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Fierce fighting in Ukraine's east as Kyiv claims slowing Russian advance

By AFP - May 15,2022 - Last updated at May 15,2022

A rocket is launched from a truck-mounted multiple rocket launcher near Svyatohirsk, eastern Ukraine, on Saturday (AFP photo)

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine on Saturday claimed it was holding back a Russian assault in the eastern Donbas region and vowed to extract its last remaining fighters from a besieged steel plant.

The G-7 group of the world's top industrialised nations meanwhile reiterated it would "never recognise" the borders Russia has attempted to redraw through aggression and pledged more sanctions to tighten the screw on Moscow.

Ukraine's head of military intelligence, however, predicted a turning point in the months ahead, and claimed that one of Europe's biggest conflicts since World War II could even be over by the end of the year.

Russia, which sent in troops to Ukraine on February 24, has increasingly turned its attention to eastern Ukraine since the end of March.

Western analysts believe President Vladimir Putin has his sights on annexing southern and eastern Ukraine in the months ahead but his troops have appeared to be encountering stiff resistance.

The governor of the eastern Lugansk region, Serhiy Gaidai, said Ukrainian forces had prevented Russian attempts to cross a river and encircle the city of Severodonetsk.

“There’s heavy fighting on the border with Donetsk region,” Gaidai said, reporting big Russian losses of equipment and personnel.

“From interceptions [phone calls], we understand that a whole [Russian] battalion has refused to attack, because they see what’s happening.”

Aerial images showed dozens of destroyed armoured vehicles on the river bank and wrecked pontoon bridges.

 

 ‘Counter-attack’ 

 

UK military intelligence also said Russian forces had sustained heavy losses as they attempted the river crossing.

The highly risky manoeuvre reflected “the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine”, it added.

Russian forces had “failed to make any significant advances despite concentrating forces in this area”, it said.

In Washington, a senior US defence official said most of the activity was now in the Donbas area.

Kharkiv Regional Governor Oleh Synegubov meanwhile said in a video on Telegram that Ukrainian forces were counterattacking in the direction of the northeastern city of Izium.

The Ukrainian General Staff said troops had managed to push Russian troops out of the Kharkiv, a priority target for Moscow.

“The enemy’s main efforts are focused on ensuring the withdrawal of its units from the city of Kharkiv,” a spokesman said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday said his troops would fight to recapture all occupied territory, and those under siege.

That included those in the southern port city of Mariupol, where the last defenders are holed up in the vast Azovstal steelworks.

“Currently, very difficult negotiations are underway on the next stage of the evacuation mission, the rescue of the seriously wounded, medics. It is a large number of people,” he said.

Women, children and the elderly who had taken refuge in the tunnels and bunkers in the Azovstal plant were evacuated at the end of April with the help of the United Nations and Red Cross.

The Ukrainian general staff said in an update Saturday that Russian forces continued “to blockade our units near the Azovstal plant” and carried out “massive artillery and air strikes”.

From inside, Sviatoslav Palamar, one of the leaders of the Ukrainian Azov regiment, told the online Kyiv Security Forum there were 600 wounded there and pleaded for help to evacuate them.

“We continue to defend ourselves, and we shall not surrender,” he said.

 

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