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Ukraine: the Russian offensive in the East is accelerating


IRPIN, Ukraine –

Ukraine said on Thursday that Russia’s offensive in the east had gained momentum, with several towns coming under intense attack as forces from Moscow attempted to surround Ukrainian troops.

To recall the horrific toll of the war since it began on February 24, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has visited towns outside the capital, Kyiv, where evidence of massacres of civilians were found after Russia withdrew from the area.

The fighting escalated after Russia suddenly cut off natural gas to two NATO countries on Wednesday, in what was seen as an attempt to punish and divide the West over its support for Ukraine ahead of the potentially crucial battle in the eastern industrial region of Donbass. .

Ukraine’s army general staff said Russian forces were “exerting intense fire” in several locations as they continued the second phase of their invasion. The most intensive action has been around Donetsk and near Kharkiv, which lies outside Donbass but is seen as key to Russia’s apparent attempt to encircle Ukrainian troops there.

Tatiana Pirogova spoke of the intense fear of living under constant bombardment.

“It’s not just scary. It’s when your stomach tenses due to pain,” the Kharkiv resident said. “When they shoot during the day it’s always fine, but when the evening comes I can’t describe how bad it is is scary.”

The General Staff said that over the past 24 hours Ukrainian forces have repelled six attacks in Donbass, control of which is now Moscow’s main objective since its initial offensive failed and failed. failed to take the Ukrainian capital.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said the Russian military shelled the residential area in his region “29 times with aircraft, multiple rocket launches, artillery tubes and mortars”.

Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press also showed evidence of intense Russian fire on Mariupol in recent days. The footage shows how concentrated attacks severely damaged a central facility at the Azovstal Steelworks, the last redoubt for Ukrainian fighters in the key battlefield city.

Around 1,000 civilians are sheltering with around 2,000 Ukrainian fighters in the Steelworks, a huge Soviet-era complex with a maze of underground facilities built to withstand airstrikes.

Russia, meanwhile, said a town under its control in the south had also come under fire.

With the war now in its third month, António Guterres on Thursday visited towns outside kyiv, including Bucha, which have seen some of the war’s most horrific attacks.

“Civilians always pay the highest price,” he said during his visit to the bombed suburb of Irpin. “And that’s something everyone should remember, everywhere. Wherever there is war, the highest price is paid by civilians.”

Evidence of atrocities was uncovered in towns Guterres visited on Thursday after the Russians withdrew from the region in the face of fiercer-than-expected Ukrainian resistance reinforced by Western weapons.

In what could be another Ukrainian counterattack, a series of explosions went off near the television tower on Wednesday evening in Kherson, southern Ukraine, which has been occupied by Russian forces since the start of the war. The explosions at least temporarily interrupted Russian channels, Ukrainian and Russian news agencies reported.

Ukraine has urged its allies to send even more military equipment so it can continue its fight.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that “to date, NATO allies have pledged and delivered at least US$8 billion in military support to Ukraine. And we see the importance of further stepping up our support for Ukraine.

As Russia’s initial blitz was delayed – and suffered the humiliating loss of a massive warship – Britain’s Ministry of Defense says the Russian navy still has the capability to strike coastal targets in Ukraine.

In an intelligence briefing released on Thursday morning, the ministry said about 20 Russian naval vessels, including submarines, are currently operating in the Black Sea area.

But the ministry says Russia is unable to replace the Moskva missile cruiser, which sank earlier this month in the Black Sea, because the Bosphorus Strait remains closed to all non-warships. turkish. Russia also lost the landing ship Saratov, which was destroyed by explosions and fire on March 24.

While continuing its campaign in the east, Moscow has also stepped up the pressure by leveraging its main export, energy, cutting off NATO members Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday from its natural gas.

European leaders have called the move ‘blackmail’, saying the move and the Kremlin’s warning that it may halt shipments to other countries is a failed attempt to divide the West over its support for Ukraine .

The tactic against the two EU countries could eventually force the targeted countries to ration gas and deal another blow to economies suffering from rising prices. At the same time, it could deprive Russia of badly needed revenue to fund its war effort.

The gas cuts do not immediately put the two countries in difficulty. Poland, in particular, has been working for many years to line up other suppliers, and the continent is heading into summer, making gas less essential for households.

Gazprom said it shut down the two countries because they refused to pay in roubles, as President Vladimir Putin demanded of “unfriendly” nations. The Kremlin said other countries could be cut off if they don’t agree to the payment deal.

European countries balked at Russia’s demand for rubles. Moscow has since come up with a system it says meets its demand – but which Europeans say means they still pay in euros or dollars.

“Europe (and) Germany will make payments in euros and others will be able to pay in dollars, not rubles,” German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Wednesday. “The conversion, once the payments have been made, is the responsibility of Gazprom. We have discussed this with the European Union. We will continue on this path. »

Yet the cut and the Kremlin’s warning that other countries could be next to send shivers of worry through the 27-nation European Union. Germany is the world’s largest buyer of Russian energy, and Italy is also a major consumer, although they too have taken steps to reduce their dependence on Moscow.

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Keyton reported from kyiv, Ukraine. Associated Press reporters Jon Gambrell and Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Yesica Fisch in Sloviansk, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.

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