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Ukrainian counterattacks slowing Russian offensive

KYIV, UKRAINE (AP) – Russian troops are pressing their offensive in the eastern Donbas region in an attempt to fully seize Ukraine’s industrial heartland but have made little headway as fierce Ukrainian counterattacks have slowed their efforts, Ukrainian and British officials said yesterday.

Russia continues to fight for full control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that make up the Donbas and seeks to secure “a land route between these territories and the occupied Crimea” including by wiping out the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukraine’s General Staff said in its morning update.

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

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

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said yesterday that two people were killed by Russian shelling in the city of Popasna.

“In addition to the fact that street fighting continues in the city for several weeks, the Russian army constantly fires at multistory residential buildings and private houses,” Haidai wrote on the messaging app Instagram. “Just yesterday, local residents withstood five enemy artillery attacks… Not all survived.”

Britain’s 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.

Russia has pulled a dozen elite military units from Mariupol to bolster the offensive elsewhere in the Donbas, while others continue to keep the remaining Ukrainian troops in the city pinned in the Azovstal steelworks, the last remaining stronghold, Ukrainian officials said.

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

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

Firefighters work inside a building destroyed by a Russian bomb in Chernihiv. PHOTO: AP