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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Francisco Seco/PA Remains of a destroyed Russian tank are scattered on the ground along the road between Izium and Kharkiv.

Ukraine claws back more territory in strategic southern Kherson region

Ukrainian forces penetrated Moscow’s defences in the region, one of the four areas that Russia is trying to absorb.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 3rd 2022, 9:18 PM

UKRAINIAN FORCES SCORED more gains in their counteroffensive across at least two fronts on Monday, advancing in the very areas Russia is trying to absorb.

In their latest breakthrough, Ukrainian forces penetrated Moscow’s defences in the strategic southern Kherson region, one of the four areas in Ukraine that Russia is trying to grab and desperately defend.

Kyiv’s troops also consolidated gains in the east and other major battlefields, re-establishing Ukrainian control just as Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to overcome problems with manpower, weapons, troop morale and logistics, along with intensifying domestic and international criticism.

Ukraine’s advances have become so apparent that even Russia’s Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, who usually focuses on his own military’s successes and the enemy’s losses, was forced to acknowledge it.

“With numerically superior tank units in the direction of Zolota Balka and Oleksandrivka, the enemy managed to forge deep into our defences,” Konashenkov said on Monday, referring to two Kherson region towns. He coupled that with claims that Russian forces inflicted heavy losses on Ukraine’s military.

Ukrainian forces have struggled to retake the Kherson region, in contrast to its successful breakout offensive in the north-east around the country’s second-largest city of Kharkiv that began last month.

Ukraine has pressed its counteroffensive in the Kherson region since the summer, relentlessly pummelling Russian supply lines and making inroads into Russian-held areas west of the Dnieper River.

The Ukrainian military has used US-supplied Himars multiple rocket launchers to repeatedly hit the main bridge across the Dnieper and a dam that served as a second main crossing. It also has struck pontoon bridges that Russia has used to supply its troops.

State Duma backs annexation bill

As the front lines shifted, the political theatre in Moscow continued, with Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, rubber-stamping annexation treaties for Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk to join Russia.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, addressing parliament, appealed to lawmakers to back the bill to defend Russian language, culture and borders.

“We are not responding to imaginary threats, we are defending our borders, our Motherland and our people,” he said.

He also claimed the United States had rallied all Western countries against Moscow to buttress Kyiv.

“The United States subjugated almost the entire collective West, mobilising it to turn Ukraine into an instrument for war with Russia”.

The four territories create a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Together, the five regions make up around 20% of Ukraine.

russia-ukraine-war Francisco Seco Ukrainian soldiers remove metal structure pieces as they work on a bridge damaged during fighting with Russian troops in Izium. Francisco Seco

The upper house will follow suit on Tuesday as a culmination of annexation “referendums” the Kremlin orchestrated last week — actions the UN chief and Western nations have said are illegal.

Putin last week signed legislation integrating the regions into Russia – along with the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – in a grand ceremony at the Kremlin, during which he signed agreements with the Moscow-installed leaders of the four regions.

Ukraine responded to the annexation by officially lodging an application with the US-led military alliance NATO for membership and said it would never negotiate with Russia as long as Putin was in power.

Russia’s moves to incorporate the regions, as well as Putin’s effort to mobilise more troops, have been done so hastily that government officials have struggled to explain and implement them.

Putin admitted last week that some of the men called up had been mistakenly selected and ordered them sent home.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow plans to confer with residents in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia while determining the exact borders of the areas to be integrated into Russia.

“No doubt, any configuration will depend only on the will of the people who live in a particular territory,” he said.

He said Donetsk and Luhansk are joining Russia with the administrative borders that existed before a conflict erupted there in 2014 between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces. But he added that the borders of the two other regions — Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — are undecided.

“We will continue to discuss that with residents of those regions,” he added, without elaborating.

