Russian forces pummel eastern Ukraine

June 05, 2022 12:00 am | Updated 05:32 am IST - KYIV

Moscow deploys reinforcements, airstrikes to close in on two cities and seal the fate of Luhansk

Reinforced Russian troops backed by airstrikes pummeled a portion of eastern Ukraine on Saturday, blowing up bridges and shelling apartment buildings as they fought to capture two cities that would put a contested province under Moscow’s control, Ukrainian officials said.

Russian and Ukrainian forces battled street-by-street in Sievierodonetsk and neighbouring Lysychansk, regional governor Serhiy Haidai said. Russian strikes killed four persons, including a mother and child, in the nearby village of Hirske, Mr. Haidai said.

The cities are the last major areas of Luhansk province still held by Ukraine. The Russian attacks are central to the Kremlin’s reduced wartime goal of seizing the entire Donbas region.

Russia also escalated attacks around Bakhmut, a city in Doneskt, the other province that makes up the Donbas, the Ukrainian military said as the war reached its 101st day.

In recent days, the Russians focused on capturing Sievierodonetsk, which had a prewar population of about 1,00,000. At one point, they held 90% of the city, but Ukrainian soldiers clawed back some ground, Mr. Haidai said on Friday. Western military analysts said Russia was devoting significant troop strength and firepower to what British officials described as a “creeping advance” in the Donbas.

“The combined use of air and artillery strikes has been a key factor in Russia’s recent tactical successes in the region,” the U.K. Ministry of Defence said in a Saturday assessment. The British Ministry warned that after launching so many guided missiles, Russia was employing unguided missiles that have “almost certainly caused substantial collateral damage and civilian casualties.”

The Ukrainian military staff reported that Ukrainian forces repulsed nine attacks in the Donbas over 24 hours.

While Russian forces are concentrated on seizing the Donbas in the east, Ukrainian troops have staged counterattacks to try to regain territory in their country’s south.

A Russian rocket hit an agricultural site on Saturday in the Odesa region, wounding two persons, according to a regional military chief. Odesa is home to Ukraine’s largest seaport and therefore vital to the country’s ability to ship grain and other commodities. The rocket attack came hours after Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted: “Ukraine is ready to create necessary conditions to resume exports from the port of Odesa. The question is how to make sure that Russia doesn’t abuse the trade route to attack the city.”

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in an interview that Russia is suffering significantly fewer military casualties compared to the first six weeks of the war. The lower figures might make Russian commanders “think that they are fighting successfully,” the website Meduza quoted Mr. Podolyak as saying.

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