Battle of Putin’s forces in Eastern Ukraine to feed hunger wins

DONETSK REGION, Ukraine – Fighting broke out on Thursday across eastern Ukraine, from the Kharkiv region in the north where Ukrainian forces regained land, to Mariupol in the south, where the Russians broke their last debt. Ukraine in a steel mill, as Moscow’s forces fight so far President Vladimir V. Putin with what he can call victory.

Some of the heaviest fighting has taken place between those two poles, in or near the north of the Donetsk region, where the earth swells with constant shelling. Russian forces approached from the east, north and south, trying in vain to trap and destroy Ukrainian units in and around the cities of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk, as well as the towns of Lyman and Barvinkove.

At a crowded field hospital in that cauldron, where the smoke and fire filled with the spring sunlight, a Ukrainian soldier with a concussion lay curled up in a fetal position, while another, his face ripped. half, lying dead in a black body bag. In Kramatorsk, now largely abandoned, three Russian air strikes knocked out a large apartment complex and a bra and lingerie store, injuring 26 people.

Western officials and analysts say the Kremlin is determined to achieve some sort of milestone, on May 9, the day Russia celebrates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany with a parade full of military parades. The mettle and chivalry that Putin has turned into something. close to a religious holiday. They argue that, after more than two months of his military being hailed as inactive and suffering heavy losses in Ukraine, Russia’s autocratic leader needs something to justify the great cost of the war. life and treasure.

But it is difficult to gauge how the actual fighting is unfolding. The Russian advance appeared slow, with forces capturing a few villages a day in one location, while losing much in others. Ukrainian forces are building a highly mobile defense system, maneuvering in small units around the larger Russian force, ensuring that the lines are always flexible and unpredictable.

“The front is turning this way and that,” said a tattooed 24-year-old army medic named Zhenya resting at a field hospital. “At first they didn’t hit nearby, now shells are flying over the fence.”

In Mariupol, perhaps the city hardest hit by the Russian invasion that began on 24 February, fierce melee fighting rocked the vast Azovstal steel mill, as Russian forces finally reached the end. finally began to infiltrate the complex where the Ukrainians ended up holding for two months in a warrior of underground bunkers. It is not clear how many Ukrainian fighters remain, but Ukrainian officials say that even after a recent drip evacuation, about 200 civilians are still trapped there.

“The bloody and heavy battles are raging,” said Lieutenant Colonel Denys Prokopenko, Ukraine’s commander in Azovstal, in a video posted on Wednesday night. On Thursday, Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the city government, said that with the relentless shelling and fighting, the factory had “turned into hell”.

In its latest reviewThe Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington, says that Moscow wants to “take full control of Mariupol by May 9, with Russian propagandists recently arriving in the city to facilitate subsequent statements of a Russian victory”.

With Russian efforts now concentrated further south, Ukrainian forces repelled Russian troops in the Kharkiv area, recaptured towns and villages, and in some cases forced units Russia had to get out of the artillery range of the bombed city.

The Kremlin gave a silent response next Thursday New York Times report that the United States provided intelligence to Ukrainian forces that helped them locate and kill Russian generals. Dmitri S. Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said Russia was “well aware” that NATO and its member states were sharing intelligence with Ukraine, who added that Western aid only prolongs the conflict. war and “cannot prevent the realization” of Russian goals.

Pentagon spokesman John F. Kirby declined to comment directly, but said the United States did not provide specific intelligence on the location of Russian officers, “or participate in decisions targeted by the Ukrainian military.”

After Russia’s first campaign in the north failed to capture Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, its forces withdrew and began focusing on capturing territory in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, but their progress has been slow and costly.

In a remarkable moment, Mr. Putin’s closest foreign ally, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, ruler of neighboring Belarus, called the war a war – a term banned in Russia – and admitted that it did not go well for Russia. “I feel like this operation has dragged on,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

To the north of Donetsk, the dead and wounded poured into field hospitals in the usual way as Russian artillery bombarded the wooded hills where Ukrainian troops were stationed.

