Ukraine says it is stepping up its counter-offensive near Kharkiv

With Ukrainian towns and cities in the balance before a major Russian military victory holiday, new fighting erupted along the Eastern Front lines on Saturday as authorities doubled. Efforts to fleec civilians from the last fragment of Ukrainian territory into the shattered port city of Mariupol.

At the same time, the Ukrainian army claimed that its troops managed to repel Moscow forces from some artillery posts near Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city. Located at the northeastern end of the battle zone, just 25 miles from the Russian border, the city has been subdued relentless bombardment since the early days of the war.

Over 5.8 million refugees they fled fighting in Ukraine, according to the United Nations, e Jill Biden visits Romaniahe praised his government and those of other frontline states for welcoming those seeking to escape war.

“I think this is really, unfortunately, just the beginning, just the beginning,” he said of the biggest refugee crisis on the continent since World War II. The first lady spoke in Bucharest on the second day of a four-day trip to Romania and Slovakia, both bordering Ukraine.

In an operational report earlier on Saturday, the Ukrainian army said its troops were conducting a counter-offensive near Kharkiv and that Russian forces had blown up three road bridges in an attempt to slow that thrust.

While the city itself remained in Ukrainian hands during the war, the Russian military used the captured outlying areas as a base from which to strike Kharkiv, which was home to nearly 1.5 million people before the February 24 invasion.

So Ukraine stated Saturday of having destroyed a Russian Serna-class landing craft in the Black Sea with a drone strike, a claim that could not be immediately verified. Last month, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was sunk by what Russia called an accidental ammunition explosion and Ukraine, backed by Western military officials, claimed it was a Ukrainian missile attack. .

After a series of stinging setbacks for Russia, Ukraine fears Moscow will lash out in frustration. President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his late night video speech on Friday, pleaded with Ukrainians to pay attention over the weekend before the Victory Day celebrations in Russia on Monday.

On Saturday, more troops than usual were seen patrolling the streets of Kiev, the capital.

“I ask all our citizens, especially in these days, not to ignore the sirens of air raids”, Zelensky said. “Please, this is your life, the life of your children.”

In a demonstration of support for Ukraine, leaders of the world’s seven largest advanced economies, including the United States, will hold video consultations with Zelensky on Sunday.

President Biden will participate in Group of Seven talks with the Ukrainian leader, which in part are meant to underline common resolve in response to the 10-week war, the White House said. The G-7 also includes Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Canada and Italy.

There is expected to be an abundance of warlike Kremlin rhetoric associated with the holiday, commemorating the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, but Ukraine is also poised to potentially punish strikes in civilian areas or some new effort from part of Moscow to take the military lead in what Western analysts and military officials describe as a brutal but faltering offensive.

In an analysis published on Saturday, British military intelligencehe cited “a heavy toll on some of Russia’s most capable units” in the fighting to date. Plagued by problems with supply lines, heavy casualties and low troop morale, the Russian command last month interrupted an attempt to take over Kiev and shifted his focus to the Eastern Front.

“It will take a lot of time and money for Russia to reconstitute its armed forces after this conflict,” says the British assessment.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank that has been monitoring battlefield developments, stressed the Ukrainian counteroffensive outside Kharkiv in its latest assessment, saying Ukrainian troops “could successfully push Russian forces out. from the town’s artillery range in the next few days.

In the ongoing battle for control of the territory in the eastern Donbas region, the Ukrainian army said on Saturday that its troops have repelled eight Russian attacks in the past 24 hours. Russia, meanwhile, has intensified what she believes are targeted attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure and weapons supplied by the West.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday that it destroyed a US and European allied arms depot near a train station in the Kharkiv region. He also claimed that Russian forces hit 18 military facilities overnight, including three ammunition depots outside the Black Sea port of Odesa. The claims could not immediately be independently verified.

Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, said new efforts will be made on Saturday to evacuate civilians from the giant Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, where hundreds of civilians have fled for weeks along with Ukrainian troops. Ukraine said around 50 civilians were taken out on Friday.

A man and a girl are escorted on a bus by a Russian army soldier after leaving the Azovstal plant in Mariupol.

A man and girl are escorted onto a bus after leaving the Azovstal factory in Mariupol on Friday.

(Alexei Alexandrov / Associated Press)

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said the displaced on Friday included women, children and the elderly, adding that the operation would continue on Saturday. You said the rescue effort was slowed by Russian violations of a local ceasefire.

In his nocturnal speech, Zelensky said a diplomatic effort was made to save the steel mill’s Ukrainian military defenders from a feared massacre. Forces within the complex have so far rejected Russian surrender demands, but officials are concerned that the steel mills in Moscow were razed as a symbolic reward before Victory Day.

Zelensky said “influential intermediaries, influential states are involved” in an attempt to broker a deal, but did not provide details.