Russia Pursues Gains in Ukraine’s East as Kyiv Eyes Southern Counterblow

Russia Pursues Gains in Ukraine’s East as Kyiv Eyes Southern Counterblow #Russia #Pursues #Gains #Ukraines #East #Kyiv #Eyes #Southern #Counterblow Welcome to Lopoid

Russian forces pressed their offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region on Saturday, pushing on the city of Bakhmut as Kyiv tries to seize the initiative by opening a front in the south.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Russia was deploying tanks, artillery and jet fighters to support an advance on Bakhmut and Avdiivka. Authorities in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic—a Moscow-backed statelet formed in 2014—said its troops had occupied several bridgeheads in the nearby town of Soledar and were conducting reconnaissance in Bakhmut.

The office of the Ukraine’s prosecutor general in the Donetsk region said it had detained two collaborators who were passing on information about the location of Ukrainian forces there to Russia.

After completing their takeover of the eastern Luhansk region last month, Russian forces have set their sights on territory still under Ukrainian control in the neighboring Donetsk region, which together with Luhansk forms the area known as Donbas. But the campaign has slowed since heavier weapons from the West began reaching the front line, enabling Ukraine to strike Russian command posts and ammunition depots.

A Kostiantynivka resident removes broken glass from his window following a Russian strike.

Photo:

ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS/REUTERS

At the same time, Ukraine has announced a counteroffensive in the south, compelling Moscow to redeploy some of its forces there. Using high-precision long-range artillery supplied by the U.S., Kyiv has in recent weeks targeted bridges across the Dnipro river in a bid to cut off Russian forces in the Russian-controlled Kherson region.

On Saturday, assailants in the region shot and seriously wounded a local Moscow-installed official, Russian state news agencies reported, citing the Russian-installed government in Kherson. Ukraine considers officials who work with the Russians to be traitors, and several of them have been assassinated in occupied territories in recent months.

Also Saturday, insurgents in the Russian-held southeastern port city of Berdyansk claimed responsibility for an explosion near the police headquarters, according to local media reports.

While Ukrainian forces are chipping away at Russian positions around Kherson, military analysts say Kyiv lacks sufficient manpower to storm the regional capital—also named Kherson—after more than five months of fighting that has exacted a heavy toll on both sides.

Ukrainian soldiers man an outpost near Slovyansk, one of the Donestk-region cities still under Ukraine’s control.

Photo:

David Goldman/Associated Press

Commenting on the timing of the expected counteroffensive, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council,

Oleksiy Danilov,

urged patience. “The military know what they are doing, they know when they need to start, and most importantly, how to carry out their mission for our country quickly and with minimal losses to liberate our territories from the occupier,” he told Ukrainian TV on Saturday.

Despite the looming threat of an offensive, Kherson’s exiled city council said Moscow was moving ahead with plans to hold a referendum on formal annexation of the region to Russia, offering financial inducements to pensioners.

Serhiy Haidai,

the Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region, said Moscow-installed authorities there were also meeting with remaining residents and collecting their personal data in exchange for food and construction materials to pave the way for a referendum on joining Russia. Russia’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that Russian forces were targeting Ukrainian positions in Kherson.

While the front lines remained relatively static, Russian missiles continued to rain down on several cities overnight on Saturday. Missiles struck a residential district in the southern city of Mykolaiv, which has become a frequent target in recent weeks.

Ukraine’s nuclear regulator, Energoatom, said staff at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant—Europe’s largest—were working to ensure it was safe after three shells landed in the vicinity on Friday, severing a high-voltage power line and prompting a shutdown of one of the station’s reactors.

“There are still risks of hydrogen leakage and sputtering of radioactive substances, and the fire hazard is also high,” the regulator said on Saturday.

An evacuee from Bakhmut travels on a train from the Donetsk region to safer areas farther west.

Photo:

ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS/REUTERS

Moscow-installed occupation authorities have traded blame with Kyiv for the attack on the plant, which is still being operated by Ukrainian workers though it is located in an area seized by Russia.

Mykhailo Podolyak,

an adviser to Ukraine’s president, accused Russia of “staging dangerous provocations,” urging the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations to demand that control of the plant be handed over to a special commission.

In an overnight speech, Ukraine’s President

Volodymyr Zelensky

said the threat to the Zaporizhzhia plant justified sanctions against the entire Russian nuclear industry.

On Saturday, Russian Federation Council Deputy Speaker

Konstantin Kosachev

blamed Ukraine for the shelling and described it as “nuclear terrorism,” in comments on Telegram.

Turkey’s President

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

said on Saturday that he urged Russia’s

Vladimir Putin

in a meeting a day earlier to hold direct peace talks with Mr. Zelensky. Mr. Erdogan said a cease-fire between Ukraine and Russia was possible “if parties really show sensitivity to promises made” in remarks reported by Turkey’s state-run news agency.

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Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Putin met in Russia’s Black Sea city of Sochi on Friday to discuss a range of issues including the implementation of an agreement brokered by Turkey and the U.N. for Ukraine to resume its exports of grain via the sea. Four ships carrying grain left Ukraine under the deal earlier this week.

The head of Amnesty International Ukraine resigned in the wake of a furor over a report published by the organization that accused Ukrainian forces of endangering civilian lives by launching attacks from populated areas.

Ukrainian officials including Mr. Zelensky have condemned the report, which was seized upon by Russian officials to buttress their claim that Kyiv is using civilians as a human shield.

In an open letter, Oksana Pokalchuk said Amnesty had not given Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense enough time to respond to its findings. “As a result of this, although unwillingly, the organization created material that sounded like support of Russian narratives,” she wrote. “Seeking to protect civilians, this study instead has become a tool of Russian propaganda.”

Ukraine’s forces early in the war pulled back to cities to avoid fighting a larger army in unprotected areas in the country’s vast steppe and have avoided staying in barracks and bases because Russian forces have targeted them with cruise missiles.

Write to Isabel Coles at isabel.coles@wsj.com and Evan Gershkovich at evan.gershkovich@wsj.com

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