Ukrainian forces thwart Russians on river as fighting moves to Donbass

By Jonathan Landay

DERGACHI, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces destroyed parts of a Russian armored column as it tried to cross a river in the Donbas region, Ukrainian army video showed on Friday, as Moscow appeared to be refocusing its attack in the east after a new attack. kyiv pushback.

Ukraine has pushed Russian troops away from Kharkiv’s second-largest city in the fastest advance since Kremlin forces withdrew from kyiv and the northeast more than a month ago, though Moscow is still shelling villages north of Kharkiv. .

The city, which had been under fierce shelling, has been quiet for at least two weeks and Reuters journalists have confirmed that Ukraine now controls territory stretching to the Siverskyi Donets River, some 40km (25 miles) to the east. .

About 10 kilometers (six miles) north of the city, firefighters doused the smoldering wreckage in Dergachi after what local authorities said was a nighttime Russian missile attack on the House of Culture, used to distribute aid. Volunteers inside were trying to salvage packages of diapers and baby formula.

“I can’t call it anything other than a terrorist act,” the mayor, Vyacheslav Zadorenko, told Reuters. “They wanted to attack the base where we store supplies and create a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Another missile slammed into the building on Thursday and Russian shelling wounded a clinic staff member and killed a young couple in their home, he said.

Russia, which denies targeting civilians, said its forces shot down a Ukrainian Su-27 plane in the Kharkiv region and disabled the Kremenchuk oil refinery in central Ukraine.

The reports could not be immediately verified.

Southeast of Kharkiv, Britain said Ukraine had prevented Russian forces from crossing the Siverskyi Donets River west of Severodonetsk. Images released by the Ukrainian Airborne Forces Command appeared to show several burned military vehicles near partially submerged bridge segments and many other damaged or abandoned vehicles, including tanks, in the vicinity.

Reuters could not immediately verify the report, or when or where the clash took place.

The British Defense Ministry said Russia was investing significant military effort near Severodonetsk and Izium, and trying to push its way towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk to complete its takeover of Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region.

The Russian-backed separatists said they had seized the Zarya chemical plant in Rubizne, near Severodonetsk.

The Kremlin calls its February 24 invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to demilitarize a neighbor that threatens its security. Ukraine says it poses no threat to Russia and that the deaths of thousands of civilians and the destruction of cities and towns show that Russia is waging a war of aggression.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu on Friday and called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine.

It was the first time since the invasion that the two men had spoken. Austin emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication, the Pentagon spokesman said.

KIDS

Ukraine accused Russia of forcibly deporting more than 210,000 children since its invasion, saying they were among 1.2 million Ukrainians transferred against their will. The Kremlin says that people have come to Russia to escape the fighting.

In kyiv, a court has begun hearing the first case of what Ukraine says are more than 10,000 possible war crimes. A Russian soldier is accused of murdering a civilian. Moscow has accused kyiv of organizing such crimes.

In the southern port of Mariupol, Russian forces intensified their shelling of the Azovstal steel mill, the last bastion of Ukrainian defenders in a city almost completely controlled by Russia after a siege of more than two months.

Some of the civilians recently evacuated from the tunnels under the plant where they had taken refuge described terrifying conditions.

“Every second was hellish,” nurse Valentyna Demyanchuk, 51, told Reuters.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told 1+1 television that negotiations were under way for the evacuation of wounded troops.

RUSSIAN SHIP ON FIRE

The renewed fighting around Snake Island in recent days could help Ukraine resume exports of grain vital to the world’s supply, some of which is now shipped by rail.

“There are currently 25 million tons of grain blocked in the Ukrainian port of Odessa, which means urgently needed food for millions of people in the world,” said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

Ukraine said it had damaged a Russian navy logistics ship near Snake Island, an outpost that Ukrainian military intelligence says allows control of civilian shipping. The Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Satellite images from Maxar, a private US-based company, showed the aftermath of what it said were likely missile strikes on a Russian landing craft near the island, made famous by the riot-filled defiance. swearing by its Ukrainian defenders early in the war.

NATO EXPANSION

In Germany, foreign ministers from the G7 group of wealthy nations met to discuss a planned EU embargo on Russian oil and fears the conflict could spread to Moldova.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told the meeting that he hoped Hungary, which opposes the EU, would accept the oil embargo and called on the G7 to hand over Russian assets to help Ukraine rebuild.

“We are talking about hundreds of billions of dollars. Russia must pay,” he told reporters.

A day after Finland, Russia’s northeast neighbor, pledged to apply for NATO membership, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said her country’s membership would have a stabilizing effect and would benefit countries. of the Baltic Sea.

Joining the 30-nation Western military alliance would end the neutrality the two states maintained during the Cold War and promote the expansion of NATO that Putin said his invasion of Ukraine was intended to prevent.

NATO member Turkey said it did not support the idea. The United States said it was working to clarify Turkey’s position.

Moscow called Finland’s announcement hostile and threatened to retaliate, but said a news report that the Kremlin might cut off gas supplies to Finland was likely a “hoax”.

(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Tom Balmforth and the Reuters Bureau; Writing by Philippa Fletcher and Angus MacSwan; Editing by Nick Macfie and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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