What helps, too, is taking a long view of the history that comes with running a business founded in 1589, the events that it has witnessed and withstood over time.

“Nazis, Communists, government takeovers — in the past, we’ve had just about everything here,” Mr. Fritsche said. “And we have survived it all. We will get through this as well.”

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Little cheer for Russian beer lovers as sanctions bite

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June 6 (Reuters) – “Sorry, that was the last bottle of Czech beer we had,” said a waiter at a central Moscow restaurant, a month after Russia sent troops into Ukraine and the West imposed sweeping sanctions.

More than 100 days into what Russia calls a special military operation in Ukraine, foreign alcohol is still available in Moscow pubs, but the once ample reserves are dwindling.

“Some pubs accumulated large stocks when it all started. But, as far as I know, there have been no new deliveries ordered and confirmed after Feb. 24,” said Alexander Skripkin, who manages two bars in Moscow.

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Many foreign companies including leading Western brewer in the country Carlsberg (CARLb.CO), Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR) and Heineken(HEIN.AS), have suspended sales in Russia and shipping trade has plummeted.

That haspressured the economy and affected the habits of Russians used to a lavish selection of foreign-made alcohol.

“The beer situation is very cheerless,” said Anton, a 36-year-old IT expert who works for a state financial organisation in Moscow.

“Not to mention Paulaner, Pilsner Urquell and other tasty stuff, I’m not at all confident if Russian beer is here to stay. There are problems not only with beer imports but even with imports of hops,” he added.

Russian breweries depend heavily on imports of raw materials, such as hops.

“Complications with sending money to suppliers in Europe and America, as well as the disruption of supply chains, are now the two most difficult issues,” Russia’s association of beer producers said, citing Beer Resource, one of Russia’s largest distributors of raw materials for breweries.

In early March, Carlsberg, AB Inbev and Heineken halted the production and sale of their flagship beers in the country and they have since said they will sell their businesses there. read more

CARGO SHIPMENTS

The world’s biggest foreign container lines – including the top three MSC, Maersk, CMA CGM – have temporarily suspended cargo shipments to and from Russia, while European Union countries sharing borders with Russia and Belarus have barred cargo vehicles registered in those countries from entering.

“There is no Guinness any longer and it won’t return, at least for now,” a bartender at the White Hart, a large English-style pub in central Moscow next to the central bank, said. It used to sell the stout for 690 roubles ($10.83) per pint.

Diageo (DGE.L), which makes Smirnoff vodka and Guinness, began its own distribution in Russia in 2006 and once noted enormous growth potential in the country. It said in March it had suspended all exports to Russia as well as local manufacturing of its beers.

But Guinness, which has one-year shelf life when stored in kegs, was still available at two pubs nearby where bartenders said they were selling stocks with little hope they would be replenished any time soon.

“We have stocks that should be enough for half a year,” said a representative of beer importer Nice Beer based in a Moscow suburb.

Foreign-made strong alcohol could also become scarce.

Warehouses are almost empty and restaurants are selling old stock, said Sergei Mironov, Moscow’s restaurant business ombudsman, state news agency RIA reported.

Russia President Vladimir Putin has said the sanctions will rebound on the West and provide new opportunities for Russian firms.

“Sometimes when you look at those who leave – thank God, perhaps? We will occupy their niches: our business, our production – it has already grown, and it will safely sit on the ground prepared by our partners,” Putin said on May 26. read more

With foreign alcohol flows drying up, bars and stores are considering locally-produced drinks.

“We’ve started looking for domestic alternatives to foreign beers and, as a result, the selection has changed drastically. Imported alcohol is now 20-50% more expensive, while local beers are slightly cheaper than imported ones used to be before Feb. 24,” Skripkin said.

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Reporting by Reuters, editing by Ed Osmond

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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What Happened on Day 99 of the War in Ukraine

As the war in Ukraine approaches its 100th day, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that Russian forces now control one-fifth of the country, a blunt acknowledgment of the slow but substantial gains that Moscow has made in recent weeks.

Though battered, depleted and repulsed from their initial drive to capture the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Russian troops have used their superior artillery power to grind closer to their goal of taking over the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, known collectively as the Donbas, where Kremlin-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops since 2014.

