Ukraine said on Thursday it had been forced to cede some territory in the east of the country in the face of a Russian offensive, and the head of the NATO military alliance said Moscow must not be allowed to win the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy this week described the pressure his armed forces were under in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine as “hell”. He spoke of fierce fighting around the town of Avdiivka and the fortified village of Pisky, where Kyiv has acknowledged its Russian foe’s “partial success” in recent days.
The Ukrainian military said on Thursday Russian forces had mounted at least two assaults on Pisky but that its troops had managed to repel them.
Ukraine has spent the last eight years fortifying defensive positions in Pisky, viewing it as a buffer zone against Russian-backed forces who control the city of Donetsk about 10 km (6 miles) to the southeast.
General Oleksiy Hromov told a news conference that Ukrainian forces had recaptured two villages around the eastern city of Sloviansk, but had been pushed back to the town of Avdiivka’s outskirts after being forced to abandon a coal mine regarded as a key defensive position.
The Russian defence ministry confirmed its offensive.
Reuters could not immediately verify either side’s assertions.
Video footage released by the Russian defence ministry showed Russian rocket launchers in action and tanks advancing and firing at speed across open terrain. It was not clear where they were filmed.
Footage on social media showed bodies, some blown apart, lying beside a road in central Donetsk. Blood stained the pavement.
Russia, which denies deliberately attacking civilians, has said it plans to take full control of the wider Donetsk province, one of two that make up the industrialised Donbas region, as part of what it calls a “special military operation” to safeguard its security from what it calls unjustified NATO enlargement.
Human rights group Amnesty International accused Ukraine on Thursday of endangering civilians by basing troops in residential areas in a report. Zelenskiy hit back at Amnesty saying the organisation was trying to “shift responsibility from the aggressor tot he victim.”
The White House said on Thursday that it expected Russian officials to try and frame Ukrainian forces for an attack on the front-line town of Olenivka last week that killed prisoners held by Moscow-backed separatists.
“We anticipate that Russian officials will try to frame the Ukrainian Armed Forces in anticipation of journalists and potential investigators visiting the site of the attack,” national security spokesperson John Kirby said.
Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador later responded to Kirby in a Twitter post, saying U.S.-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems were used in the attack.