The Russian offensive continues in Ukraine on Saturday, where Russian missiles were fired from Belarus, a diplomatic ally of Moscow, as the war enters its fifth month.
Kyiv has castigated Moscow’s condemnation of the green light that the 27 European Union countries gave to Ukraine’s candidacy on Thursday. Aid to Ukraine is on the menu at a G7 summit opening in Germany on Sunday, ahead of NATO’s for two days starting Tuesday in Madrid.
“This only shows Russia’s weakness,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba tweeted on Saturday.
The day before Moscow had denounced a “geopolitical grab” on the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS, which brings together several countries of the former USSR) to “contain Russia” and ensured that “this aggressive approach by the European Union to create new divisions and much deeper crises in Europe”.
Kyiv also accused Moscow of wanting to “take Minsk to war” after the Ukrainian army said about twenty rockets from Belarusian soil and from planes were fired at the village of Desna in the Chernihiv border region (northern Ukraine) on Saturday at 5 a.m local (2am GMT, without incurring losses
Attacks were carried out from Belarus at the beginning of the Russian invasion, which started on February 24th.
Moscow, for its part, claimed to have killed “up to 80 Polish mercenaries” in a bombardment in eastern Ukraine and destroyed 20 armored fighting vehicles and eight Grad multiple rocket launchers in high-precision weapon attacks on the Megatex zinc factory in Konstantinovka, Donetsk region, according to a Defense Ministry statement from Saturday.
This claim was not independently verifiable. Moscow often claims to “eliminate foreign mercenaries” who came to fight in Ukraine.
Tensions are high between Russia and Poland, a NATO member that supplies arms to Ukraine. The mayor of Smolensk in Russia on Friday evening confirmed the removal of the Polish flag from the Katyn memorial commemorating the 1940 massacre of around 25,000 Poles on Stalin’s orders.
In Kharkov [Nord-Est]the second city in Ukraine that has resisted pressure from Russian forces since the beginning of the offensive, rockets continue to fall on the city center every day.
On Friday night, one of them hit an administration building near the hotel where an AFP team was staying, and a fire broke out without injuries, according to emergency services. The building had previously been bombed. “The Russians are finishing what they started,” a soldier, who did not reveal his identity, told AFP on Saturday.
On Friday, AFP found a stray dog eating human remains in Chuguiv, about 30 kilometers southeast of Kharkiv, where authorities said six people were killed in a bomb attack on Tuesday. This city lies between Kharkiv and the Russian positions.
In the south, the Russian Defense Ministry added in its Saturday statement that “more than 300 Ukrainian soldiers and foreign mercenaries and 35 heavy weapons units were liquidated in one day in the Mykolaiv region.”
In the east, the Russian army continues to advance. Ukrainian forces were ordered on Friday to withdraw from the city of Severodonetsk, a crucial step for Moscow, which wants to seize the entire Donbass industrial basin, which has already been partially under the control of pro-Russian separatists since 2014 and which Moscow has vowed to fully conquer. .
The withdrawal was announced as the Russians are gaining ground near Lysyhansk, a neighboring city to Severodonetsk across the Donets and another key Moscow target.
Ukraine continues to demand more heavy weapons to counter Russian strike power, particularly in Donbass.
“I stressed the need to achieve fire parity with the enemy, which will allow us to stabilize the situation in the most threatened Lugansk region, where Severodonetsk is located,” the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Facebook. Valeriï Zaluzhniï, reporting on his Facebook page a phone conversation he had with his American counterpart, General Mark Milley.
The governor of Lugansk, Serguiï Gaïdaï, pointed out again on Friday that “all essential infrastructures were destroyed in Severodonestk. 90% of the city is damaged, 80% of the houses must be destroyed.”
These massive bombing raids eventually made Ukrainian soldiers give in, but without necessarily fundamentally changing the situation on the ground, experts say.
“Ukrainian units are exhausted, bloodless. They had terrible casualties with battalions completely neutralized,” explains a senior French officer on condition of anonymity, recalling units of 300 or 400 men, of which only about twenty were left operational.
But despite all that, “the overall vision – a slow war of entrenched positions – has changed little,” Ivan Klyszcz, a researcher at Estonia’s University of Tartu, assures AFP. “The withdrawal was probably pre-planned and can be considered tactical,” he says, noting that Ukrainian resistance has allowed Kyiv to solidify its back.
The Ukrainian armed forces “are in the process of conducting a professional and tactical retreat to consolidate positions they can better defend,” a US Pentagon official said on condition of anonymity.