Mr. Zelensky said Russia had expanded its control of Ukrainian territory from an area roughly the size of the Netherlands before the invasion began to an area now greater than the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg combined. Seizing that swath of land could give President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia huge leverage in any future talks to end the war, as well as a base of operations to launch further attacks inside Ukraine.

Yet momentum in the war can shift quickly and unpredictably. As Russia has pounded targets in the east, Ukrainian forces have regained control of 20 small towns and villages in a counteroffensive in the south of the country, a regional official, Hennadiy Lahuta, said on national television.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Fighting was raging, Mr. Zelensky said, along a roughly 620-mile-long, crescent-shaped front that stretches from around the northeastern city of Kharkiv to the outskirts of Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea, in the south.

“If you look at the entire front line, and it is, of course, not straight, this line is more than a thousand kilometers,” Mr. Zelensky said in a video address to the Parliament of Luxembourg. “Just imagine! Constant fighting, which stretched along the front line for more than a thousand kilometers.”

Amid intense battles and heavy losses suffered by both the Russian and Ukrainian armies, the arrival of more sophisticated and powerful weapons from Western nations could alter the dynamic on the battlefield.

President Biden this week promised to send Ukraine advanced rocket systems that can target enemy positions from nearly 50 miles away, and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany pledged to ship a sophisticated air defense system and a tracking radar capable of pinpointing Russian artillery.

For now, Moscow’s main military target is Sievierodonetsk, the last major city in the Luhansk region that is not in Russian hands. Russian forces have shelled the area for weeks, reducing much of the city to depopulated rubble.

Russia controls about 70 percent of the city, although a regional official said on Thursday that Ukrainian troops had forced Russian soldiers back from several streets amid fierce urban combat.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Russian forces have renewed assaults to the west of the city in an effort to sever a Ukrainian supply line along a highway and side roads that the Ukrainians have called the “road of life,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington research group, said in an assessment.

“The Russian army is trying to break through the defenses of the armed forces of Ukraine,” Serhiy Haidai, the military governor of the Ukrainian-controlled portions of the Luhansk region, wrote on Telegram.

“Now, the main goal for them is Sievierodonetsk, but they had no success overnight,” he wrote.

Military analysts have viewed the Ukrainian army’s decision to hold out in the city as a risky maneuver. It allows the Ukrainians to inflict casualties on Russian troops but could also result in heavy losses for Ukrainian soldiers, who have been besieged by relentless artillery fire.

Mr. Zelensky said that more than 14,000 Ukrainian civilians and service members had been killed in conflict with Russia since 2014, when it seized Crimea. More than 8 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced since Russia’s invasion in February, and more than 6.5 million have fled to other countries as refugees, according to the United Nations.

In his nightly address to the nation Thursday, Mr. Zelensky said that more than 200,000 children had been deported since the invasion began. He called the deportations “one of Russia’s most heinous war crimes.”

“These are orphans from orphanages. Children with parents. Children separated from their families,” Mr. Zelensky said. “The Russian state disperses these people on its territory, settles our citizens, in particular, in remote regions. The purpose of this criminal policy is not just to steal people, but to make deportees forget about Ukraine and not be able to return.”

Credit…Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

Russia has denied that people are being forced to leave Ukraine, saying that the 1.5 million Ukrainians now in Russia were evacuated for their own safety. On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that over the past 24 hours, 18,886 people had been evacuated from eastern Ukraine, including 2,663 children.

American officials have rejected Russia’s claims that it has been offering Ukrainians humanitarian relief by moving them to Kremlin-controlled territory.

“As many eyewitness accounts have described in detail, Russia is subjecting many of these civilians to brutal interrogations in so-called filtration camps,” Michael Carpenter, the United States ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said in a speech this month in Vienna.

Raising the issue again this week, he said: “Local residents who try to escape Russia’s reign of fear and brutality risk abduction and forced deportation to Russia or Russia-held areas.”

Russia has not released casualty figures for its troops since late March, when it said 1,351 soldiers had died. Mr. Zelensky said Ukrainian officials believe that at least 30,000 Russian troops have been killed. In late March, NATO estimated that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops had been killed.

