Ukraine’s general staff said the Russians were withdrawing from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on protecting supply routes, while launching mortars, artillery and strikes aerial attacks 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”.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the 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.
“No one today can predict how long this war will last,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Friday night.
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In a show of support, a US Senate delegation led by Republican leader Mitch McConnell met with the Ukrainian president in Kyiv. A video posted to Zelenskyy’s Telegram account showed McConnell, who represents the state of Kentucky, and Senators Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas saluting him.
After Russian forces failed to capture kyiv following the Feb. 24 invasion, President Vladimir Putin focused on Donbass, an industrial region where Ukrainian troops have been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
The Russian offensive is aimed at encircling the most experienced and well-equipped Ukrainian troops based in the east and seizing the parts of Donbass that remain under Ukrainian control.
Getting a full picture of the direction of the fighting in the east has been difficult as airstrikes and artillery barrages have made it extremely dangerous for journalists to travel. But the battle appears to be a back-and-forth with no major breakthrough on either side.
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Russia captured some villages and towns in Donbass, including Rubizhne, a pre-war town of about 55,000 people.
Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces had also advanced in the east, retaking six Ukrainian towns or villages over the past day.
Kharkiv, which is not far from the Russian border and just 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has suffered weeks of heavy shelling. The largely Russian-speaking city with a pre-war population of 1.4 million was a key Russian military objective early in the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major Ukrainian cities.
Ukraise “seems to have won the battle for Kharkiv”. the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said. “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 in a message on the Telegram messaging app that there had been no shelling over Kharkiv over the past day.
He said Ukraine launched a counteroffensive near Izyum, a town 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of Kharkiv that has been under effective Russian control 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 – the largest in eastern Ukraine – in the town of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian and British officials said, in another sign of Moscow’s willingness. fight to save a war gone wrong.
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 make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine”.
Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation that the Ukrainians were doing everything they could to drive out the Russians, but “no one today can predict how long this war will last.”
“It will unfortunately not only depend on our people, who are already giving their all,” he said. “It will depend on our partners, on European countries, on the whole of the free world.”
The Ukrainian leader warned that the war was causing a food crisis around the world, as a Russian blockade prevented Ukrainian grain from leaving the port.
The major Group of Seven 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, which now threatens the most vulnerable around the world”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the war in Ukraine in an attempt to thwart NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe. But Ukraine’s invasion has other countries on Russia’s flank fearing they could be next.
This week, Finland’s president and prime minister said they favor their country’s NATO membership. Swedish officials are expected to announce a decision on Sunday on whether they will apply to join the Western military alliance.
Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinist that there was no security threat to Finland and that joining NATO would be a “mistake” that “would negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations”.
The Kremlin said the two leaders had a “frank exchange of views” in a phone call on Saturday.
Niinist said the discussion “was direct and unambiguous and was conducted without exaggeration. Avoiding tension was seen as important.”
Russia’s response to moves by Finland and Sweden has so far been muted, although Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said on Saturday their NATO membership would heighten security tensions in the EU. Arctic, “turning it into an arena for military competition”.
Potential offers from the Nordic countries came into question on Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not in favor” of the idea.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to meet his NATO counterparts, including the Turkish Foreign Minister, this weekend in Germany.
In other developments:
– Ukrainian fighters locked in a steelworks in the ruined southern port of Mariupol have faced continuous Russian attacks on the last bastion of resistance in the city. Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said Ukrainian authorities were negotiating the evacuation of 60 seriously injured soldiers from the steel plant. Iryna Vereshchuk said that Russia did not agree to the evacuation of all wounded fighters from the plant, which number in the hundreds.
– Deputy Speaker of the Russian Parliament Anna Kuznetsova visited Kherson, a region bordering the Black Sea that has been held by Russia since the early days of the war. Russia has installed a pro-Moscow regional administration and the British Ministry of Defense has said Russia may hold a local referendum on Russian membership, with the results likely manipulated to show majority support for the breakup with Ukraine.
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