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May 29, 2022, 9:52 a.m. ET4 minutes ago4 minutes ago
Live Updates: Ukraine Strikes Back in South, as Zelensky Visits Eastern Front
As his military announced a counteroffensive around the southern port city of Kherson, President Volodymyr Zelensky visited frontline positions near Kharkiv in the east. Russia is pushing to complete its occupation of the eastern Luhansk region.
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Ukraine has declared that it is mounting a counteroffensive to reclaim territory around the southern port city of Kherson, as Russia devotes the bulk of its forces to pounding eastern Ukraine and capturing Sievierodonetsk, the last Ukrainian controlled city in the Luhansk region.
Kherson was the first major city to fall as Russian forces swept north out of Crimea more than three months ago, and it has provided a key staging ground for Russian operations across southern Ukraine. In recent weeks, Russian forces — stretched thin and taking heavy losses as they gain ground in the eastern Donbas region — have concentrated their efforts in the south on fortifying defensive positions.
“Hold on Kherson,” the Ukrainian military said on Twitter on Sunday morning. “We’re coming.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky made a rare journey outside Kyiv on Sunday to visit frontline positions around the eastern city of Kharkiv, a trip intended to underscore the success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive to drive Russia back from Ukraine’s second-largest city.
Ukrainian officials have for weeks telegraphed plans to launch a new southern counteroffensive threatening Russia’s supply routes into Kherson on bridges over the Dnipro River. But they said the maneuver would require the delivery of Western artillery systems that had been promised by the United States and other allies.
It was not clear if new weapons were having an effect in the fight to reclaim territory around Kherson, but the Ukrainian military said Saturday evening that Russia had suffered losses as its forces were driven back to “unfavorable” positions around several villages and had been forced to call up reservists to serve as reinforcements, claims that could not be independently verified.
Mr. Zelensky, speaking to the nation overnight, said that delivery of ever more powerful Western weapons was also vital in the “indescribably difficult” defense of the eastern Donbas region.
“Every day we are bringing closer the time when our army will surpass the occupiers technologically and by firepower,” he said. But that, ultimately, depends on continued and expanded Western support.
The Biden administration has approved sending long-range multiple launch rocket systems to Ukraine, a significant transfer that could hugely aid the country, U.S. officials said on Friday. Mr. Zelensky suggested an official announcement could come this week.
In other developments:
- President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany sought to revive diplomatic discussions during an 80-minute phone call on Saturday with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
- Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, said that sophisticated Harpoon anti-ship cruise missiles had arrived. He said the Harpoons came courtesy of Denmark and would be used to try to break Russia’s Black Sea blockade and to protect the port city of Odesa.
- The importance of long-range weapons systems is potentially decisive in the war.
- Ukraine is holding on to its control of Sievierodonetsk, the last city it holds in the eastern Luhansk province, but Mr. Zelensky described the situation there as “indescribably difficult.”
- Russia systematically uses thermobaric weapons in Ukraine.
May 29, 2022, 9:21 a.m. ET34 minutes ago34 minutes ago
Matthew Mpoke BiggReporting from Krakow, Poland
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine visited frontline positions in the Kharkiv region in the northeast of the country to present medals and show support to troops. Zelensky has made several brief trips outside of the capital, Kyiv, in the four months since Russia invaded.
May 29, 2022, 7:42 a.m. ET2 hours ago2 hours ago
Russian forces shelled a residential neighborhood in the southern city of Mykolaiv on Sunday morning, according to Ukrainian officials, who said dozens of civilians were injured. Hanna Zamazieieva, head of the Mykolaiv Regional Council, said that at least 32 people were wounded.
May 29, 2022, 6:54 a.m. ET3 hours ago3 hours ago
The Ukrainian military said on Sunday that hospitals in Crimea had been ordered by Moscow to stop treating civilians to attend to the needs of wounded soldiers. The claim could not be independently verified. Crimea was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 and has been a key staging ground for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
May 29, 2022, 5:23 a.m. ET5 hours ago5 hours ago
The leaders of France and Germany urged President Vladimir V. Putin on Saturday to cease hostilities in Ukraine and hold direct talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky as soon as possible.