In an effort to isolate and punish Mr. Putin and his allies for having launched the invasion, the Biden administration on Thursday announced a new set of sanctions aimed at freezing the shadowy network of international assets that Mr. Putin and members of his inner circle use to hide their wealth.

Among the targets were four yachts linked to the Russian leader: the Shellest, the Nega, the Graceful and the Olympia. Mr. Putin has used some of the vessels for ocean excursions, including one outing last year on the Black Sea with Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the strongman leader of Belarus, who has supported the invasion of Ukraine, the administration said.

Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

The sanctions also targeted several prominent members of the Russian elite, including Sergei Roldugin, a cellist, conductor and artistic director of the St. Petersburg Music House, whom the administration called a close Putin associate, godfather to one of Mr. Putin’s daughters and custodian of the Russian president’s offshore wealth.

Mr. Roldugin was added to the European Union’s sanctions list in late February, days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has been described as “Putin’s wallet.”

Following a drop in Russian oil exports caused in part by Western sanctions, a group of oil-producing nations known as OPEC Plus agreed on Thursday to raise production levels in July and August. The agreement followed months of lobbying by the White House, but analysts said it was too slight to ease high gas prices that have posed a political challenge for Democrats in the midterm elections.

OPEC Plus, which includes Russia, Saudi Arabia and other major oil producers, announced the plan to increase production just days after the European Union agreed to ban most imports of Russian oil, imposing a harsh penalty on Moscow that also threatened to drive European energy costs higher.

As E.U. negotiators finalized the details of the oil embargo and other sanctions against Russia, they made a change at the insistence of Hungary, removing from the sanctions list Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church, who has been accused of offering spiritual cover for the invasion of Ukraine.

Reporting was contributed by Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Julian E. Barnes, Michael Forsythe, Stanley Reed and Andrew E. Kramer.

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Exclusive: How a Russian billionaire shielded assets from sanctions

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  • Melnichenko ceded ownership of coal, fertilizer firms to wife
  • Cession occurred the day before EU imposed sanctions on him
  • Transfers of assets fuel doubts over sanctions’ effectiveness

ISTANBUL/BRUSSELS, May 27 (Reuters) – Russian businessman Andrey Melnichenko ceded ownership of two of the world’s largest coal and fertilizers companies to his wife the day before he was sanctioned by the European Union, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Melnichenko, who built his fortune in the years following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, gave up his stakes in the coal producer SUEK AO and fertilizer group EuroChem Group AG on March 8, the day of his 50th birthday, leaving his wife, Aleksandra Melnichenko, the beneficial ownership of the companies, the people said.

Until March 8, Melnichenko owned the two companies through a chain of trusts and corporations stretching from Moscow and the Swiss town of Zug to Cyprus and Bermuda, according to legal filings reviewed by Reuters.

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Since 2006, Melnichenko’s wife was second in line behind her husband on the list of beneficial owners of the two companies in trust documents, according to the three people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t allowed to speak publicly about the couple’s assets. That meant that she stood to inherit ownership of the companies in the event her husband died, the people said.

When the war in Ukraine began in February, however, Melnichenko grew concerned that he would be designated under the European Union’s Russia sanctions regime, the people familiar with the matter said. On March 8, Melnichenko notified trustees of his retirement as the beneficiary, the people said. That triggered the same chain of changes in trust records that would have happened if the businessman had passed away, and made his wife the beneficiary.

Reuters was unable to reach Melnichenko and his wife for comment.

A spokesman for Russia-based SUEK didn’t respond to messages seeking comment. Switzerland-based EuroChem confirmed that Aleksandra Melnichenko had replaced her husband as beneficial owner.

“Following the departure of its founder, the primary beneficial ownership of a trust holding a 90% stake in the global fertilizer company has automatically passed to his wife,” the company said in a statement to Reuters on Wednesday.

The role of Melnichenko’s wife at EuroChem was first reported by Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger. Her role at SUEK as well as the timing of ownership changes and other details are reported here for the first time.

Melnichenko, who founded SUEK and EuroChem two decades ago, was ranked as Russia’s eighth richest man last year by Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $18 billion.

