Ukrainian forces thwart the Russians on the river

Ukrainian forces have destroyed parts of a Russian armored column as it tried to cross a river in the Donbas region, video from Ukraine’s armed forces shows, as the Ukrainian defense minister predicts many weeks of heavy fighting ahead.

Ukrainian forces have pushed Russia out of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in their fastest advance since Kremlin troops withdrew from kyiv and the northeast more than a month ago to focus their offensive on the Donbas region. , border with Russia.

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

However, Moscow continues to bombard villages north of Kharkiv.

About 10 kilometers north of the city, firefighters doused smoldering debris in Dergachi after what local authorities said was a nighttime Russian missile attack on the House of Culture, used to distribute aid.

“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.”

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.

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 appear to show several burned military vehicles near partially submerged bridge segments and many other damaged or abandoned vehicles, including tanks, in the vicinity.

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, which is waging a war of aggression.

“We are entering a new and long phase of the war,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a Facebook post, predicting “extremely tough weeks” during which he said Ukraine would be largely alone against a “enraged assailant”

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.

In their first conversation since the invasion, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by phone Friday with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, calling for an immediate ceasefire and stressing the importance of maintaining lines of communication. the Pentagon said.

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 went 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.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said “very difficult” negotiations were taking place with Russia to remove Ukrainian defenders from the besieged plant.

Meeting in Germany, the G7 foreign ministers endorsed giving more aid and weapons to Ukraine.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced a further €500 million (Aus$750 million) in military support due to be approved next week by EU members, and expressed confidence that the bloc will agree to an embargo on Russian oil.

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 two states’ neutrality and promote the expansion of NATO that Putin said his invasion of Ukraine was intended to prevent.

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