Ukraine claims to have made battlefield successes in the northeast as the Russians retreat

  • Ukraine says its forces have moved across the Russian border
  • Russia warns of consequences for Finland and Sweden’s NATO move
  • NATO chief says Russian attack will not be planned
  • The situation is still difficult in the south

RUSSKA LOZOVA (Ukraine/Kyiv) (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces in a counterattack against Russian forces in the country’s northeast have pushed them back from the city of Kharkiv and advanced as far as the border with Russia, Ukrainian officials said on Monday.

If confirmed, these developments would signal a further shift in momentum in favor of Ukrainian forces after nearly three months of conflict that began when Russia sent tens of thousands of troops across the border into Ukraine on February 24.

Meanwhile, Moscow has warned of “far-reaching consequences” if Finland and Sweden go ahead with plans to join the NATO military alliance – a change in the Nordic countries’ long-standing policy of neutrality stemming from concern about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s broader ambitions.

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Fighting was reported near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, on Monday in what Interior Ministry adviser Vadim Denisenko called a “counter-attack”.

“It can no longer be stopped … Thanks to this we can go to the rear of the group of Russian forces,” he said.

Kharkiv, which lies about 30 miles (50 km) from the border with Russia, has suffered weeks of heavy bombardment from Russian artillery. The Russians’ guidance from there follows their failure to capture the capital, Kyiv, in the early stages of the war.

Yet thousands of people, including many civilians, were killed across the country, towns and cities were reduced to rubble, and more than six million people fled their homes to seek refuge in neighboring nations in scenes not seen in Europe since World War II. The Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Russia denies targeting civilians.

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The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said on Monday that the 227th Battalion of the 127th Brigade of the Ukrainian Regional Defense Forces has reached the border with Russia.

“Together to victory!” He Said.

The governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Senegubov, said the troops had returned a sign at the border.

“We thank everyone who risked his life and liberated Ukraine from Russian invaders,” Senegubov said.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify Ukraine’s account on the battlefield and it was not clear how many troops had reached the Russian border or where.

If confirmed, it indicates that the Ukrainian counter-offensive is increasingly successful in repelling Russian forces in the northeast after Western military agencies said Moscow’s offensive in two eastern provinces known as Donbass has been halted.

However, the governor of the Luhansk region in the Donbass, Serhiy Gaidai, said the situation “remains difficult”, as Russian forces try to capture the town of Severodonetsk.

He said leaders of the Luhansk People’s Republic, the region in Luhansk controlled by Russian-backed separatists, had announced a general mobilization, adding that it was “either fight or shoot, there is no other choice”.

The presidential office in Kyiv stated that fighting was raging in the south around the city of Kherson and that Russian missiles had hit residential areas in Mykolaiv. Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the reports.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday that Ukraine could win the war, an outcome few military analysts expected when Russia invaded Ukraine.

NATO expansion

In a blow to Russia, which has long opposed NATO expansion, Finland confirmed on Sunday that it would apply to join the alliance.

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Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats also supported NATO membership, paving the way for an application and abandoning decades of military nonalignment. Read more

But Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said on Monday that Finland and Sweden were making a mistake that would have far-reaching consequences.

“They should have no illusions that we will simply put up with it,” Ryabkov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

“The general level of military tension will rise and predictability in this area will decrease,” Ryabkov said.

NATO and the United States said they were confident the two countries would accept the alliance and overcome reservations from Turkey, which wants Nordic countries to stop supporting Kurdish militant groups on its soil. Read more

Moscow describes its invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation” to rid the country of fascists, an assertion that Kyiv and its Western allies say is an unfounded excuse for an unprovoked war.

Since mid-April, Russian forces have focused much of their firepower on trying to capture Donbass. Moscow recognized the independence of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic in Donbass days before launching its invasion.

British military intelligence said Russia had lost about a third of the ground combat force deployed in February and that its offensive in the Donbass was “significantly behind schedule”.

Fighting around Azium

The heaviest fighting appeared to have taken place around the Russian-controlled city of Izyum in eastern Russia, where Russia said it had bombed Ukrainian positions with missiles. Read more

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Ukraine’s military task force said Russia continued to target civilian areas along the entire front line in Luhansk and Donetsk, firing at 23 villages and towns.

The Ukrainian military has also acknowledged setbacks, saying that Russian forces “continue their advance” in several areas in the Donbass region.

The Ukrainian military said Russia’s bombardment of steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol did not subside on Sunday, as a few hundred Ukrainian fighters emerged weeks after the city fell to Russia.

Alexander Khodakovsky, the commander of separatist forces in Donetsk, said on his Telegram channel on Monday that 10 Ukrainian fighters emerged from a tunnel at the Azovstal steel plant carrying white flags. Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the news.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said “very difficult and sensitive negotiations” are underway to rescue Ukrainians in Mariupol and Azovstal.

Ukrainian forces received a morale boost from the country’s victory in the Eurovision Song Contest at the weekend, which some said was a sign of battlefield victories.

“We showed that we can not only fight, but also sing wonderfully,” said Vitaly, a fortified soldier north of Kyiv. Read more

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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Stephen Coates and Angus McSwan; Editing by Lincoln Fest and Nick McPhee

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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