A member of Ukraine’s emergency services looks at the City Hall building in the central square after a shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 1, 2022. (Image: AP/PTI)
Kyiv: Russian troops were withdrawing from Ukraine’s second-largest city after shelling it for weeks, the Ukrainian military said on Saturday, as forces from kyiv and Moscow fought a fierce battle for the industrial heartland of east of the country.
Ukraine’s military says Russian forces are withdrawing from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on protecting supply routes, while launching mortars, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern province of Donetsk in order “to exhaust the Ukrainian forces and destroy the fortifications”.
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine was “entering a new long-term phase of the war”.
In a show of support, a US Senate delegation led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday in Kyiv.
A video posted to Zelenskyy’s Telegram account showed McConnell, who represents the state of Kentucky, and fellow Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas saluting him. Their trip came after fellow Kentucky senator Rand Paul blocked until next week Senate approval of an additional $40 billion to help Ukraine and its allies resist. to the Russian invasion of 3 months.
In a statement after leaving Ukraine, McConnell said the United States “stands firmly behind Ukraine and will continue our support until Ukraine wins this war.”
After failing to capture kyiv after the Feb. 24 invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin shifted his focus east to Donbass, an industrial region where Ukraine has been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
The offensive aims to encircle the most experienced and well-equipped Ukrainian troops, which are deployed in the east, and to seize the parts of Donbass that remain under Ukrainian control.
Airstrikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for journalists to travel in the east, hampering efforts to get a full picture of the fighting. But it seems like a back and forth without major breakthroughs on either side.
Russia captured some villages and towns in Donbass, including Rubizhne, which had a population of around 55,000 before the war. Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces had also advanced in the east, retaking six towns or villages over the past day.
In his Saturday night address, he said “the situation in Donbass remains very difficult” and that Russian troops were “still trying to emerge at least somewhat victorious”.
“Step by step,” President Zelenskyy said, “we are forcing the occupiers out of Ukrainian land.” Kharkiv, which lies near the Russian border and just 80 km (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has endured weeks of heavy shelling.
The largely Russian-speaking city with a pre-war population of 1.4 million was a key military objective early in the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major cities. Ukraine “appears to have won the battle for Kharkiv,” said the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.
“Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, then driving them out of the city, as they did Russian forces trying to seize Kyiv. ”
Regional Governor Oleh Sinegubov said via the Telegram messaging app that there had been no shelling over Kharkiv over the past day. He added that Ukraine had launched a counteroffensive near Izyum, a town 125 km (78 miles) south of Kharkiv that has been held by Russia since at least early April.
Fighting was fierce on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, where Ukraine launched counterattacks but failed to halt Russia’s advance, military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said. independent Ukrainian.
“The fate of a large part of the Ukrainian army is being decided – there are around 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers,” he said. However, Russian forces suffered heavy casualties in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross the same river in the town of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian and British officials said. The UK Ministry of Defense said Russia lost “significant armored maneuver elements” of at least one battalion tactical group in the attack.
A Russian battalion tactical group consists of approximately 1,000 soldiers. The ministry said the risky river crossing was a sign of “pressure on Russian commanders to advance their operations in eastern Ukraine”.
Zelenskyy has warned of a global food crisis as Russia blocks Ukrainian grain from leaving port. The major economies of the Group of Seven echoed this Saturday, saying that “Russia’s war of aggression has generated one of the most serious food and energy crises in recent history, which now threatens the world’s most vulnerable”.
Putin launched the war in Ukraine in an effort to thwart NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe. But the invasion is raising fears in other countries on Russia’s flank that they could be next, and this week Finland’s president and prime minister said they were in favor of joining the NATO.
Swedish officials are expected to announce a decision on Sunday on whether they will apply to join the Western military alliance. In a phone call on Saturday, Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that there was no security threat to Finland and that joining NATO would be a “mistake” and would “negatively affect Russian-Russian relations.” Finnish”.
The Kremlin said the two leaders had a “frank exchange of views”. Niinisto said the discussion “was direct and unambiguous and went without exaggeration. Avoiding tension was considered important.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said NATO membership of Finland and Sweden would heighten security tensions in the Arctic, “turning it into an arena of military competition”.
Russian energy group Inter RAO suspended its electricity deliveries to Finland on Saturday, according to a statement from the Finnish national electricity grid operator. But only about 10% of Finland’s electricity comes from Russia, and the authorities did not expect any shortages.
Potential candidacies from the Nordic countries came into question on Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not in favour”. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to meet his NATO counterparts, including the Turkish Foreign Minister, this weekend in Germany.
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