Renewing a diplomatic channel that saw heavy use in the days before Russia invaded Ukraine but failed to sway Mr. Putin, President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany said that any solution to end the war must be negotiated between Moscow and Kyiv “with respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” according to a statement from the office of the French presidency.
The Kremlin said in a statement after the leaders talked that Mr. Putin “confirmed that the Russian side is open to renewing dialogue with Kyiv,” while blaming Ukraine for the current impasse in the peace talks.
According to the Kremlin, Mr. Putin also said that Western weapons deliveries could lead to “a further destabilization of the situation,” and he renewed his demand that the West drop sanctions for Russia to increase food and fertilizer exports.
Mykhaylo Podolyak, an aide to Ukraine’s president and envoy to peace talks held earlier in the now three-month-long conflict, said in a post on Telegram over the weekend that Russia simply could not be trusted.
“Any agreement with Russia isn’t worth a broken penny,” Mr. Podolyak wrote. “Is it possible to negotiate with a country that always lies cynically and propagandistically?” Until Russian troops withdrew from Ukraine, he said, “negotiations are being conducted by a separate ‘delegation’ on the front line.”
Mr. Zelensky, speaking to an Indonesian research institute on Friday, said that he did not look forward to speaking with Mr. Putin, but that negotiations would most likely be necessary to end the bloodshed.
“There are things to discuss with the Russian leader,” he said, according to Reuters. “I’m not telling you that our people are eager to talk to him, but we have to face the reality of what we are living through.”Show more
May 29, 2022, 3:27 a.m. ETMay 29, 2022May 29, 2022
KRAMATORSK, Ukraine — The Ukrainian army has begun a counterattack along an area in southern Ukraine that had been relatively quiet in recent weeks, moving to keep the Russia’s military off balance even as it makes gains in eastern Ukraine.
The attack in the Kherson region, announced Saturday evening, broke through a Russian line of defense, the military headquarters said in a statement, although it was not possible to independently confirm Ukraine’s assertion.
The attack pushed Russian forces into more unfavorable terrain near the villages of Andriyivka, Lozove and Belihorka, the statement said.
Ukrainian officials have for weeks telegraphed plans to counterattack in the area to threaten Russia’s supply routes into Kherson on bridges over the Dnipro River. But it said the maneuver would require the delivery of Western artillery systems that had been promised by the United States and other allies.
Those weapons are now showing up at frontline positions in the war’s eastern theater but the military statement made no mention of their use in the announcement of the counterattack in the south.
After Russia’s failure earlier this year to capture Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, the Russian military has focused its offensive on a slender, about 75-mile frontline in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. Elsewhere, the Russian forces have mostly dug into defensive positions.
In the Donbas, Russia’s military last week captured two midsize towns, Svitlodarsk and Lyman. The most intense fighting revolved around the city of Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost city in the Donbas, which is still under Ukrainian control but surrounded on three sides by Russian forces.
Russian troops have been seeking to cut Ukrainian supply line into Sievierodonetsk from the west along a highway and several backroads that the Ukrainians call the “road of life,” since the route is the only means to resupply their soldiers in the city.
Social media posts on Saturday showed Ukrainian soldiers near burned Russian armored vehicles on the highway, indicating the Russian military had at least briefly controlled the highway before being rebuffed.
In another indication of how tenuous Ukraine’s hold on Sievierdonetsk has become, street fighting has been raging in the city for days after Russian forces broke into the city near a hotel on its northern outskirts, according to regional officials.Show more
May 28, 2022, 7:30 p.m. ETMay 28, 2022May 28, 2022
The New York Times
With the battlefield focus shifted to Ukraine’s east, both Russia and Ukraine took to showcasing the urgency and superiority of long-range weapons on Saturday.
Russian cruise missiles have caused heavy damage in Ukraine, and Ukrainian officials have been appealing for new long-range systems to bring to the fight.
On Saturday, Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, said that sophisticated Harpoon anti-ship cruise missiles had arrived. He said the Harpoons came courtesy of Denmark and would be used to try to break Russia’s Black Sea blockade and to protect the port city of Odessa.
The U.S.-made Harpoons were pledged after a virtual meeting earlier this month of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a group of dozens of countries that was formed to support Ukraine with military aid.