The European Union sanctioned Melnichenko, citing his alleged proximity to the Kremlin, on March 9 as part of a Western attempt to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions – which include freezing his assets, banning him from entering the European Union and prohibiting EU entities from providing funds to him – do not apply to his wife nor the couple’s daughter and son.

Britain also put Melnichenko, who is Russian but was born in Belarus and has a Ukrainian mother, on its sanction list on March 15. Switzerland imposed sanctions against him the following day.

The businessman said in a statement to Reuters in March, after the EU sanctions were imposed, that the war in Ukraine was “truly tragic” and he appealed for peace. A spokesman for Melnichenko said at that time he had “no political affiliations”.

Western governments have imposed sweeping sanctions against Russian companies and individuals in an effort to force Moscow to withdraw.

But some sanctioned Russian businessmen, including Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Yevtushenkov, have transferred assets to friends and family members, fuelling doubts over the effectiveness of these attempts to pressure Moscow.

Melnichenko, whose residence was registered in the Swiss alpine resort town of St. Moritz until he was hit by sanctions, gave his instructions to change the ownership of his companies from a retreat near Mount Kilimanjaro where he was celebrating his birthday, according to a person familiar with the matter. A Boeing 737 emblazoned with the billionaire’s signature “A” on the fuselage had landed in Tanzania on March 5, arriving from Dubai, according to flight-tracking service Flightradar24.

A lawyer for Melnichenko didn’t respond to questions about the Kilimanjaro trip.

Melnichenko’s transfer of ownership at SUEK and EuroChem had far-reaching implications.

After reviews lasting several weeks, Swiss financial authorities concluded that the two companies could continue operating normally on the grounds that Melnichenko was no longer involved with them. SUEK and EuroChem said that British and German financial regulators have reached similar conclusions.

The British and German regulators didn’t respond to requests seeking comment.

Upon completion of the reviews in late April, SUEK and EuroChem – which had revenues last year of $9.7 billion and $10.2 billion respectively – were able to resume distribution of millions of dollars in interest payments to bondholders.

In recent weeks, SUEK and EuroChem have also approached Western clients, showing them documents with the new ownership structure in a bid to reassure them that they can continue doing business with Mr. Melnichenko’s former companies, two people familiar with the matter said.

NO MORE PAYMENTS

In Switzerland, the Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) said neither SUEK nor EuroChem were under sanctions in the country.

SECO said that, as far as it was aware, Melnichenko was no longer a beneficiary of the trust to which EuroChem belonged at the time of his sanction by the EU and Switzerland.

SECO also said it sought confirmation from Eurochem that it would no longer provide funds to Melnichenko.

“The company and its management have guaranteed in writing to SECO that the Swiss sanction measures will be fully complied with and in particular that no funds or economic resources will be made available to sanctioned persons,” SECO said in response to a query.

Swiss authorities have defended their decision not to extend sanctions to Melnichenko’s wife or to his former companies, pointing to the fact that EU authorities had not sanctioned them either.

“In this case, we have done exactly what the EU has done,” Switzerland’s Economy Minister Guy Parmelin told Swiss television on Wednesday.

Parmelin added that Switzerland was also wary that sanctioning EuroChem at a time when fertilizer prices have soared in most parts of the world could have dire consequences on agriculture markets. EuroChem said it produced more than 19 million metric tons of fertilizer last year – roughly equivalent to 10% of the world’s output, according to U.N. data.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said it had no information about the transfer of Melnichenko’s assets to his wife. The commission has said it is willing to close loopholes allowing individuals and companies to elude its sanctions. Earlier this week, it unveiled proposals aimed at criminalising moves to bypass sanctions, including by transferring assets to family members, across the 27-nation bloc.

Under the trust structure, control over SUEK and EuroChem is exercised by independent trustees while beneficial ownership, which was in the hands of Melnichenko until March 8, has moved to his wife.

A mathematician who once dreamt of becoming a physicist, Melnichenko dropped out of university to dive into the chaotic – and sometimes deadly – world of post-Soviet business.

He founded MDM Bank but in the 1990s was still too minor to take part in the privatizations under President Boris Yeltsin that handed the choicest assets of a former superpower to a group of businessmen who would become known as the oligarchs due to their political and economic clout.

