Donbass front lines changed as Ukraine counterattack

The front lines in Ukraine’s war shifted on Sunday as Russia made some advances in the hotly contested eastern Donbass region and the Ukrainian army launched a counterattack near the strategic Russian-controlled city of Izyum.

Ukrainian officials said that missiles in western Ukraine near the Polish border destroyed military infrastructure at night and were fired into the Lviv region of the Black Sea.

Ukrainian forces have had a string of successes since invading Russia on 24 February, forcing Russian leaders to abandon advances in Kyiv and then make quick gains in the northeast to drive them out of Kharkiv, the second largest city.

Since mid-April, Russian forces have concentrated much of their firepower on Donbass after failing to capture the capital.

A British military intelligence assessment released on Sunday said Russia lost about a third of its deployed ground combat force in February. The assessment said its offensive in Donbass was “significantly behind schedule” and unlikely to make rapid progress over the next 30 days.

On Saturday night, Ukraine received a morale boost by winning the Eurovision Song Contest, a victory seen as a sign of the strength of popular support for Ukraine across Europe.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the victory, but said the situation in Donbass remains very difficult and Russian forces are still trying to salvage some kind of victory in a region wracked by conflict since 2014.

“They are not stopping their efforts,” he said.

The invasion of Moscow, which it calls a “special operation” to disarm and protect Ukraine from fascists, has destabilized European security. Kyiv and its Western allies say the assertion of fascism is an unfounded excuse to launch an unjustified war of aggression.

“Most important spot”

Continued pressure on Izyum and Russia’s supply lines will make it difficult for Moscow to encircle powerful Ukrainian forces fighting on the Eastern Front in the Donbass.

Izyum runs on the Donets River, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Kharkiv on the main southeast highway.

“The hottest spot is still the direction of Izyum,” regional governor Oleh Senegubov said in comments broadcast on social media.

Our armed forces have turned to counterattack there. The enemy is retreating on some fronts, and this is the result of the nature of our armed forces.”

But the Ukrainian military acknowledged setbacks in a Sunday morning update: “Despite the losses, Russian troops continue to advance in the Lyman, Severodonetsk, Avdiivka and Kurakhiv regions in the wider Donbass region.”

Both sides claimed successful military strikes in Donbass.

No one has calmed down, the Ukrainian military said on Sunday, as Russia’s bombing of steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, where several hundred Ukrainian fighters are being held, weeks after the city fell to the Russians.

Zelensky said that talks are underway to find a way to evacuate wounded soldiers from Mariupol in exchange for the release of Russian prisoners of war.

A large convoy of cars and vans carrying refugees from the ruins of Mariupol arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhia after dark on Saturday, after waiting days for Russian forces to let them leave.

Irina Petrenko, 63, in the convoy, said she initially stayed to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who then died.

“We buried her next to her house, because there was no place to bury anyone,” she said.

NATO applicants

One of the goals of Russian action in Ukraine was to prevent the former Soviet republic from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

But Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday that his country, which shares a 1,300 km border with Russia, wants to join NATO to boost its security.

Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats on Sunday also prepared to voice their country’s support for joining NATO, paving the way for an application and abandoning decades of military non-alignment in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin said Putin told Niinistö that it would be a mistake for Helsinki to abandon its neutrality, adding that the move could harm bilateral relations.

Germany said on Sunday it had made preparations for a quick certification process, should Finland and Sweden apply.

“We have to make sure that we give them security guarantees, there should not be a transition period, a gray area, where their status is not clear,” Foreign Minister Annalena Barbock said.

In addition to losing large numbers of men and much military equipment, Russia was subjected to economic sanctions. On Saturday, the Group of Seven major industrialized nations pledged “more economic and political pressure on Russia” and to supply Ukraine with more weapons.

In another token of international solidarity, American Republicans made an unannounced visit to Kyiv. Zelensky said the delegation discussed further toughening of sanctions against Russia.

Eurovision Song Contest winners usually host the event the following year.

“Our courage dazzles the world, our music conquers Europe!” Zelensky said in an online message after the Kalush Orchestra won its entry, “Stefania” in Ukraine next year will host the Eurovision competition.

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