Front lines shift in Donbas as Ukraine mounts counteroffensive
In the west of Ukraine near the Polish border, missiles destroyed military infrastructure overnight and were fired at the Lviv region from the Black Sea, Ukrainian officials said.
Ukrainian forces have notched up a string of successes since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, forcing Russia’s commanders to abandon an advance on Kyiv and then making rapid gains in the northeast to drive them out of the second-biggest city Kharkiv.
Since mid-April, Russian forces have focused much of their firepower on Donbas after failing to take the capital.
An assessment by British military intelligence issued on Sunday said Russia had lost about a third of the ground combat force deployed in February. Its Donbas offensive had fallen “significantly behind schedule” and was unlikely to make rapid advances during the coming 30 days, the assessment said.
On Saturday night, Ukraine received a morale boost with victory in the Eurovision Song Contest, a triumph seen as sign of the strength of popular support for Ukraine across Europe.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed the win, but said the situation in Donbas remained very difficult and Russian forces were still trying to salvage some kind of victory in a region wracked by conflict since 2014.
“They are not stopping their efforts,” he said.
Moscow’s invasion, which it calls a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists, has jolted European security. Kyiv and its Western allies say the fascism assertion is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression.
Keeping up pressure on Izium and Russian supply lines will make it harder for Moscow to encircle battle-hardened Ukrainian troops on the eastern front in the Donbas.
Izium straddles the Donets river, about 120 km (75 miles) from Kharkiv on the main highway heading southeast.
“The hottest spot remains the Izium direction,” regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said in comments aired on social media.
“Our armed forces have switched to a counteroffensive there. The enemy is retreating on some fronts and this is the result of the character of our armed forces.”
But Ukraine’s military acknowledged setbacks in an update on Sunday morning: “Despite losses, Russian forces continue to advance in the Lyman, Sievierodonetsk, Avdiivka and Kurakhiv areas in the broader Donbas region.”
Both sides claimed success in military strikes in Donbas.
The Ukrainian military said there was no let-up on Sunday in Russia’s bombardment of the steel works in the southern port of Mariupol, where a few hundred Ukrainian fighters are holding out weeks after the city fell into Russian hands.
Zelenskiy said talks were underway seeking a way to evacuate wounded soldiers from Mariupol in return for the release of Russian prisoners of war.
A large convoy of cars and vans carrying refugees from the ruins of Mariupol arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia after nightfall on Saturday after waiting days for Russian troops to allow them to leave.
Iryna Petrenko, a 63-year-old in the convoy, said she had stayed initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
One of the aims of Russia’s action in Ukraine was to prevent the former Soviet republic joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
But Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday that his country, which shares a 1,300-km (800-mile) border with Russia, wanted to join NATO to bolster its own security.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats were also poised on Sunday to come out in favour of the country joining NATO, paving the way for an application and abandoning decades of military non-alignment in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Putin told Niinisto it would be a mistake for Helsinki to abandon its neutrality, the Kremlin said, adding that the move could harm bilateral relations.
Germany said on Sunday that it had made preparations for a quick ratification process, should Finland and Sweden apply.
“We must make sure that we will give them security guarantees, there must not be a transition period, a grey zone, where their status is unclear,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.
As well as losing large numbers of men and much military equipment, Russia has been hit by economic sanctions. The Group of Seven industrial powers pledged on Saturday to “further increase economic and political pressure on Russia” and supply more weapons to Ukraine.
In another token of international solidarity, U.S. Republican senators paid an unannounced visit to Kyiv. The delegation discussed further strengthening sanctions on Russia, Zelenskiy said.
Winners of the Eurovision Song contest traditionally get to host the event the following year.
“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe! Next year Ukraine will host the Eurovision song contest,” Zelenskiy said in an online message after Kalush Orchestra won with their entry “Stefania”.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay, Natalia Zinets, Gleb Garanich, Leonardo Benassatto, Tara Oakes, Tom Balmforth, Idrees Ali, David Ljunggren, Lidia Kelly and other Reuters bureaux; Writing by Aidan Lewis and Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by William Mallard and David Clarke)