Ukrainian military says Russians are withdrawing from Kharkiv
Kyiv: Ukraine’s military said on Saturday that Russian troops are withdrawing from Ukraine’s second-largest city after weeks of bombing, as forces from Kyiv and Moscow engage in a peaceful battle for the country’s eastern industrial zone.
Ukraine’s General Staff said the Russians were pulling back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv, launching mortars, artillery and airstrikes in eastern Donetsk province “to destroy Ukrainian forces and fortifications” and guarding supply routes. were concentrating.
Defense Minister Oleksey Reznikov said Ukraine was “entering a new – long-term – phase of the war.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainians were doing their “maximum” to drive out the invaders and that the outcome of the war would depend on support from Europe and other allies.
“Today no one can predict how long this war will last,” Zelensky said in his video address late Friday.
In a show of support, a US Senate delegation led by Republican leader Mitch McConnell met with Ukraine’s president in Kyiv on Saturday.
A video posted to Zelensky’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, greeting them.
His visit was blocked until next week after another senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, approved the Senate an additional $40 billion to help Ukraine and its allies withstand a three-month-old invasion of Russia.
After Russian forces failed to capture Kyiv after the February 24 invasion, President Vladimir Putin shifted his attention east to the Donbass, an industrial area where Ukrainian troops have fought Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
Russia’s offensive aims to encircle Ukraine’s most experienced and most well-equipped troops, which are based in the east, and seize parts of the Donbass that remain under Ukrainian control.
Airstrikes and barrage of artillery make it extremely dangerous for journalists to move east, hindering efforts to obtain a complete picture of the direction of the battle. But the fight seems to be a back-and-forth slog, with no major success from either side.
Russia occupied some Donbass villages and towns, including Rubizan, a town with a population of about 55,000.
Zelensky said Ukraine’s military had also made progress in the east, capturing six towns or villages in Ukraine in the past.
Kharkiv, which is not far from the Russian border and only 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has been hit by heavy shelling for several weeks. The largely Russian-speaking city, with a population of 1.4 million before the war, was a major Russian military objective in the war, when Moscow was expected to capture and hold major Ukrainian cities.
The Washington-based think tank Institute for the Study of War said Ukraine had “won the Battle of Kharkiv”.
“Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone capturing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city, as they did with Russian forces trying to capture Kyiv. “
Regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said in a post on the Telegram messaging app that there had been no shelling on Kharkiv in the past.
He said Ukraine had launched a counter-offensive near Izium, a city 125 kilometers (78 mi) south of Kharkiv, which had been held by Russia since at least early April.
Oleh Zhdanov, an independent military analyst from Ukraine, said fighting was fierce on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodnetsk, where Ukraine has retaliated but failed to halt Russia’s progress.
“The fate of a large part of the Ukrainian army is being decided – there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers,” he said.
However, Russian forces suffered heavy losses in the Ukrainian attack, which destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to cross the same river – the largest in eastern Ukraine – in the city of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian and British officials said. said. This was another sign of Moscow’s struggle to save a failed war.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russia lost “critical armored maneuvering 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 make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine”.
Zelensky said in his nightly video address that Ukrainians were doing everything possible to drive out the Russians and urged the West to increase its support.
“It will, unfortunately, depend not only on our people, who are already giving their maximum,” he said. “It will depend on our partners, on the European countries, on the whole free world.”
The Ukrainian leader warned the war was causing a worldwide food crisis as a Russian blockade prevents Ukrainian grain from leaving the port.
The Group of Seven major economies echoed that warning, saying on Saturday that “Russia’s war of aggression has generated one of the most serious food and energy crises in recent history, now affecting the most vulnerable people around the world.” danger to.”
Putin started a war in Ukraine with the aim of thwarting the expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe. But Ukraine’s invasion has worried Russia along with other countries may be next.
This week, Finland’s president and prime minister said they support their country seeking NATO membership. Authorities in Sweden are expected to announce a decision on Sunday about whether to apply to join the Western military alliance.
Putin told Finnish President Souli Niinisto that there was no threat to Finland’s security and that joining NATO would be an “error” that would “negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations.”
The Kremlin said the two leaders “openly exchanged views” in a phone call on Saturday.
Niinisto said the discussion was “straight and clear and was conducted without exaggeration. It was deemed necessary to avoid tension.”
Russia’s response to Finland and Sweden’s moves has so far been muted, though Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said on Saturday that their accession to NATO would heighten security tensions in the Arctic, “turning it into an area of military competition.”
Russian energy group Inter RAO also suspended electricity deliveries to Finland on Saturday, according to a statement from the Finnish national electrical grid operator. But only 10 percent of Finland’s electricity is supplied from Russia, and Finnish officials did not expect a power shortage.
Possible bids from the Nordic nations were thrown into question on Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not of a favorable opinion” to the idea.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to meet his NATO counterparts, including the Turkish foreign minister, in Germany later this week.