A senior Russian politician offered a different view. Pavel Krasheninnikov said Zaporizhzhia will be absorbed within its “administrative borders”, meaning Moscow will incorporate parts of the region still under Kyiv’s control. He said similar logic will apply to Kherson, but that Russia will include two districts of the neighbouring Mykolaiv region that Moscow holds.

Putin’s land grab has threatened to push the conflict to a dangerous new level, with he and his top officials warning of the potential use of nuclear weapons and ordering the partial troop mobilisation. It also prompted Ukraine to apply for fast-track Nato membership.

In addition to the Kherson region areas that Russia’s Defence Ministry cited, various sources showed Ukrainian flags, soldiers deployed or other signs that Kyiv’s forces had retaken the villages of Arkhanhelske, Myroliubivka, Khreshchenivka, Mykhalivka and Novovorontsovka. Ukrainian officials often do not confirm territorial gains until they are certain they are sustainable.

The situation in the regional capital, also called Kherson, was so precarious that Russian authorities are restricting people from leaving, Ukraine’s presidential office said.

Still, Russia claimed some success at pushing back. The Moscow-appointed Kherson regional head, Vladimir Saldo, said Ukrainian troops tried to advance toward Dudchany along the Dnieper’s western bank, seeking to reach a key dam at Nova Kakhovka, but that Russian warplanes destroyed two Ukrainian battalions and halted the offensive.

russia-ukraine-war Francisco Seco / PA Debris hang from a partially destroyed residential building at Saltivka neighbourhood in Kharkiv. Francisco Seco / PA / PA

Saldo added that Russian forces fended off Ukraine’s attempted inroads into the Kherson region from Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih.

A Russian-installed official in the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, acknowledged in a video that the Ukrainian forces “have broken through a little deeper” but insisted that “everything is under control” and that Russia’s “defence system is working”.

Neither Saldo’s nor Stremousov’s claims could be independently verified.

Ukraine reported advances in other areas Russia is annexing. The Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Haidai, said Kyiv’s forces retook the village of Torske, 12 miles (19 kilometres) from the city of Kreminna.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said the area is “key for controlling the entire Luhansk region, because further beyond (the city) the Russians don’t have any more lines of defences”.

“Retaking this city opens up operational space for Ukrainians to rapidly advance to the very state border with Russia,” Zhdanov told The Associated Press.

He said Russian troops had retreated from the Kharkiv region. Ukraine’s army reportedly liberated most of Borova in the Kharkiv region across the Oskil River 31 miles (50 kilometres) north of Lyman.

Officials posted a video while driving along recaptured streets, waving the Ukrainian flag.

“Finally, you are home. Finally, it’s Ukraine. Glory to Ukraine!” an onlooker yelled.

Elsewhere in the Kharkiv region, a doctor was killed and nurse injured in a Russian missile attack on a hospital in Kupiansk that also caused major damage, Governor Oleh Syniehubov reported. Last week, at least 24 civilians were killed in an attack on a convoy trying to flee Kupiansk.

Ukraine also has retaken a strategic eastern city, Lyman, which the Russians had used as a key logistics and transport hub. Lyman is in the Donetsk region near the border with Luhansk.

EU summons diplomats

The European Union today summoned Russia’s top diplomat in Brussels as part of a coordinated move with member states to condemn Putin’s “illegal annexation”.

“This is an EU-wide and EU coordinated exercise,” Peter Stano, a foreign affairs spokesman for the bloc, told AFP.

EU nations on Friday began calling in Russian envoys after Putin formally claimed the four regions.

Belgium on Friday summoned the Russian ambassador, and Italy and Austria were among those that have since followed suit.

EU leaders have vowed that they “will never recognise this illegal annexation” carried out by Moscow and the bloc is readying fresh sanctions.

EU diplomats were trying to overcome objections from Hungary to agree a new package of economic punishment that would include moves to impose a price cap on Russian oil sold around the world.

The bloc has already imposed seven waves of unprecedented sanctions on Russia and supplied military aid to Ukraine worth billions of dollars.

Additional reporting from © AFP 2022 

Press Association
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