A huge Russian military convoy that had been stationed outside the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, since last week appears to have dispersed, according to a United States-based company, as the city braces for a possible ground assault.
Maxar Technologies said satellite images taken on Thursday showed that the 64km (40 miles) long line of vehicles, tanks and artillery has broken up and been redeployed.
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The company said the images showed armoured units manoeuvring in and through the surrounding towns close to the Antonov airport, northwest of Kyiv.
Some of the vehicles have moved into forests, Maxar reported.
It added that images also show convoy elements further north have repositioned near the town of Lubyanka with towed artillery howitzers in firing positions nearby.
The convoy had massed outside the city early last week, but its advance appeared to have stalled amid reports of food and fuel shortages.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Kyiv, said the vehicles in the convoy were changing positions but it was not clear whether they were being redeployed or securing supply lines.
“We don’t know [if] they are moving to other parts and are strengthening other offensives that might be going on or whether they are trying to secure supply lines for an entry into Kyiv in the coming days,” he said. “It is a significant change of tactic if they are redeploying them elsewhere but if they are resupplying them, that could suggest they are getting for an offensive into Kyiv.”
Some analysts have said this week Russia was gradually overcoming logistical issues and was preparing for a ground assault on the capital.
On Wednesday, the Institute for the Study of War said Russian forces “continued concentrating in the eastern, northwestern and western outskirts of Kyiv for an assault on the Ukrainian capital in the coming 24-96 hours”.
#Russian forces continued concentrating in the eastern, northwestern, and western outskirts of #Kyiv for an assault on the #Ukrainian capital in the coming 24-96 hours. Read the latest from @TheStudyofWar and @criticalthreats.
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) March 9, 2022
The convoy’s redeployment comes amid reports that Russian forces have reached the northeastern edge of Kyiv, where suburbs including Irpin and Bucha have endured days of heavy bombardment.
Ukrainian soldiers there described fierce fighting for control of the main highway leading into the capital, and the AFP news agency reported seeing missile attacks in Velyka Dymerka just outside Kyiv’s city limits.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the capital had now been “transformed into a fortress”.
“Every street, every house … is being fortified,” he told Ukrainian television. “Even people who in their lives never intended to change their clothes, now they are in uniform with machine guns in their hands.”
He added that about two million people – half the population of the metropolitan area – have left the capital. “From our information, one in two Kyiv residents has left the city,” he said.
Western officials said Russian forces have made little progress on the ground in recent days and are seeing heavier losses and stiffer Ukrainian resistance than Moscow apparently anticipated.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces have used airpower and artillery to pummel Ukraine’s cities.
The 15-day conflict has killed and wounded thousands of people and displaced millions.
The United Nations’ refugee agency estimates that at least 2.3 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring countries, while another 1.9 million have been internally displaced.