Russian artillery strikes pounded the front line in Ukraine’s east and south, Ukrainian military authorities said on Sunday, as Moscow pushed to break through Kyiv’s last remaining defences around the city of Bakhmut and bombarded the Kherson region.
Three civilians were killed in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, which is home to Bakhmut, and two more civilians were killed in the Kherson region, officials said.
Russia “keeps attacking the positions of Ukrainian troops” around Bakhmut, the Ukrainian military’s General Staff said on Sunday in its daily update. But it denied a claim made by Russia’s Wagner mercenary group that the village of Yahidne, northwest of the city, had fallen into Russian hands.
Bakhmut has for months been the focus of a grinding Russian campaign along the roughly 140-mile eastern front.
Capturing Bakhmut would constitute Russia’s biggest battlefield victory in months, and the city is seen as key to seizing the entire Donbas area of eastern Ukraine as President Vladimir V. Putin has ordered.
Russian forces have taken a series of towns and villages around Bakhmut in recent weeks, as they seek to encircle Ukraine’s fighters there.
Both sides have sustained heavy losses in the battle for Bakhmut that, since it began last summer, has taken on outsized importance.
The report from Ukraine’s General Staff detailed clashes on Saturday along a frontline stretching around 60 miles from the towns of Lyman to Avdiivka, close to the eastern city of Donetsk, the regional capital. In all, three civilians were killed. “Avdiivka is under heavy enemy fire.
Today, the Russians have already shelled the town with artillery twice,” said the head of the regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, on the Telegram social messaging app.
“Shells and rockets slammed into residential neighbourhoods and an industrial zone, injuring at least one person.”
Russia has stepped up its assaults in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, as part of a renewed push to seize the entire Donbas region, made up of Donetsk and neighbouring Luhansk, and meet the stated aim of Putin.
Despite flooding the area with thousands more troops, Russia’s efforts thus far have failed to yield significant territorial gains. In the Luhansk region, Russian infantry troops attempted to storm Ukrainian positions near the contested town of Kreminna, according to the head of the regional military administration, Serhiy Haidai.
Russian forces had for months been on the defensive around Kreminna, but more recently have attempted to break out from their positions along that part of the front line.
Ukraine has been gearing up for a renewed offensive of its own, with the goal of expanding the territorial gains made last fall in Kharkiv region of the northeast and in the south, where Kyiv’s forces forced a Russian retreat from the city of Kherson.
Since pulling out of Kherson, Russian forces have rained down missiles on the city and its environs.
There were 78 separate strikes with tanks, mortars and multiple rocket launchers on Saturday alone, the regional military administration said. Two people were killed and three others were injured.
With the war now in its second year, both sides have vowed to continue fighting. Putin last week prepared his country for a long war to be waged “step by step”, and in a brief interview broadcast on Sunday, he again showed no hint of backing down.
Asked by a Russian state television reporter whether his country faced “eternal confrontation” with the West, Putin indicated that he believed just that.
Repeating a staple of Kremlin propaganda, he said the West harboured plans to destroy Russia, and the war in Ukraine was part of an American-led effort to do so.
“They have one goal: to break up the former Soviet Union and its main part, the Russian Federation,” Putin said in the interview, which was recorded on Wednesday in a corridor of a Moscow stadium after he appeared at a rally there to mark Russia’s annual Defenders of the Fatherland holiday and the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.
Were the West to succeed in “destroying” Russia, Putin went on, “then I don’t even know if the Russian people as an ethnic group can survive in the form in which they exist today”.
The interview underscored that Putin sees himself as engaged in a long-term test of wills with the United States — and his apparent belief that the American-led western alliance supporting Ukraine in its war effort could fracture. Putin said that Russia was fighting a world order “built around the interests of just one country, the United States”. America’s allies, understand this, Putin claimed.
“They are well aware that everything that the States do is only in their selfish interests and often very much not even in the interests of their socalled allies.”
The US and its allies have dismissed such comments by Putin before, and stressed their commitment to support Ukraine for the long haul in the fight against Russia’s invasion — pledging in recent days to provide even more weapons and military support.
New York Times News Service