KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — russian troops They are pushing their offensive into the eastern Donbas region in a bid to fully seize Ukraine’s industrial heartland, but have made little headway as fierce Ukrainian counterattacks have slowed their efforts, Ukrainian and British officials said on Saturday.
Russia follows fight for total control from the Donetsk and Luhansk areas that make up the Donbas and seeks to secure “a land route between these territories and occupied Crimea,” including by removing the last pocket of resistance in the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukraine’s General Staff said.
Ukrainian forces in the past 24 hours repelled eight Russian attacks in the two regions, destroying nine tanks, 18 armored units and 13 vehicles, a tanker truck and three artillery systems, the General Staff said.
“The units of the Russian occupiers are regrouping. The Russian enemy continues to launch missile and bomb attacks against military and civilian infrastructure,” the General Staff said on its Facebook page.
Lugansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said on Saturday that two people had been killed by Russian shelling in the city of Popasna.
He said an evacuation train for residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk areas was expected to leave the eastern city of Pokrovsk on Saturday for the western city of Chop, near Ukraine’s borders with Slovakia and Hungary.
“In addition to the fact that street fighting continues in the city for several weeks, the Russian army is constantly shooting at multi-storey residential buildings and private houses,” Haidai wrote on the Instagram messaging app. “Just yesterday, local residents withstood five enemy artillery attacks. …. Not all of them survived.”
Britain’s Defense Ministry said that despite their increased activity, “Russian forces have made no major gains in the past 24 hours as Ukrainian counterattacks continue to hamper efforts.”
Russia has not yet established air or sea control due to Ukrainian resistanceand despite President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of victory in Mariupol, “heavy fighting continues to take place, thwarting Russian attempts to capture the city, further slowing down their desired progress in the Donbas,” the Defense Ministry said. .
Ukrainian authorities tried again Saturday to evacuate women, children and the elderly from Mariupol after many previous attempts failed. The effort was due to start at noon “if everything goes according to plan,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia has withdrawn a dozen elite military units from Mariupol to bolster the offensive elsewhere in Donbas, while other troops continue to keep the remaining Ukrainian troops in the city pinned down at the Azovstal steel mill, the last remaining stronghold, officials said. Ukrainians.
Putin is said to have ordered his forces not to storm the plant to finish off the defenders, but to seal it off in an apparent attempt to force them to surrender.
Russian forces have been hitting the 2,000 Ukrainian fighters still hiding inside, the mayor’s office said on Friday.
“Every day they drop several bombs on Azovstal,” said Petro Andryushchenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol. “The fighting, the bombing, the bombing does not stop.”
Mariupol has been largely reduced to smoldering rubble by weeks of shelling, and Russian state television showed the flag of pro-Moscow Donetsk separatists raised on what it said was the city’s highest point, its television tower. He also showed what he said was the main building of the Azovstal steel plant on fire.
Under cover of darkness, Ukrainian forces have managed to deliver weapons to the besieged steel mill via helicopter, said Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council.
Overall, the Kremlin has sent more than 100,000 soldiers and mercenaries from Syria and Libya to the fighting in Ukraine and is deploying more forces to the country every day, Danilov said.
“We have a difficult situation, but our army is defending our state,” he said.
Mariupol has acquired great importance in the war. Capturing it would deprive the Ukrainians of a vital port and complete a land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which Putin seized from Ukraine in 2014.
It would also allow Putin to throw more of his forces into the potentially climactic battle for Donbas and its coal mines, factories and other industries, or what the Kremlin has now declared to be its main objective.
The latest satellite photos from Maxar Technologies revealed what appeared to be a second mass grave near Mariupol. The site at a cemetery in the town of Vynohradne has several newly dug parallel trenches that are about 40 meters (131 feet) long, Maxar said in a statement.
A day earlier, Maxar posted photos of what appeared to be rows and rows of more than 200 freshly dug mass graves next to a cemetery in the town of Manhush, outside Mariupol. That prompted Ukrainian accusations that the Russians are trying to cover up the killing of civilians in the city.
“This again confirms that the occupants organize the collection, burial and cremation of dead residents in all districts of the city,” Andryushchenko said on the Telegram messaging app.
Ukrainians estimated that the graves seen in photos released Thursday could contain 9,000 bodies.
The Kremlin did not respond to satellite images.
More than 100,000 people, out of a population of about 430,000 before the war, are believed to be trapped in Mariupol with little food, water or heating, and more than 20,000 civilians have been killed in the nearly two-month siege, according to reports. Ukrainian authorities.
Most attempts to evacuate civilians from the city have failed due to what the Ukrainians said was continued Russian shelling.
Fisch reported from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Mstyslav Chernov and Felipe Dana in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Inna Varenytsia in Kviv, and Robert Burns and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report, as did other AP staff around the world. .
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
David Keyton and Yesica Fisch, The Associated Press