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Ukrainian soldiers drive a tank in a road near Yatskivka village. Francisco Seco/PA
War in Ukraine

Russian forces under pressure in south Ukraine as Zelenskyy claims 'dozens' of villages retaken

Moscow has suffered a series of setbacks in Ukraine recently.

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR Zelenskyy has said his forces are making “rapid and powerful” gains in southern Ukraine and that they have retaken “dozens” of villages from Russia this week.

“The Ukrainian army is quite rapidly and powerfully advancing in the south,” Zelenskyy said in his daily address on social media, adding that “dozens of settlements” had been recaptured in the south and east.

Some of the territory was taken back in the regions of Kherson, Lugansk and Donetsk, he said, where referendums were held last week on being annexed by Russia.

Kyiv and the West have denounced the referendums as a sham.

Zelenskyy cited eight settlements in the southern Kherson region, where Moscow’s forces have retreated in the face of a sweeping Ukrainian counter-offensive, according to maps presented by the Russian defence ministry on Tuesday.

The latest maps revealed by Moscow showed that Russian troops had left many areas in Kherson including along the west bank of the Dnieper River.

In the northeastern Kharkiv region, the mapping indicated that Russian forces had almost entirely abandoned the east bank of the Oskil River where they retained a foothold.

“Our soldiers do not stop. And it’s only a matter of time before we expel the occupier from all of our land,” Zelenskyy said.

A Kremlin-installed official in Ukraine’s southern region of Kherson today urged residents to remain calm amid reports that Kyiv’s forces were making sweeping gains in the region.

Moscow says it has conscripted 200,000 people into its army in two weeks to help bolster its military in eastern Ukraine, where Kyiv’s forces have recently made lightning advances.

Kherson was one of the first regions where Kyiv’s defences collapsed in February after Russia invaded but Ukrainian forces have recently accelerated a months-long offensive to recapture it.

“Our artillery and fighter jets are hitting enemy forces that enter the sovereign territory of Russia,” said Kirill Stremousov, the Moscow-appointed deputy head of the Kherson region.

“There is no reason to panic,” he told residents of the Black Sea region on social media.

According to Russian news agencies and unconfirmed social media reports, unidentified forces have attacked occupying Russian units and officials, while Ukrainian forces have destroyed river bridges, leaving Russian units vulnerable to being trapped.

russia-ukraine-war Local resident Ekaterina (22) stands next to her home, which was damaged in an overnight Russian attack in Kramatorsk Andriy Andriyenko / PA Andriy Andriyenko / PA / PA

Some 80% of the region is estimated to be under Russian control.

“Yes, you can hear explosions at a distance, but they’re infrequent,” Stremousov said in his message.

Fresh US aid

He called on Kherson’s residents to remain calm after his superior, Vladimir Saldo, conceded in an interview that Ukrainian forces had made a “breakthrough” in the region’s northeast, in the village of Dudchany along the Dnieper river.

But he claimed the push was short-lived and that Russian forces had pushed back against the advancing Ukrainian forces.

Yet today, Moscow’s defence ministry maps showed its forces were no longer in control of Dudchany.

Ukrainian officials have so far remained silent about any territorial gains, but the head of the presidential administration Andriy Yermak today posted emojis of watermelons on social media, hinting at gains in the region famous for the fruit.

The West has backed Kyiv with waves of military aid.

US President Joe Biden told his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy that another $625 million in military assistance, including four HIMARS multiple rocket launchers, was on the way, the White House said.

Ukraine already has 16 of the HIMARS systems, which are widely seen as one of the most effective tools in its arsenal.

Zelenskyy in a phone call thanked Biden for the country’s “continued defence and financial support.”

The Ukrainian president said in his Monday evening address that “there are new liberated towns and villages in several regions”.

“Fierce fighting continues in many sectors of the frontline,” he added, claiming “more and more occupiers are trying to escape”.

UN meeting next Monday

Western officials have said as many as 20,000 Russian troops could be at risk of being trapped on the western bank of the Dnieper river, which cuts diagonally through the region and flows into the Black Sea.

Ukraine’s apparent gains in Kherson follow a similar trend in the eastern regions of Kharkiv and Donetsk in recent weeks, with a series of setbacks coinciding with Moscow’s claim to have annexed the regions.

russia-ukraine-war A Ukrainian soldier walks past a partially damaged church from a Russian bombing in Shandrygolovo village, near Lyman. Francisco Seco / PA Francisco Seco / PA / PA

Russian defence ministry maps showed today that Russian troops had left positions on the west bank of the Oskil river in Kharkiv, in the aftermath of this month’s counter-offensive by Kyiv’s army.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin staged a grand Kremlin ceremony on Friday to celebrate the annexation of four Ukrainian territories – Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south and Donetsk and Lugansk in the east.

They create a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Together those five regions make up around 20% of Ukraine.

The United Nations General Assembly has called for an urgent meeting next Monday to discuss Russia’s declared annexation.

At the meeting, the 193 UN member states will weigh a resolution now under preparation on the annexation, after Russia vetoed a condemnation of the act in the Security Council last week, diplomatic sources said Tuesday.

Ukrainian economy to shrink

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the Russian men mobilised to back up Moscow’s forces were being trained at “80 training grounds and six training centres”.

“As of today more than 200,000 people have entered the army,” Shoigu said.

The Kremlin’s mobilisation has led to some protests and an exodus of men of military age – with tens of thousands fleeing the draft, mainly to ex-Soviet neighbours.

Kazakhstan said today more than 200,000 Russians had crossed into it in two weeks.

In Ukraine, tensions have risen in recent weeks over the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia power plant, Europe’s largest nuclear energy facility.

Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of strikes on and near the plant, raising fears of an atomic disaster.

Russia on Monday expelled the power station’s director, Ihor Murashov, after detaining him for two days.

But International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi on Tuesday said there was “no risk at all” after the latest development.

Grossi is due to travel to Moscow and Kyiv this week to discuss setting up a nuclear safety and protection zone around the Zaporizhzhia site, the IAEA said.

The World Bank, meanwhile, said Ukraine’s economy was expected to shrink 35% this year, as the invasion has displaced millions of people from their homes.

Following Moscow’s invasion, Ukraine’s economy has been “scarred by the destruction of productive capacity, damage to agricultural land, and reduced labour supply,” it said.

Ukraine’s central bank chief, Kyrylo Shevchenko, announced Tuesday he was stepping down for health reasons.

© AFP 2022

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