Melnichenko then began buying up often distressed coal and fertilizer assets, making him one of Europe’s richest men.

The EU said, when it announced its sanctions, that Melnichenko “belongs to the most influential circle of Russian business people with close connections to the Russian government”.

Melnichenko was among dozens of business leaders who met with Putin on the day Russia invaded Ukraine to discuss the impact of sanctions, showing his close ties to the Kremlin, the EU said in its March 9 sanction order.

At the time, a spokesman for Melnichenko denied that the businessman belonged to Putin’s inner circle and said he would dispute the sanctions in court. On May 17, Melnichenko challenged the sanctions by lodging an appeal with the EU’s General Court, which handles complaints against European institutions, court records show.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.

Italy seized Melnichenko’s superyacht – the 470-foot Sailing Yacht A, which has a price tag of 530 million euros – on March 12, three days after he was placed on an EU sanctions list.

SUEK and EuroChem said on March 10, a day after the EU announced sanctions against Melnichenko and 159 other individuals tied to Russia, that their founder had resigned from his board positions at the companies.

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Reporting by David Gauthier-Villars and Gabriela Baczynska; Additional reporting by Chris Kirkham in Los Angeles, Andrew MacAskill in London, Michael Shields and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi in Zurich
Editing by Daniel Flynn

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Live Updates: Russian Forces Battle in Ukraine’s East to Feed Putin’s Hunger for a Victory

DONETSK REGION, Ukraine — Fighting raged on Thursday across eastern Ukraine, from the Kharkiv area in the north where Ukrainian forces regained ground, to Mariupol in the south, where Russians breached the last Ukrainian redoubt in a steel plant, as Moscow’s forces battled to present President Vladimir V. Putin with something he can call victory.

Some of the most ferocious combat took place between those two poles, in or near the north of the Donetsk region, where the earth heaved with constant artillery bombardment. Russian forces approached from the east, north and south, vainly trying to trap and destroy Ukrainian units in and around the cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, and the towns of Lyman and Barvinkove.

At a busy medical field hospital in that cauldron, where the smoke of battle dulled the spring sunlight, a Ukrainian soldier with a concussion lay curled into a fetal position, while another, his face half torn away, lay dead in a black body bag. In Kramatorsk, now largely abandoned, three Russian airstrikes gutted a large apartment complex and a store selling bras and underwear, injuring 26 people.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

The Kremlin is determined to reach some kind of milestone, Western officials and analysts say, by May 9, the day Russia commemorates the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany with a military parade full of bombast and martial spirit that Mr. Putin has turned into something close to a religious holiday. After more than two months of his vaunted military’s halting performance and heavy losses in Ukraine, they say, Russia’s autocratic leader needs something to show for the war’s massive cost in lives and treasure.

But it is difficult to evaluate how the actual fighting is going. The Russian advance appears to have been sluggish, with forces taking a few villages each day in one location, while losing just as many in another. Ukrainian forces are mounting a highly mobile defense, maneuvering in small units around the larger masses of Russian forces, ensuring that lines remain fluid and unpredictable.

“The front is swinging this way and that,” said a tattooed 24-year-old army paramedic named Zhenya who was resting at the field hospital. “At first they weren’t hitting nearby here, now shells are coming in over the fence.”

In Mariupol, perhaps the city most devastated by the Russian invasion that began on Feb. 24, furious close-quarters combat shook the sprawling Azovstal steel plant, as Russian forces finally began to penetrate the complex where the last Ukrainians have held out for two months in a warren of underground bunkers. The number of Ukrainian fighters remaining is unclear, but Ukrainian officials said that even after a recent trickle of evacuations, about 200 civilians are still trapped there.

“Heavy, bloody battles are raging,” Lt. Col. Denys Prokopenko, a Ukrainian commander at Azovstal, said in a video posted Wednesday night. On Thursday, Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the city government, said that with nonstop shelling and fighting, the plant had been “turned into hell.”

Credit…Associated Press

In its latest assessment, the Institute for the Study of War, a research organization in Washington, said that Moscow wanted “to claim complete control of Mariupol by May 9, with Russian propagandists recently arriving in the city to set conditions for further claims of a Russian victory.”

