Ukraine digs in to fight Russia’s looming eastern offensive

kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces dug in as Russia lined up more firepower Sunday and named a decorated general as war commander ahead of a potentially decisive showdown in eastern Ukraine that experts say could begin in a few days with a full-scale offensive.

The outcome of that confrontation could determine the course of the war, which has leveled cities, killed thousands and isolated Moscow economically and politically. Questions remain about the ability of Russia’s decimated and demoralized forces to gain much ground after their advance on the capital, kyiv. was repelled by determined Ukrainian defenders.

Britain’s Defense Ministry reported on Sunday that the Russian military was trying to make up for mounting casualties by recalling veterans discharged over the past decade.

Meanwhile, a senior US official said Russia appointed General Alexander Dvornikovone of its most experienced military chiefs, to oversee the invasion Moscow refers to as a “special military operation.” The official was not authorized to be identified and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The new leadership on the battlefield comes as the Russian military prepares for what is expected to be a major, focused push. to expand control in the east of the country. Russian-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region since 2014 and declared some territories there independent republics.

Dvornikov, 60, rose to prominence as the head of the Russian forces that deployed to Syria in 2015 to prop up President Bashar Assad’s regime amid the country’s devastating civil war. Russian authorities generally do not confirm such appointments and have not said anything about a new role for Dvornikov, who received the Hero of Russia medal, one of the country’s highest awards, from President Vladimir Putin in 2016.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” downplayed the significance of the appointment.

“What we have learned in the first few weeks of this war is that Ukraine will never be subject to Russia,” Sullivan said. “It doesn’t matter which general President Putin tries to appoint.”

Western military analysts say Russia’s assault was increasingly focusing on a sickle-shaped arc of eastern Ukraine, from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the north to Kherson in the south.

Recently released satellite images from Maxar Technologies showed an 8-mile (13-kilometre) convoy of military vehicles heading south towards Donbas, reminiscent of images of a convoy that stopped on roads to kyiv for weeks before Russia quit. to try to take the capital. .

On Sunday, Russian forces shelled government-controlled Kharkiv and sent reinforcements toward Izyum in the southeast in a bid to break through Ukraine’s defenses, the Ukrainian military command said. The Russians also held the siege of Mariupol, a key southern port that has been under attack and surrounded for almost a month and a half.

A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said the Russian military used air-launched missiles to attack Ukraine’s S-300 air defense missile systems in the southern Mykolaiv region and at a base. view in Chuhuiv, a city not far from Kharkov.

Russian sea-launched cruise missiles destroyed the headquarters of a Ukrainian military unit stationed further west in the Dnipro region, Konashenkov said. Neither Ukraine’s nor Russia’s military claims could be independently verified.

The airport in Dnipro, Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, was also hit by missiles twice on Sunday, according to the regional governor.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for greater military and political support from the West, including NATO members they have funneled weapons and military equipment to Ukraine but denied some requests for fear of being drawn into the war.

In a late-night video message, Zelenskyy argued that Russia’s aggression was “not intended to be limited to Ukraine alone.” “The whole European project is a goal,” he said.

“That is why it is not only the moral duty of all democracies, all forces in Europe, to support Ukraine’s desire for peace,” Zelenskyy said. “This is, in fact, a defense strategy for every civilized state.”

The Ukrainian leader also thanked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who paid a surprise visit to kyiv on Saturday. Zelenskyy said they discussed “what help the UK will give to Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction,” especially to rebuild the kyiv region.

Ukrainian authorities accused Russian forces of committing war crimes against civilians, including airstrikes on hospitals, a missile attack that killed 52 people at a train station, and other acts of violence that came to light when Russian soldiers they withdrew from the outskirts of kyiv.

Zelenskyy said that when he and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke by phone on Sunday, “we emphasized that all perpetrators of war crimes must be identified and punished.”

A day after meeting Zelenskyy in kyiv, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer announced that he will meet Putin on Monday in Moscow.

Nehammer aims to foster dialogue between Ukraine and Russia and address “war crimes” during the meeting, the Austrian Press Agency reported. Austria, a member of the European Union, is militarily neutral and is not a member of NATO.

Ukraine has blamed Russia for killing civilians in Bucha and other towns outside the capital where hundreds of bodies were found, many with their hands tied and signs of torture, after the withdrawal of Russian troops. Russia has denied the allegations and falsely claimed that the scenes in Bucha were staged.

Maria Vaselenko, 77, a resident of Borodyanka, said her daughter and son-in-law were killed, leaving her grandchildren orphaned.

“The Russians were shooting. And some people wanted to come help, but they were being shot at. They were putting explosives under the dead,” Vaselenko said. “That is why my children have been under the rubble for 36 days. It was not allowed” to remove the bodies.

In Mariupol, Russia was deploying Chechen fighters, with a reputation for being particularly fierce. Capturing the city on the Sea of ​​Azov would give Russia a land bridge to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine eight years ago.

Residents have been without food, water and electricity since Russian forces surrounded the town and foiled evacuation missions. Ukrainian authorities believe an airstrike on a theater used as a bomb shelter killed hundreds of civilians, and Zelenskyy has said he hopes more evidence of the atrocities will be found once Mariupol is no longer blockaded.

The Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank, predicted that Russian forces will “renew offensive operations in the coming days” from Izyum, a city southeast of Kharkiv, in the campaign to conquer Donbas, which includes the industrial heart of Ukraine.

But in the opinion of the think tank’s analysts, “the outcome of the upcoming Russian operations in eastern Ukraine remains highly questionable.”

Separately, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Ukraine was able to rotate staff at the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant for the second time since Russian forces seized the facility earlier in the war.

The nuclear agency said the situation around Chernobyl, the site of a 1986 nuclear disaster, “remained far from normal” after the Russians left in late March. Ukrainian officials told the agency on Sunday that radiation monitoring laboratories at the site were destroyed and instruments damaged or stolen.


Anna reported from Bucha, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch at Borodyanko, Robert Burns and Calvin Woodward in Washington, and Associated Press writers from around the world contributed to this report.


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