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Russia withdraws from Kharkiv, says Ukraine

KYIV, UKRAINE (AP) – Russian troops are withdrawing from Ukraine’s second-largest city after weeks of heavy bombardment, the Ukrainian military said yesterday as Kyiv and Moscow’s forces engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s east.

Ukraine’s general staff said the Russians were pulling back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focussing on guarding supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern Donetsk region to “deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications”.

Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine was “entering a new – long-term – phase of the war”.

As the country’s top prosecutor put a Russian soldier on trial for war crimes, the first of dozens that could face charges, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainians were doing their “maximum” to drive out the invaders and that the outcome of the war would depend on support from Europe and other allies.

“No one today can predict how long this war will last,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address late on Friday.

Russia’s offensive in the Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, appeared to be turning into a village-by-village, back-and-forth slog with no major breakthroughs on either side.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s forces made progress, retaking six towns or villages in the past day.

People walk past part of a rocket that sits wedged in the ground in Lysychansk, Luhansk region, Ukraine. PHOTO: AP

Western officials said Ukraine had driven Russian forces back around Kharkiv.

“The Russians really haven’t made much in the way of tactical gains recently,” one Western official said, describing the war’s front line as “oscillating”.

“The Ukrainians continue to launch counterattacks, particularly around Kherson and Kharkiv. We expect this to settle into a long attritional battle,” the official said on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.

The Ukrainian military chief for the Luhansk region of the Donbas said on Friday that troops had nearly full control of Rubizhne, a city with a prewar population of around 55,000.

Fighting was fierce on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, where Ukraine has launched counterattacks but failed to halt Russia’s advance, said independent Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov.

“The fate of a large portion of the Ukrainian army is being decided – there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers,” he said.

However, Russian forces suffered heavy losses in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross the river in Bilohorivka, Ukrainian and British officials said.

Ukraine’s airborne command released photos and video of what it said was a damaged Russian pontoon bridge over the Siversky Donets River and at least 73 destroyed or damaged Russian military vehicles nearby.

Britain’s Defence Ministry said Russia lost “significant armoured manoeuver elements” of at least one battalion tactical group in the attack. A Russian battalion tactical group consists of about 1,000 troops.

It said the risky river crossing was a sign of “the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine”.

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