Ukraine repels Russian attacks; Mariupol plant battle rages

LVIV, Ukraine – The Ukrainian army said on Thursday it had recaptured some areas in the south and repelled Russian attacks in the east as a bloody battle raged at a steel plant in Mariupol, where Ukrainian troops hid in tunnels and warehouses. Russian attack.

Ten weeks into a devastating war, Ukrainian and Russian forces are fighting village by village as Moscow struggles to gain momentum in the eastern industrial heart of Donbass. Russia has shifted its focus to the region – where Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for years – as fiercer than expected resistance has stalled its troops and thwarted its original goal of capturing the capital.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said he did not expect the Russian attack to “continue in this way.” Some Russian troops used ally Belarus as a launching pad for the February 24 invasion, and Lukashenko publicly backed the operation.

“But I am not so immersed in this problem to say whether it goes according to plan, as the Russians say, or as I feel,” said the authoritarian leader. He added that the use of nuclear weapons would be “unacceptable”, but could not say whether Russia had such plans.

In addition to the heavy bombardment of Donbass, Russian forces also continued to bomb railway stations and other supply line targets across the country – as part of an effort to cut off Western weapons, which were critical to Ukraine’s defense.

Ukrainian forces said on Thursday they had made some gains on the southern border with Kherson and Mykolaiv and repulsed 11 Russian attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Donbass.

Five people have been killed and at least 25 injured in city bombings in Donbas in the past 24 hours, Ukrainian officials say. The attacks damaged homes and a school.

Airstrikes were heard in cities across the country on Wednesday night, with Russian airstrikes reported near the capital, Kyiv. in Cherkasy and Dnipro in central Ukraine; and in Zaporizhzhia in the southeast. In Dnipro, authorities said a train installation had been hit – following several previous attacks on train stations across the country. The sirens sounded again in the early hours of Thursday in the western city of Lviv, which was a gateway for Western weapons and served as a relatively safe haven for people fleeing fighting further east.

An assessment by the Washington-based Institute for War Studies said Russian forces were struggling to gain traction.

“Ukrainian defense has greatly hindered Russian progress in eastern Ukraine,” he said late Wednesday.

“Russian forces intensified airstrikes against transport infrastructure in western Ukraine (on Wednesday), but remain unable to block Western aid missions to Ukraine,” it added.

In the most shocking example of how Ukrainian forces have slowed down Russia’s progress, Ukrainian fighters have endured the vast Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol – the last pocket of resistance in a city otherwise controlled by Moscow forces.

“With the support of aircraft, the enemy repeated the attack to take control of the factory,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian army said on Thursday. A stream of black smoke rose over the plant on Wednesday.

The Ukrainians said Russian forces had pushed around the perimeter of the plant and were also bombing it from above. The Kremlin has denied that there was a ground attack.

Denis Prokopenko, commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment defending the plant, said in a video released Wednesday that the invasions continued for a second day, “and there are heavy, bloody battles.”

The fall of Mariupol will deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to build a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it occupied from Ukraine in 2014, and free troops to fight elsewhere in Donbas.

The city, and the plant in particular, have come to symbolize the misery caused by the war. The Russians have pulverized most of Mariupol in a two-month siege that has trapped civilians with little food, water, medicine or heat. The civilians hiding inside the factory have suffered perhaps even more. About 100 of them were evacuated over the weekend – the first time anyone has seen the light of day in months.

The Russian government has said it will open another evacuation corridor from the factory during certain hours from Thursday to Saturday. But there has been no immediate confirmation of these arrangements by other parties, and many previous assurances from the Kremlin have failed, with the Ukrainians blaming the Russians for continuing the fighting.

It is not clear how many Ukrainian fighters are still inside the plant, but the Russians put the number at about 2,000 in recent weeks and 500 reported being wounded. Several hundred civilians also remain there, the Ukrainian side said this week.

The United Nations says more than 300 civilians were evacuated from Mariupol and other neighboring communities on Wednesday. The evacuees arrived in Zaporizhia, about 140 miles (230 kilometers) northwest, where they were receiving humanitarian aid.

“Many came without anything other than the clothes they were wearing, and now we will support them in this difficult time, including with much-needed psychological support,” said Osnat Lubrani, the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator for Ukraine.

Belarus, meanwhile, announced the start of military exercises on Wednesday. A senior Ukrainian official said the country would be ready to act if Belarus took part in the fighting.

The Pentagon said on Thursday it did not expect the exercises to be a threat to Ukraine at the moment, but that Moscow was likely to use them “to correct Ukrainian forces in the north, preventing them from engaging in the battle for Donbas.” .

In addition to arms supplies to Ukraine, Europe and the United States have sought to punish Moscow with sanctions, targeting the country’s vital energy sector. A top European Union official called on the 27-nation bloc on Wednesday to ban imports of Russian oil, a critical source of revenue.

The proposal needs unanimous approval by EU countries and is likely to be hotly debated. Hungary and Slovakia have already stated that they will not take part in oil sanctions, but they could be granted an exemption.

The EU is also talking about a possible embargo on Russian gas. The bloc has already approved the cessation of coal imports.

Copyright © 2022 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Ukraine repels Russian attacks; Mariupol plant battle rages Source link Ukraine repels Russian attacks; Mariupol plant battle rages

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