News that they had started to reach Ukrainian forces came as American officials said the Biden administration has approved sending long-range multiple launch rocket systems to Ukraine, a significant transfer that could hugely aid Ukraine’s defense of its territory in the Donbas region. Ukraine had been asking for the systems, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain agreeing on Friday that they should be supplied.
Mr. Reznikov confirmed delivery of the Harpoons on the same day that Russia’s defense ministry claimed to have successfully test-fired a hypersonic Zircon cruise missile from the Barents Sea at a target more than 620 miles away.
Hypersonics, generally defined as weapons capable of flying at speeds over Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, are at the center of an arms race among the United States, Russia and China. Russia has frequently claimed successful test-fires of various ostensibly sophisticated new missiles, and has released images purportedly of Zircon cruise missile tests before.
Both Ukraine and Russia have deployed heavy artillery along the eastern front, with American-made howitzers reaching Ukrainian forces this month. The new, longer-ranged Western artillery are the most powerful and destructive of the many types now being provided by NATO countries. They fire three miles farther than the most common artillery system used by the Russian army in the Ukraine war, the Msta-S self-propelled howitzer — and 10 miles farther if shooting a precision, GPS-guided projectile.
According to Ukrainian and British officials, Russia has been using one of its most fearsome conventional weapons, a rocket artillery system nicknamed the Heatwave, in a systematic fashion. The system fires thermobaric warheads that send potentially lethal shock waves into bunkers or trenches. Such explosives, also called fuel-air bombs or vacuum bombs, scatter a flammable mist or powder that is then ignited and burns in the air.Show more
May 28, 2022, 5:49 p.m. ETMay 28, 2022May 28, 2022
Zelensky calls fight in Sievierodonetsk ‘indescribably difficult,’ but says Ukrainians are holding on.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address that Ukrainian forces were holding the defenses against heavy Russian assaults on the eastern cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, but acknowledged that they faced “indescribably difficult” conditions there.
Russian and Ukrainian forces have been locked in increasingly heavy street fighting in the area of Sievierodonetsk, a major railway hub in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Since giving up on a campaign to take Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, Russia has focused its efforts on capturing the Donbas, which borders Russian territory. Russian forces have been active in the region since 2014 in support of separatists.
With its recent advance on Sievierodonetsk, one of the most important cities still held by Ukraine in the area, Russia has edged closer to occupying the entirety of the Luhansk region.
Mr. Zelensky emphasized that the defense of eastern cities depended heavily on “a supply of weapons” — echoing the words of outgunned Ukrainian officials and soldiers on the ground who have struggled to hold back a ponderous, incremental advance by Russian forces backed by long-range artillery.
Russian guns pounded the city of Lyman for weeks before it fell in recent days, and Sievierodonetsk has increasingly been subjected to the same treatment. Better use of artillery and a deliberately slower tempo of operations has helped Russia advance in the region, according to analysts. In Sievierodonetsk, civilians have for weeks been forced to cower underground in basements or bomb shelters without consistent power, gas or water.
Mr. Zelensky also said that Russia targeted the Sumy region, in the northeast of the country, with missile strikes and that one person died and seven others were wounded in the southeastern city of Mykolaiv after it was hit by Russian shelling. He said that the shells landed in a residential area near a kindergarten.
In his remarks on Saturday night, Mr. Zelensky did not address a Kremlin statement that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was “open to renewing dialogue with Kyiv.” The statement described a call Mr. Putin had on Saturday with the leaders of France and Germany, and came after an Italian proposal for a cease-fire and amid growing debate among Western leaders about what an end to the war might look like.
Diplomatic talks between Russia and Ukraine stalled this month, with both sides hardening their stance as they sought to make military gains.Show more
May 28, 2022, 5:04 p.m. ETMay 28, 2022May 28, 2022
Diego Ibarra SanchezReporting from Lviv, Ukraine
Family members and friends of Yurii Kaniuk, 27, on Saturday mourned his death at his home town in Mykolaiv, in Ukraine’s Lviv region. Kaniuk was given a presidential medal for his courage and heroism while fighting for Ukraine. He was fatally shot on May 23 in Yakovlivka, a village in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
May 28, 2022, 1:22 p.m. ETMay 28, 2022May 28, 2022
The New York Times
Artillery shell craters highlighted the destruction wrecked on a solar power plant hit by Russian bombardment on Saturday in Merefa, southwest of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. The plant had been producing 2.5 megawatts of power, the plant’s manager, Vladimir Mihailovich, told Reuters.
