Russians battling to encircle Ukraine’s last eastern stronghold
KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces battled Wednesday to surround the Ukrainian military’s last stronghold in a long-contested eastern province, as shock reverberated from a Russian airstrike on a shopping mall that killed at least 18 in the center of the country two days earlier. Moscow’s battle to wrest the entire Donbas region from Ukraine saw Russian forces pushing toward two villages south of Lysychansk while Ukrainian troops fought to prevent their encirclement. Britain’s defense ministry said Russian forces were making “incremental advances” in their offensive to capture Lysychansk, the last city in the Luhansk province under Ukrainian control following the retreat of Ukraine’s forces from the neighboring city of Sievierodonetsk. Russian troops and their separatist allies control 95% of Luhansk and about half of Donetsk, the two provinces that make up the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas. The latest assessment by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said the Ukrainians were likely in a fighting withdrawal to seek more defensible positions while draining the Russian forces of manpower and resources. “We perceive a disconnect between Putin’s near-term military objectives in this area and his military’s capacity, a kind of mismatch between his ambitions and what the military is able to accomplish,” Haines said. Meanwhile, crews continued to search through the rubble of the shopping mall in Kremenchuk where Ukrainian authorities say 20 people remain missing. Ukrainian State Emergency Services press officer Svitlana Rybalko told The Associated Press that along with the 18 people killed, investigators found fragments of eight more bodies. “The police cannot say for sure how many (victims) there are. Several families stood by what was left of the Amstor shopping center Wednesday morning in hope of finding missing loved ones. “This is pure genocide,” local resident Tatiana Chernyshova said while going to lay flowers at the site.
“We need to engage everyone to help stop the war, help us fight these scum — these Russian aggressors,” Chernyshova said. Psychologists working at the site with families said they were trying to help people come to terms with their loss. “We are trying to help them release their emotions now, as later it becomes harder and much more painful,” said one psychologist, who did not give his name as he was not authorized to speak to the press. After the attack on the mall, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of becoming a “terrorist” state. “The open-door policy of NATO shouldn’t resemble old turnstiles on Kyiv’s subway, which stay open but close when you approach them until you pay,” Zelenskyy told NATO leaders meeting in Madrid, speaking by video link. He asked for more modern artillery systems and other weapons and warned the NATO leaders they either had to provide Ukraine with the help it needed to defeat Russia or “face a delayed war between Russia and yourself. Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Wednesday dismissed what she claimed was the Ukrainian government’s “blatant provocation” in trying to blame the mall missile strike on Russia’s military. Britain’s defense ministry said there was a “realistic possibility” that the mall strike “was intended to hit a nearby infrastructure target. “Russian planners highly likely remain willing to accept a high level of collateral damage when they perceive military necessity in striking a target,” the ministry said. Russia’s military also is experiencing a shortage of more modern precision strike weapons, which is compounding civilian casualties, the British ministry said. READ MORE: Putin hails Victory Day, does not signal end to Ukraine war
In southern Ukraine, a Russian missile strike on a multi-story apartment building Wednesday in the city of Mykolaiv killed at least four people and injured five, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said. Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement that the missile strike on Mykolaiv targeted a base for training “foreign mercenaries,” as well as ammunition depots. — A senior Russian lawmaker warned that Lithuania’s refusal to allow some goods targeted by European Union sanctions through to Russia’s Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad could trigger a military confrontation. The statement by Vladimir Dzhabarov, a deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, followed the Kremlin’s warning that it will retaliate against restrictions of transit to Kaliningrad. — Russia’s foreign ministry summoned Norway’s charge d’affaires to protest Oslo’s blocking of a shipment of supplies to a Russian coal-mining town in the Svalbard islands. Although the Svalbards are Norwegian territory, a 1920 treaty allows all signatory countries the right to exploit its natural resources. — Ukrainian military intelligence says that in the largest prisoner swap since the start of the war 144 Ukrainian troops were released from Russian captivity. — European Union leaders approved a 600-million euro ($631 million) package to address food security issues brought on by the Ukrainian war in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. — Britain is imposing sanctions on Russia’s second-richest man and on a cousin of Putin’s. The statement said Putin’s cousin, Anna Tsivileva, and her husband, Sergey Tsivilev, have “significantly benefited” from their relationship with Putin.
Read full article at PBS NewsHour