With Russian efforts now concentrated farther south, Ukrainian forces have been pushing the Russians back in the Kharkiv area, recapturing towns and villages, and in some cases forcing Russian units beyond artillery range of the battered city.

The Kremlin had a muted response on Thursday to The New York Times’s report that the United States had supplied intelligence to Ukrainian forces that had helped them locate and kill Russian generals. Russia was already “well aware” that NATO and its member countries were sharing intelligence with Ukraine, said Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, who added that Western aid only lengthens the war and “cannot prevent the fulfillment” of Russia’s goals.

The Pentagon spokesman, John F. Kirby, declined to comment directly, but said the United States did not specifically provide intelligence on the locations of Russian officers, “or participate in the targeting decisions of the Ukrainian military.”

After Russia’s initial drive in the north failed to take Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, its forces withdrew and began to focus on capturing territory in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, but their progress has been slow and costly.

In a striking moment of candor, Mr. Putin’s closest foreign ally, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the ruler of neighboring Belarus, called the fighting a war — a term forbidden in Russia — and acknowledged that it was not going well for Russia. “I feel like this operation has dragged on,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

In the north of Donetsk, the dead and wounded flowed into the field hospital at a regular clip as Russian artillery pounded the rolling, wooded hills where Ukrainian troops were mounting their defense.

On a visit on Thursday, ordnance whizzed, thumped and boomed in all directions. Military paramedics brought wounded soldiers to the field hospital to stabilize them before sending them by ambulance to a military hospital farther from the front.

Ukrainian military officials asked that the precise location of the field hospital, about a 25-minute drive from Kramatorsk, be withheld to prevent the Russians from targeting it. Even so, Russian artillery shells landed nearby.

The toll on Ukrainian forces could be measured by the columns of ambulances racing away from the front lines, even as trucks and armored vehicles carrying troops and equipment headed in the opposite direction.

“We’re not making any kind of prognoses,” said Valeria Skorik, a press officer for the 81st brigade, among the units fighting in the northern part of the Donetsk region. “I’ve been asked by journalists about what kind of event we might have on May 9, but I’ve just decided not to answer.”

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Western officials and analysts say that Mr. Putin could be planning to make a dramatic announcement on Victory Day, when he traditionally reviews the parade from an elevated platform in Red Square and delivers a speech surrounded by aged World War II veterans. He often has other heads of government with him, too, but the war has left Russia largely isolated, and the Kremlin says no foreign leaders were invited this year.

Speculation has centered on a possible claim of victory by Mr. Putin or, more ominously, an acknowledgment that Russia is at war and the announcement of a mass mobilization with expanded conscription, a move that would be unpopular.

Ukrainian forces in and around northern Donetsk appear to be holding the line for now, offering poor prospects for a Russian achievement there, despite Russia’s incessant hammering at Ukrainian military positions and towns.

The airstrike on Kramatorsk left a large crater and generated a shock wave so powerful that it blew out the interior walls of a row of apartments about 75 feet away and ripped steel doors off hinges. Touring the damage, Pavel Kirilenko, chief of the Donetsk region’s military administration, said that remarkably, no one had been killed.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

“This is yet more confirmation that everyone needs to leave the city,” Mr. Kirilenko said. “The enemy is exclusively targeting elements of civilian infrastructure in order to spread panic — and not only spread panic, but to destroy the civilian population.”

In anticipation of a potential assault, officials have urged anyone who is able to leave the city as soon as possible. Many have done so: The streets of Kramatorsk, an industrial and administrative center with a prewar population of about 150,000, are largely empty. Most businesses are shuttered. Each day, buses leave the city center, evacuating residents to points west.

But not everyone has heeded the calls to leave. Inside the destroyed apartment building on Thursday was a woman in a bathrobe, cradling a small dog. She gave only her first name, Viktoria.

The explosion, at about 4:30 a.m., blew her balcony and the entire front wall of her apartment onto her and her husband as they slept. Her husband suffered a large head wound; drops of blood stained the mattress and floor. Her 24-year-old daughter was left with a broad cluster of bloody cuts from flying glass.

She said local officials had urged her to shelter in a school, at least for the night. But she said she just wanted to seal the front of her apartment in plastic to keep out the elements, and stay there for the night.