May 28, 2022, 12:47 p.m. ETMay 28, 2022May 28, 2022
Russia is fighting to encircle Ukrainian troops defending the cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, in eastern Ukraine, and reach the border of the Luhansk region, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Army said on Facebook. It also claimed Russian forces “retreated to previously occupied positions” after suffering losses during an offensive in the direction of Borivske, near Sievierodonetsk.
May 28, 2022, 9:22 a.m. ETMay 28, 2022May 28, 2022
KRAMATORSK, Ukraine — Russia has made liberal use of one of its most fearsome conventional weapons in the fighting in eastern Ukraine, according to Ukrainian military commanders, medics, British officials and videos from the battlefields.
The weapon, a track-mounted rocket artillery system nicknamed Solntsepek, or the Heatwave, fires thermobaric warheads that explode with tremendous force, sending potentially lethal shock waves into bunkers or trenches where soldiers would otherwise be safe.
“You feel the ground shake,” said Col. Yevhen Shamataliuk, the commander of Ukraine’s 95th Brigade, whose soldiers came under fire from Russia’s Heatwave weapon in fighting this month near the town of Izium.
“It’s very destructive,” Colonel Shamataliuk said. “It destroys bunkers. They just collapse over those who are inside.”
The United States and other militaries also deploy thermobaric warheads in missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. And Ukraine’s Army said on April 5 that it had fired Heatwave thermobaric rockets from a captured system back at Russian troops, intending to burn them with their own weapon, in fighting near Izium.
Thermobaric weapons are not banned, and they are not addressed in the Geneva Conventions, a series of international agreements that govern warfare. Russia’s military has deployed the Heatwave weapon in the war in Syria, but its use in Ukraine has become systematic, according to the Ukrainian military and video footage of strikes on towns in eastern Ukraine.
Such explosives, also called fuel-air bombs or vacuum bombs, scatter a flammable mist or powder that is then ignited and burns in the air. The result is a powerful blast followed by a partial vacuum as oxygen is sucked from the air as the fuel burns.
Ukrainian soldiers who have been caught in the explosions and survived suffered a mix of burns and concussions, said Sgt. Anna Federchuk, an ambulance medic based in Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine, who has treated casualties from Heatwave strikes.
“It’s a mixed diagnosis,” she said of the typical casualty from a Heatwave explosion. “The burns are deep and severe.”
The Russian weapon carries a box of rockets atop a tanklike tracked vehicle. It can fire single rockets or a terrifying volley. Still, like many Russian weapons deployed in the Ukraine war, the Heatwave system may not be as effective or decisive in combat as Russian military propaganda suggested it would be.
Developed in the 1980s and once viewed as an awesome and feared invention of late-Soviet military prowess, the Heatwave, formally known as a Tos-1 heavy flamethrower, has drawbacks.
With a range of only six miles, it must be driven close to the front to fire. There, it has been vulnerable to Ukrainian ambushes. In March, a drone video showed Ukrainian soldiers blowing up a Heatwave weapon during an ambush outside the Kyiv suburb of Brovary.
The strike on the vehicle sent its rockets sailing out into the Russians’ own column of armored vehicles, though it was unclear whether any were destroyed.
Their use near the front has also allowed Ukraine to capture some of the weapons. Videos have appeared online purporting to show Ukrainian tractor drivers towing captured Heatwave weapons away from the front. Ukrainian soldiers have claimed on social media to have seized five of the weapons systems as trophies.
Ukraine’s military has also said that the Russians have suffered friendly fire incidents with the Heatwave as it sprayed out highly destructive but unguided rockets.
“The leadership of the 97th Infantry Battalion expresses its satisfaction with the actions of the Russian occupiers,” the Ukrainian military said in a sarcastic statement on May 8 after what it said was a friendly fire strike in the Zaporizhzhia region that killed Russian soldiers. “Such actions are positively perceived and supported in every way by the Ukrainian military. We understand there is a tradition of cooking shish kebabs in May.”
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting.Show more
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