Russian troops are withdrawing from Ukraine’s second-largest city after weeks of heavy shelling, the Ukrainian military announced on Saturday as forces from kyiv and Moscow fought a fierce battle for the east of the country.
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 in the eastern region 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”.
As the country’s top prosecutor tried a Russian soldier for war crimes, the first of a dozen charges that could be indicted, 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.
“No one today can predict how long this war will last,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Friday night.
The Russian offensive in Donbass, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine, appears to be turning into a back-and-forth village-by-village with no major breakthrough on either side. After failing to capture kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, the Russian army has decided to concentrate on the Donbass, but its troops are struggling to gain ground.
Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces had advanced, retaking six Ukrainian towns or villages over the past day. Western officials said Ukraine pushed back Russian forces around Kharkiv, which was a key target for Moscow’s troops.
“The Russians really haven’t done much in terms of tactical gains recently,” one Western official said, describing the war’s front line as “swinging.”
“The Ukrainians continue to launch counterattacks, especially around Kherson and Kharkiv. We expect this to turn into a long battle of attrition,” the official said on condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence.
The Ukrainian military chief of the Luhansk region in the Donbass said on Friday that the troops had almost complete control of Rubizhne, a city which had a population of about 55,000 before the war.
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 river at Bilohorivka, Ukrainian and British officials said, in another sign of the struggle. of Moscow to save a war gone wrong.
Ukraine’s Airborne Command released photos and video of what it said was a damaged Russian pontoon bridge over the Siversky Donets River and at least 73 destroyed or damaged Russian military vehicles nearby.
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. are making progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine.
In other developments, a decision by Finland and, potentially, Sweden to join NATO was called into question when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not of a favorable opinion” to the idea. He accused Sweden and other Scandinavian countries of supporting Kurdish militants and others whom Turkey considers terrorists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin started the war to thwart NATO’s eastward advance. Ukraine’s invasion has other countries on Russia’s flank fearing that they could be next.
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.”
As Ukraine demands more weapons to fend off better-equipped Russians, the European Union’s foreign chief has announced plans to give kyiv an additional 500 million euros ($520 million) to buy heavy weapons.
Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, hailed the heavy weapons heading for the front lines, but also said no quick end to the war was in sight.
“Extremely difficult weeks lie ahead. How many will there be? No one can say for sure,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
In the crumbling southern port of Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters locked in a steel mill have faced continuous Russian attacks on the last stronghold of resistance in the city. Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment, said his troops will hold out “as long as they can” despite shortages of ammunition, food, water and medicine.
And in kyiv, Ukrainian soldiers in white protective suits loaded the bodies of Russian soldiers into refrigerated wagons. The bodies were wrapped in white body bags and stacked several layers deep.
Colonel Volodymyr Lyamzin, who oversaw the operation, said several hundred bodies were stored on trains in the capital and several other storage trains elsewhere. He said Ukraine was ready to hand over the bodies to Russia, but so far there was no agreement to do so.
Journalists packed a small courtroom in kyiv on Friday for the trial of a captured Russian soldier accused of killing a Ukrainian civilian early in the war – the first of a dozen war crimes cases which Ukraine’s chief prosecutor said his office was prosecuting.
Shyshimarin could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian man in the head through an open car window in a village in the northeast region of Sumy on February 28 , four days after the start of the invasion.
Shyshimarin, a member of a tank unit that was captured by Ukrainian forces, admitted shooting the civilian in a video released by Ukraine’s Security Service, saying he was ordered to do so.
The trial, which resumes on Wednesday, will be closely monitored by international observers to ensure its fairness.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said she was preparing war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses including bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, raping and looting.
Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Elena Becatoros in Odessa and other PA staff from around the world contributed to this report.
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