Deadly Russian Artillery Strikes Reported in Ukraine’s East and South

Russian artillery strikes pounded the front line in Ukraine’s east and south, Ukrainian military authorities said on Sunday, as Moscow pushed to break through Kyiv’s last remaining defenses around the city of Bakhmut and bombarded the Kherson region.

Three civilians were killed in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine that is home to Bakhmut, and two more civilians were killed in the Kherson region, officials said.

Russia “keeps attacking the positions of Ukrainian troops” around Bakhmut, the Ukrainian military’s General Staff said on Sunday in its daily update. But it denied a claim made by Russia’s Wagner mercenary group that the village of Yahidne, northwest of the city, had fallen into Russian hands.

Bakhmut has for months been the focus of a grinding Russian campaign along the roughly 140-mile eastern front. Capturing Bakhmut would constitute Russia’s biggest battlefield victory in months, and the city is seen as key to seizing the entire Donbas area of eastern Ukraine as President Vladimir V. Putin has ordered. Russian forces have taken a series of towns and villages around Bakhmut in recent weeks, as they seek to encircle Ukraine’s fighters there.

Both sides have sustained heavy losses in the battle for Bakhmut that, since it began last summer, has taken on outsized importance. The report from Ukraine’s General Staff detailed clashes on Saturday along a front line stretching around 60 miles from the towns of Lyman to Avdiivka, close to the eastern city of Donetsk, the regional capital. In all, three civilians were killed.

“Avdiivka is under heavy enemy fire. Today, the Russians have already shelled the town with artillery twice,” the head of the regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on the Telegram social messaging app. “Shells and rockets slammed into residential neighborhoods and an industrial zone, injuring at least one person.”

Russia has stepped up its assaults in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, as part of a renewed push to seize the entire Donbas region, made up of Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk, and meet the stated aim of Mr. Putin. Despite flooding the area with thousands more troops, Russia’s efforts thus far have failed to yield significant territorial gains.

In the Luhansk region, Russian infantry troops attempted to storm Ukrainian positions near the contested town of Kreminna, according to the head of the regional military administration, Serhiy Haidai. Russian forces had for months been on the defensive around Kreminna, but more recently have attempted to break out from their positions along that part of the front line.

Were the West to succeed in “destroying” Russia, Mr. Putin went on, “then I don’t even know if the Russian people as an ethnic group can survive in the form in which they exist today.”

The interview underscored that Mr. Putin sees himself as engaged in a long-term test of wills with the United States — and his apparent belief that the American-led Western alliance supporting Ukraine in its war effort could fracture.

Mr. Putin said that Russia was fighting a world order “built around the interests of just one country, the United States.” America’s allies, understand this, Mr. Putin claimed. “They are well aware that everything that the States do is only in their selfish interests and often very much not even in the interests of their so-called allies.”

The United States and its allies have dismissed such comments by Mr. Putin before, and stressed their commitment to support Ukraine for the long haul in the fight against Russia’s invasion — pledging in recent days to provide even more weapons and military support.

Ukraine will await the delivery of more weapons from its allies before launching a counteroffensive in the south that aims to cut off the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula from other territory that Moscow has seized, according to Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy intelligence chief.

“I believe we will be ready for a counteroffensive this spring,” Mr. Skibitsky was quoted as saying in an interview with German news outlet Deutsche Welle that published on Sunday.

Any such offensive would likely push toward the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol, where Ukraine in recent weeks has targeted Russian forces with long-range strikes and sabotage attacks.

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