharkiv, local media said, citing Kharkiv officials.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry says Russian forces backed by tanks and artillery are carrying out ‘assault operations’ at Mariupol’s Azovstal factory, where hundreds of Ukrainian defenders have held out for months of seat. Civilians taking refuge there have been evacuated in recent days.

The Russians were trying to blow up a bridge used for evacuations, to trap the last defenders inside, Mariupol assistant mayor Petro Andryuschenko said.

Mariupol sits between the Crimean peninsula, seized by Moscow in 2014, and parts of eastern Ukraine under the control of Russian-backed separatists. Capturing the city would allow Moscow to connect the two areas as it pushes for gains further east.

“Mariupol remains the most difficult part of our region,” said Pavlo Kyrylenko, regional governor of Donetsk, which includes Mariupol.

Despite the recent evacuation of Azovstal, “civilians remain in the town itself”, he said. “All are indeed handcuffed by Russia. We will continue to fight for each of them.”

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Additional reporting by Oleksandr Kozhukhar in Lviv and Reuters offices; Written by Peter Graff; Editing by Catherine Evans, Bill Berkrot and Lincoln Feast.

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