“There is shelling everywhere,” she said. “So where are we supposed to go?”

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

For the last defenders of Mariupol, long cut off from outside aid with their numbers and supplies dwindling, the situation was even more dire.

Russian forces managed to find their way into the four-square-mile Azovstal complex where they have been sheltering with the help of a former worker familiar with its layout, according to Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Mr. Gerashchenko, on social media and speaking to reporters, said that an electrician who had worked at the steel plant showed the Russians tunnels to enter the complex.

He said the Russian desire to declare victory on May 9 explained why Russian state television hosts, who are some of Mr. Putin’s leading cheerleaders — including Vladimir Solovyov, under U.S. and European sanctions for promoting Kremlin disinformation — have traveled to Mariupol.

Communications from Azovstal briefly went dark on Wednesday, but on Thursday morning, fighters in the bunkers were again sending messages via social media platforms, promising not to surrender.

“It has been three days since Russian troops broke into the territory of Azovstal,” said Capt. Svyatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov regiment at the plant. “Heavy fighting continues to take a bloody toll.”

Reporting was contributed by Richard Pérez-Peña from New York, Cora Engelbrecht and Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland, and Anton Troianovski from Istanbul.

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Putin’s Ukraine Gamble Pivots to a Very Different Battlefield

KYIV, Ukraine — There are fields instead of city streets, farmsteads instead of apartment buildings. Open highways stretch to the horizon.

The battles in the north that Ukraine won over the past seven weeks raged in towns and densely populated suburbs around the capital, Kyiv, but the war is about to take a hard turn to the southeast and into a vast expanse of wide-open flatland, fundamentally changing the nature of the combat, the weapons at play and the strategies that might bring victory.

Military analysts, Ukrainian commanders, soldiers and even Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, acknowledge that a wider war that began with a failed attempt to capture the capital will now be waged in the eastern Donbas region.

With few natural barriers, the armies can try to flank and surround each other, firing fierce barrages of artillery from a distance to soften enemy positions.

Russia invaded in February, Ukraine had been fighting Russia-backed separatists there since 2014, when Moscow fomented an uprising and sent in forces to support it. That war had settled into a stalemate, with each side controlling territory and neither gaining much ground.

Now, what may be the decisive phase of Mr. Putin’s latest war is returning to that same region, blighted by eight years of conflict and littered with land mines and trenches, as he tries to conquer the portion of Donbas still held by Ukraine. Neither side has made a major move in recent days, and analysts say it will most likely require a long and bloody conflict for either one to prevail.

Slovakia this week provided Ukraine with a potent, long-range antiaircraft missile system, the S-300. And on Wednesday, President Biden announced an $800 million military aid package to Ukraine that for the first time included more-powerful weaponry, including 18 155-millimeter howitzers, 40,000 rounds of artillery ammunition and 200 armored personnel carriers.

warn the United States of “unpredictable consequences” of shipping such arms, American officials said on Friday.

Perhaps the biggest difference from the northern phase of the war, fought among towns, woods and hills, will be the terrain. Military analysts are forecasting an all-out, bloody battle on the steppe.

“There’s nowhere to hide,” said Maksim Finogin, a veteran of Ukraine’s conflict in Donbas.

considering applying for membership in the alliance. Dmitri A. Medvedev, Russia’s former president and prime minister, said Moscow would be forced to “seriously strengthen” its defenses in the Baltics if the two countries were to join.

“The surrounding forces draw in closer, tighten the flanks and then methodically destroy” those trapped inside with artillery, he said, recalling a strategy that nearly cost him his life.

designated a single theater commander, Gen. Aleksandr V. Dvornikov, a former commander of the Russian army in Syria known for brutal tactics there.

And the fight in the east will begin closer to supply lines stretching back to the Russian border; that could be key for a mechanized Russian army advancing in a major conventional assault across the countryside.

“They are now prepared to fight the war that they really want,” the retired Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, a former NATO supreme allied commander for Europe, said of the Russians. “They want to meet force on force in open fields and go at it.”

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Kyiv, Ukraine; Eric Schmitt from Washington; Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kharkiv, Ukraine; and Michael Schwirtz from Lviv, Ukraine.

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