Kyiv, Ukraine (AFP) – Ukrainian forces made further gains in their counter-attack across a wide front on Monday, advancing into the same areas that Russia is trying to annex and defying its efforts to engage new forces and its threats to defend the incorporated areas by all means, including nuclear weapons. .
In their latest breakthrough, Ukrainian forces have breached Moscow’s defenses in the strategic southern Kherson region, one of four regions of Ukraine that Russia is absorbing and trying hard to defend. They also consolidated gains on other major battlefields.
Ukraine’s progress has become so obvious that even the spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense Igor Konashenkov, who usually focuses on the successes of his army and the losses of the enemy, was forced to admit it.
“With numerically superior tank units in the direction of Zolota Balka and Oleksandrivka, the enemy managed to penetrate deeply into our defenses,” Konashenkov said on Monday, referring to two towns in the Kherson region. This was coupled with allegations that Russian forces inflicted heavy losses on the Ukrainian army.
Ukrainian forces have struggled to retake the Kherson region, in contrast to their successful surprise offensive in the northeast around Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, which began last month.
Ukraine has launched its counter-offensive in the Kherson region since the summer, relentlessly bombing Russian supply lines and carving a route into Russian-controlled areas west of the Dnieper River. The Ukrainian military used multiple HIMARS missile launchers provided by the United States to strike the main bridge across the Dnieper River and the dam that served as a second major crossing. It also struck the pontoon bridges that Russia used to supply its forces.
As the front lines shifted, the political theater continued in Moscow, with the lower house of the Russian parliament ratifying treaties including Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, and Luhansk to join Russia. The Senate will follow suit Tuesday as the culmination of annexation “referendums” organized by the Kremlin last week – measures that the UN chief and Western countries have said are illegal.
Russia’s moves to integrate Ukrainian regions, as well as President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to muster more troops, have been so hasty that government officials have struggled to explain and implement them. Putin admitted last week that some of the men summoned had been chosen by mistake and ordered to be sent home. On Monday, the issue was more fundamental: What exactly are the regions of Ukraine that Russia is trying to incorporate?
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Donetsk and Luhansk were joining Russia with the administrative borders that existed before the conflict there broke out in 2014 between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces. But he added that the boundaries of the other two regions – Zaporizhia and Kherson – had not yet been determined.
“We will continue to discuss this with residents of those regions,” Peskov said, without elaborating.
A senior Russian lawmaker offered a different view. Pavel Krashennikov said that Zaporizhia would be absorbed within its “administrative borders,” meaning that Moscow would incorporate parts of the region still under Kyiv’s control. He said that a similar logic would apply to Kherson, but that Russia would include two regions in the neighboring Moscow-controlled Mykolaiv region.
Putin’s land grab threatened to push the conflict to a dangerous new level, as he and his top officials warned against the potential use of nuclear weapons and ordered a partial mobilization of forces. He also pushed Ukraine to apply for fast-track membership in NATO.
In addition to the areas of the Kherson region cited by the Russian Ministry of Defense, various sources showed Ukrainian flags, deployed soldiers or other signs that Kyiv’s forces had recaptured the villages of Arkhanhelsky, Mirolyubivka, Khrechenivka, Mikhalevka and Novvovorontsovka. Ukrainian officials often do not confirm territorial gains until they are sure they are sustainable.
Ukraine’s presidential office said the situation in the regional capital, also called Kherson, was so precarious that Russian authorities were preventing people from leaving.
However, Russia has claimed some success in responding. Vladimir Saldo, head of the Moscow-appointed Kherson province, said Ukrainian forces tried to advance towards Dudchany along the western bank of the Dnieper, seeking to reach a major dam at Nova Kakhovka, but Russian warplanes destroyed two Ukrainian battalions and halted the attack. Saldo added that Russian forces repelled Ukraine’s attempts to penetrate into the Kherson region from Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih.
The Russian official in the Kherson region, Kirill Strimosov, admitted in a video that Ukrainian forces “penetrated a little deeper” but insisted that “everything is under control” and that “the Russian defense system is working.”
Neither Saldo nor Strimosov’s claims have been independently verified.
Despite successful strikes on supply lines, the Ukrainian offensive in the south was less successful than in the northeast, where the open terrain exposed the attacking forces to Russian artillery and air strikes. However, Russian military bloggers close to Moscow have admitted that Ukraine has superior manpower supported by tanks in the region.
Ukraine has reported progress in other areas being annexed by Russia. Serhiy Hayday, the Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region, said Kyiv forces had recaptured the village of Torsk, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the city of Kremena. Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said the area is “fundamental to controlling the entire Luhansk region, because beyond (the city) the Russians don’t have any other lines of defense.”
“The recovery of this city opens the way for the Ukrainians to advance quickly to the country’s very border with Russia,” Zhdanov told the Associated Press.
He said that the Russian forces had retreated from the Kharkiv region. The Ukrainian army reportedly liberated most of the Borova in the Kharkiv region across the Uskil River, 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Lyman. Officials posted a video while driving along the captured streets, waving the Ukrainian flag.
“Finally, you’re home. Finally, it’s Ukraine. Glory to Ukraine!” exclaimed one of the onlookers.
Elsewhere in the Kharkiv region, a doctor was killed and a nurse wounded in a Russian missile attack on a hospital in Kobyansk that also caused extensive damage, Governor Oleh Sinihopov said. Last week, at least 24 civilians were killed in an attack on a convoy trying to flee from Kobyansk.
Ukraine also recovered a strategic eastern city, Lyman, which the Russians had used as a major logistics and transportation hub. Lyman is located in the Donetsk region, near the border with Luhansk.
Ukraine’s territorial quest has embarrassed the Kremlin and sparked rare domestic criticism of Putin’s war. Tens of thousands of Russian men have fled Russia since the September 21 recall. Many traveled to Turkey, One of the few countries that maintains air links with Russia. Others left in cars, causing long traffic jams on Russia’s borders with Georgia, Kazakhstan and Finland.
The criticism of Russia has prompted senior Russian officials to defend Putin’s actions more forcefully.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, addressing lawmakers on Monday, accused the United States of rallying allies to confront Russia in Ukraine just as Nazi Germany relied on European resources when it invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.
“The United States mobilized practically the entire collective West to turn Ukraine into an instrument of war against Russia, just as Hitler mobilized the military resources of most European countries to attack the Soviet Union,” Lavrov said.
Russia’s actions in dealing with confiscated land and facilities sparked international protests, especially in relation to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. On Friday, Russian forces blindfolded and detained the general manager of the Russian-occupied Ukrainian nuclear power plant, Ihor Murashov. The head of the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency said on Monday that Murashov had been released.
Juras Karamanu contributed from Tallinn, Estonia
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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