'no gains' | 

Ukrainian counter-attacks slowing Russian advances in eastern Ukraine

The invaders are attempting to set up a land route between the Donbas region and occupied Crimea, Ukrainian officials said.

By David Keyton and Yesica Fisch, AP

Fierce Ukrainian counter-attacks have slowed Russian troops’ offensive in the eastern Donbas region as they attempt to seize Ukraine’s industrial heartland, officials have said.

Russia continues to fight for full control of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions that make up the Donbas as it seeks to secure “a land route between these territories and the occupied Crimea”, Ukraine’s military said.

This includes an attempt to wipe out the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the besieged port city of Mariupol.

Over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian forces have repelled eight Russian attacks in the two regions, destroying nine tanks, 18 armoured units and 13 vehicles, a tanker and three artillery systems, the Ukrainian General Staff said.

“Units of Russian occupiers are regrouping. Russian enemy continues to launch missile and bomb strikes on military and civilian infrastructure,” the military said on its Facebook page.

Meanwhile, Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said two people were killed by Russian shelling in the city of Popasna.

A hole in the roof of a damaged church, in Lukashivka, near the city of Chernihiv (AP)

“In addition to the fact that street fighting continues in the city for several weeks, the Russian army constantly fires at multi-storey residential buildings and private houses,” Mr Haidai wrote on the messaging app Instagram.

“Just yesterday, local residents withstood five enemy artillery attacks… Not all survived.”

The UK Ministry of Defence said despite their increased activity, “Russian forces have made no major gains in the last 24 hours as Ukrainian counter-attacks continue to hinder the efforts”.

Russia still has not established air or sea control due to Ukrainian resistance, and despite President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of victory in Mariupol, “heavy fighting continues to take place, frustrating Russian attempts to capture the city, thus further slowing their desired progress in the Donbas”, the Ministry of Defence said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks from Kyiv (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Russia has pulled a dozen crack military units from Mariupol to bolster its offensive elsewhere in the Donbas, while other troops continue to keep the remaining Ukrainian troops in the city pinned in the Azovstal steelworks, their last remaining stronghold.

Mr Putin is said to have ordered his forces not to storm the plant to finish off the defenders, but to seal it off instead in an apparent bid to force them to surrender.

Fridays For Future climate activists in Warsaw demand an energy embargo on Russia to help stop of the war in Ukraine (AP)

Russian forces have been pummelling the 2,000 Ukrainian fighters still holed up inside, the mayor’s office reported.

“Every day they drop several bombs on Azovstal,” said Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor. “Fighting, shelling, bombing do not stop.”

Mariupol has been reduced largely to smoking rubble by weeks of bombardment, and Russian state TV showed the flag of the pro-Moscow Donetsk separatists raised on what it said was the city’s highest point, its TV tower.

It also showed what it said was the main building at the Azovstal steel plant in flames.

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Under cover of darkness, Ukrainian forces have managed to deliver weapons to the besieged steelworks via helicopter, said Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council.

Overall, the Kremlin has thrown more than 100,000 troops and mercenaries from Syria and Libya into the fight in Ukraine and is deploying more forces in the country every day, Mr Danilov said.

“We have a difficult situation, but our army is defending our state,” he added.

Mariupol has taken on a larger 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 Mr Putin seized from Ukraine in 2014.

It would also allow Mr Putin to throw more of his forces into the potentially climactic battle for the Donbas and its coal mines, factories and other industries, or what the Kremlin has now declared to be its main objective.

An apartment building on fire after it was hit during a Russian bombardment in Kharkiv (AP)

The latest satellite photos from Maxar Technologies revealed what appeared to be a second mass grave site near Mariupol.

The site at a cemetery in the town of Vynohradne has several newly dug parallel trenches measuring about 131ft long, Maxar said in a statement.

A day earlier, Maxar released photos of what appeared to be rows upon 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 conceal the slaughter of civilians in the city.

The Ukrainians estimated that the graves seen in the photos released Thursday could hold 9,000 bodies. The Kremlin did not respond to the satellite pictures.

More than 100,000 people – down from a pre-war population of about 430,000 – are believed trapped in Mariupol with little food, water or heat, and more than 20,000 civilians have been killed in the nearly two-month siege, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Most attempts to evacuate civilians from the city have failed because of what the Ukrainians said was continued Russian shelling.

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