Latest political events
Updates from the field on the 80th day of the war
- Zelensky says Ukraine is in “complex talks” about evacuating wounded fighters from the Mariupol steelworks.
Russian troops are withdrawing from Ukraine’s second-largest city after weeks of heavy shelling, the Ukrainian military said on Saturday as forces from kyiv and Moscow clashed in a tough battle for the country’s east.
Ukraine’s general staff said the Russians were withdrawing from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and concentrating on protecting supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern Donetsk region to “exhaust Ukrainian forces and destroy the fortifications”.
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine was “entering a new phase of long-term warfare.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Ukrainians were doing their best to expel the invaders and the outcome of the war would depend on support from Europe and other allies.
“No one can predict today how long this war will last,” Zelensky said in his late-night video address Friday night.
Russia’s offensive in the Donbas, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine, appeared to be turning into a back-and-forth village-by-village struggle with no major gains on either side. After failing to capture kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, the Russian army decided to concentrate on Donbas, but its troops have had trouble gaining ground.
Zelensky said that Ukrainian forces made progress and recaptured six Ukrainian towns or villages the day before. Western officials said Ukraine had pushed Russian forces back around Kharkiv, which was a key target for Moscow’s troops.
“The Russians really haven’t done much in the way of tactical gains recently,” a Western official said, describing the war’s front line as “wobbly.”
A ‘long battle of attrition’ expected
“The Ukrainians continue to launch counter-attacks, particularly around Kherson and Kharkiv. We expect this to turn into a long battle of attrition,” the official said on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.
The Ukrainian military chief of the Donbas’s Luhansk region said on Friday that troops were in almost complete control of Rubizhne, a city with 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 counter-attacks but failed to stop Russia’s advance, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst.
“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 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 Moscow’s fight to save a war that went wrong.
Ukraine’s airborne command released photos and videos 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.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russia lost “significant armored maneuver elements” from at least one battalion tactical group in the attack. A Russian battalion tactical group consists of about 1,000 soldiers. He said the risky river crossing was a sign of “the pressure Russian commanders are under to advance their operations in eastern Ukraine.”
Russia faces continued economic pressure
In other developments, foreign ministers from the group of G7 nations vowed on Saturday to strengthen Russia’s economic and political isolation, continue to supply weapons and work to alleviate global food shortages stemming from the war in Ukraine, a joint statement said.
Foreign ministers from Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the United States and the European Union pledged to continue their military and defense assistance “for as long as necessary.”
In a statement after their meeting in Weissenhaus, Germany, the ministers also warned that the war in Ukraine is fueling a global food and energy crisis that threatens poor countries, and that urgent action is needed to unlock grain reserves that Russia prevents them from leaving Ukraine.
The G7 called on China to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence and “not help Russia in its war of aggression.”
‘Complex talks’ on evacuation of wounded fighters
Ukraine’s president said in a late-night address Friday that very difficult talks were underway to evacuate “a large number” of wounded soldiers from a besieged steel mill in the strategic southeastern port of Mariupol in exchange for the release of Russian prisoners of war.
Mariupol, which has seen the heaviest fighting in nearly three months of war, is now in Russian hands, but hundreds of Ukrainian defenders are still holding out at the Azovstal steel mill despite weeks of heavy Russian bombardment.
Fierce Ukrainian resistance, which military analysts say President Vladimir Putin and his generals could not have anticipated when they launched the invasion on February 24, has also slowed and in some places reversed Russian gains around Ukraine.
“Very complex negotiations are taking place at the moment on the next phase of the evacuation mission, ‘the transfer of the seriously injured, doctors,'” President Zelensky said.
He said “influential” international brokers were involved in the talks, without elaborating. Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told local television on Saturday that efforts are now focused on evacuating some 60 people, including the most seriously injured and medical personnel.
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