Ukraine. Russians Withdraw From Kharkiv Surroundings, Drive East | News, Sports, Jobs

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian troops were withdrawing from Ukraine’s second-largest city after shelling it for weeks, the Ukrainian military said today, as forces from Kyiv and Moscow were fighting a fierce battle for the industrial heartland of the east of the country.

Ukraine’s military says Russian forces are withdrawing from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on protecting supply routes, while launching mortars, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern province of Donetsk in order to “exhaust the Ukrainian forces and destroy the fortifications.”

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

In a show of support, a US Senate delegation led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy today in Kyiv. A video posted to Zelenskyy’s Telegram account showed McConnell, who represents the state of Kentucky, and fellow Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas saluting him.

Their trip came after fellow Kentucky senator Rand Paul blocked until next week Senate approval of an additional $40 billion to help Ukraine and its allies resist. to the three-month Russian invasion.

After failing to capture kyiv after the Feb. 24 invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin shifted his focus east to Donbass, an industrial region where Ukraine has been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

The offensive aims to encircle the most experienced and well-equipped Ukrainian troops, which are deployed in the east, and to seize the parts of Donbass that remain under Ukrainian control.

Airstrikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for journalists to travel in the east, hampering efforts to get a full picture of the fighting. But it seems like a back and forth without major breakthroughs on either side.

Russia captured some villages and towns in Donbass, including Rubizhne, which had a population of around 55,000 before the war.

Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces had also advanced in the east, retaking six towns or villages over the past day. In his speech today, he said “the situation in the Donbass remains very difficult” and the Russian troops were “Always try to come out at least somewhat victorious.”

“Step by step,” President Zelenskyy said, “we are forcing the occupiers to leave Ukrainian land”.

Kharkiv, which lies near the Russian border and just 80 km southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has suffered weeks of heavy shelling. The largely Russian-speaking city with a pre-war population of 1.4 million was a key military objective early in the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major cities.

Ukraine “seems to have won the battle of Kharkiv”, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said. “Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, then driving them out of the city, as they did Russian forces trying to seize Kyiv. “

Regional Governor Oleh Sinegubov said via the Telegram messaging app that there had been no bombing attacks on Kharkiv over the past day.

He added that Ukraine had launched a counteroffensive near Izyum, a town 78 miles south of Kharkiv that has been held by Russia since at least early April.

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

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

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

The British Ministry of Defense said that Russia had lost “significant armored maneuvering elements” at least one battalion battle group in the attack. A Russian battalion tactical group consists of approximately 1,000 soldiers.

The ministry said the risky crossing of the river was a sign of “the pressure that Russian commanders are under to advance their operations in eastern Ukraine”.

Zelenskyy has warned of a global food crisis as Russia blocks Ukrainian grain from leaving port.

Major Group of Seven economies echoed this today, saying “Russia’s war of aggression has generated one of the most serious food and energy crises in recent history, which now threatens the most vulnerable people around the world.”

Putin launched the war in Ukraine in an effort to thwart NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe.

But the invasion is raising fears in other countries on Russia’s flank that they could be next, and this week Finland’s president and prime minister said they were in favor of joining the NATO. Swedish officials are expected to announce a decision on Sunday on whether to apply to join the Western military alliance.

In a phone call today, Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that there was no threat to Finland’s security and that joining NATO would be a “Error” and “negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations.”

The Kremlin said the two leaders had a “a frank exchange of views”.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said NATO membership of Finland and Sweden would heighten security tensions in the Arctic, “make it an arena for military competition.”

Russian energy group Inter RAO suspended its electricity deliveries to Finland today, according to a statement from Finland’s national electricity grid operator. But only about 10% of Finland’s electricity comes from Russia, and the authorities did not expect any shortages.

Potential offers from the Nordic countries came into question on Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “No favor.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to meet his NATO counterparts, including the Turkish Foreign Minister, this weekend in Germany.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press.

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