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The Russians retreat from the vicinity of Kharkiv, beat to the east




kyiv Russian troops are withdrawing from Ukraine’s second-largest city after shelling it for weeks, the Ukrainian military said on Saturday, as forces from kyiv and Moscow engaged in a fierce battle for the country’s eastern industrial heartland.

The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces were withdrawing from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and concentrating on protecting supply routes, while launching mortars, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern province of Donetsk to exhaust Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.

Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine was entering a new long-term phase of the war.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, said Ukrainians were doing everything possible to drive out the invaders and that the outcome of the war would depend on the support of Europe and other allies.

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No one today can predict how long this war will last, Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Friday night.

In a show of support, a U.S. Senate delegation led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell met with Ukraine’s president on Saturday in Kyiv. A video posted to Zelenskyy’s Telegram account showed McConnell, who represents the state of Kentucky, and fellow Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas saluting him.

Their trip came after fellow Kentucky senator Rand Paul blocked until next week Senate approval of an additional $40 billion to help Ukraine and its allies resist. to the three-month Russian invasion.

After failing to capture kyiv after the Feb. 24 invasion, President Vladimir Putin shifted his focus east to Donbass, an industrial region where Ukraine has been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

The Russian offensive aims to encircle the most experienced and well-equipped Ukrainian troops, which are deployed in the east, and to seize the parts of Donbass that remain under Ukrainian control.

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Airstrikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for journalists to travel in the east, hampering efforts to get a full picture of the fighting. But it seems like a back and forth without major breakthroughs on either side.

Russia captured some villages and towns in Donbass, including Rubizhne, which had a population of around 55,000 before the war.

Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces have also advanced in the east, retaking six towns or villages over the past day.

Kharkiv, which sits near the Russian border and just 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has suffered weeks of heavy shelling. The largely Russian-speaking city with a prewar population of 1.4 million was a key Russian military objective early in the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major cities.

Ukraine appears to have won the battle for Kharkiv, said the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank. Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, then driving them out of the city, as they did Russian forces attempting to seize kyiv.

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Regional Governor Oleh Sinegubov said via the Telegram messaging app that there had been no bombing attacks on Kharkiv over the past day.

He added that Ukraine had launched a counteroffensive near Izyum, a town 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of Kharkiv that has been held by Russia since at least early April.

Fighting was fierce on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, where Ukraine launched counterattacks but failed to halt Russia’s advance, military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said. independent Ukrainian.

The fate of a large part of the Ukrainian army is being decided, there are around 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers, he said.

However, Russian forces suffered heavy casualties in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross the same river in the town of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian and British officials said.

The British Ministry of Defense said Russia lost significant armored maneuver elements “of at least one battalion battle group in the attack. A Russian battalion battle group consists of around 1,000 troops .

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The ministry said the risky crossing of the river was a sign of pressure on Russian commanders to advance their operations in eastern Ukraine.

In his video speech, Zelenskyy warned that the war was causing a food crisis around the world as Russia blocked Ukrainian grain from leaving port.

the Group of seven major economies echoed this, saying on Saturday that Russia’s war of aggression had generated one of the most serious food and energy crises in recent history, which now threatens the most vulnerable people across the world.

Putin launched the war in Ukraine in an effort to thwart NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe.

But the invasion is raising fears in other countries on Russia’s flank that they could be next, and this week Finland’s president and prime minister said they were in favor of joining the NATO. Swedish officials are expected to announce a decision on Sunday on whether to apply to join the Western military alliance.

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In a phone call on Saturday, Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that there is no security threat to Finland and that joining NATO would be a mistake and would negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations.

The Kremlin said the two leaders had a frank exchange of views.

Niinisto said the discussion was direct and unambiguous and went without exaggeration. Avoiding tension was considered important.

Russia’s response to moves by Finland and Sweden has so far been muted, although Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said on Saturday their NATO membership would heighten security tensions in the EU. Arctic, turning it into an arena for military competition.

Russian energy group Inter RAO suspended its electricity deliveries to Finland on Saturday, according to a statement from the Finnish national electricity grid operator. But only about 10% of Finland’s electricity comes from Russia, and the authorities did not expect any shortages.

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Potential offers from the Nordic countries have been called into question On Friday as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country did not agree.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to meet his NATO counterparts, including the Turkish Foreign Minister, this weekend in Germany.

In other developments:

Ukrainian fighters locked in a steelworks in the ruined southern port of Mariupol have faced continued attacks on the city’s last stronghold of resistance. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said authorities were negotiating the evacuation of 60 seriously injured soldiers, but Russia had not agreed to the evacuation of all wounded fighters at the steelworks, which number in the hundreds.

An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, Petro Andryushenko, said via Telegram that a convoy of 500 to 1,000 cars carrying civilians from the city had been allowed to enter Ukrainian-controlled territory and was heading towards Zaporizhzhia, the first major city beyond the front lines.

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Deputy Speaker of the Russian Parliament Anna Kuznetsova visited Kherson, a region bordering the Black Sea that has been held by Russia since the start of the war. Russia has installed a pro-Moscow regional administration, and the British Ministry of Defense has said Russia may hold a local referendum on Russian membership with results likely manipulated to show majority support.

Zelenskyy has enacted a law authorizing the banning of political parties that support or defend Russia’s invasion, the head of the national parliaments’ legal policy committee reported on Saturday.


Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Elena Becatoros in Odessa, Jill Lawless in London and other AP staff around the world contributed to this report.


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