On a visit on Thursday, bombs exploded, pounding and exploding in all directions. Military medics took the wounded to a field hospital to stabilize them before taking them by ambulance to a military hospital further away from the front.

Ukrainian military officials demanded that the exact location of the field hospital, about 25 minutes’ drive from Kramatorsk, be preserved, to prevent Russian targeting. Even so, Russian shells landed nearby.

Ukrainian forces can be decimated by columns of ambulances running away from the front lines, even if trucks and armored vehicles carrying troops and equipment go in the opposite direction.

“We are not making any predictions,” said Valeria Skorik, a press officer with the 81st brigade, which is among the fighting units in the north of the Donetsk region. “I was asked by journalists what kind of event we might have on May 9, but I decided not to answer.”

Western officials and analysts say Putin may be planning to make a dramatic statement on Victory Day, when he will traditionally parade from an elevated platform in Red Square and gave a speech surrounded by World War II veterans. He is also often accompanied by other heads of government, but the war has left Russia largely isolated and the Kremlin says no foreign leaders have been invited this year.

Speculation has centered on Mr. Putin’s possible victory claim or, more ominously, acknowledging that Russia is at war and announcing a mass mobilization with expanded participation, a move that would not Popular.

Ukrainian forces in and around northern Donetsk appear to be holding the front lines, offering poor prospects for a Russian achievement there, despite Russia’s repeated attacks on army positions and towns. Ukraine.

The air raid on Kramatorsk left a large crater and created a shock wave so powerful that it blew apart the interior walls of a block of apartments about 75 feet away and ripped steel doors from the village. margin. Inspecting the damage, Pavel Kirilenko, the commander of the Donetsk region’s military, said that it was remarkable that no one was killed.

“This further confirms that people need to leave the city,” Mr. Kirilenko said. “The enemy only targets elements of the civilian infrastructure to instill panic – and not only to sow panic, but to destroy civilians.”

Faced with the possibility of an attack, officials have urged anyone who can leave the city as soon as possible. Many did the same: The streets of Kramatorsk, an industrial and administrative center with a population of about 150,000 before the war, were largely empty. Most businesses closed. Every day, buses leave the city center, evacuating residents to western points.

But not everyone heeded the calls to leave. Inside the apartment building that was demolished on Thursday was a woman in a bathrobe, holding a small dog. She just gave her first name, Viktoria.

The explosion happened around 4:30 a.m., blowing away the balcony and entire front wall of her and her husband’s apartment while they were sleeping. Her husband suffered a major head injury; Drops of blood splattered on the mattress and floor. Her 24-year-old daughter was left with a bunch of bloody cuts by shards of flying glass.

She said local officials urged her to take shelter in a school, at least for the night. But she says she just wants to seal the front of her apartment with plastic to keep out the elements and stay there overnight.

“There was shelling everywhere,” she said. “So where should we go?”

For Mariupol’s last defenders, long cut off from outside aid with their numbers and supplies dwindling, the situation is even more dire.

According to Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Interior Ministry, Russian forces managed to find their way into the 4-square-mile Azovstal complex, where they took shelter with the help of a former worker familiar with its layout. . Mr. Gerashchenko, on social media and speaking to reporters, said that an electrician who used to work at a steel factory showed the Russians the tunnels to enter the complex.

He said Russia’s desire to declare victory on May 9 explained why Russian state TV presenters who are some of Mr Putin’s top cheerleaders – including Vladimir Solovyovunder US and European sanctions for Kremlin disinformation advertising – went to Mariupol.

Communication from Azovstal briefly darkened on Wednesday, but on Thursday morning the fighters in the bunker sent messages through social media platforms again, promising not to surrender.

Captain Svyatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment at the plant, said: “It has been three days since the Russian army broke into Azovstal’s territory. “The fierce fighting continued to inflict a bloody damage.”

Report contributed by Richard Pérez-Peña from New York, Cora Engelbrecht and Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland, and Anton Troianovski from Istanbul.

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