Ukraine says it repels attack in east as Russian troops struggle to gain ground

20 May 2022, 17:34

Kharkiv scenes
Russia Ukraine War. Picture: PA

It comes as the battle for the steel plant in Mariupol is winding down.

Ukrainian authorities said their troops have repelled a Russian attack in the east, as Moscow struggled to gain ground in the region that is now the focus of the war.

Battered by their long siege of the vital port city of Mariupol, Russian troops need time to regroup, according to an assessment by Britain’s Ministry of Defence. But they may not get it.

The city and the steelworks where Ukrainian fighters have held off the Russian assault for weeks have become a symbol of Ukraine’s stoic resistance and surprising ability to hinder a much larger force.

An undisclosed number of Ukrainian soldiers remained at the Azovstal steel plant. Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said more than 1,900 had surrendered in recent days.

Also remaining at the plant are the bodies of soldiers who defended it while tying down Russian forces. Denis Prokopenko, commander of the Azov Regiment, which had led the defence of the plant, called them “fallen heroes”.

He said: “I hope soon relatives and the whole of Ukraine will be able to bury the fighters with honours.”

He also said that the defenders of Mariupol have received an order to “cease the defence of the city”. The intention is to “save the lives and health of the servicemen of the garrison”, he said.

With the battle for the steel plant winding down, Russia has already started pulling troops back from the site. But the British assessment indicated Russian commanders are under pressure to quickly send them elsewhere in the Donbas.

“That means that Russia will probably redistribute their forces swiftly without adequate preparation, which risks further force attrition,” the MoD said.

Bombed out house
Iryna Martsyniuk, 50, collects belongings from her house, heavily damaged after a Russian bombing in Velyka Kostromka village, Ukraine (AP)

The Donbas is now President Vladimir Putin’s focus after his troops failed to take the capital in the early days of the war. Pro-Moscow separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for eight years in the region and held a considerable swathe of it before Russia’s invasion on February 24.

But the effort to take more territory there has been slow-going. In a sign of Russia’s frustration with the war, some senior commanders have been fired in recent weeks, the MoD said.

Russian forces attacked the cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk, both in the Luhansk region of the Donbas, the region’s governor said on Friday.

Twelve people were killed, and more than 60 houses were destroyed across the region, said Serhiy Haidai in a Telegram post.

But the attack on Severodonetsk was unsuccessful. Both Mr Haidai and Ukraine’s General Staff of the military said Russia took losses and retreated. Their reports could not be independently verified.

Still, Russia’s struggles in the east only seemed to translate into an intensifying offensive that is inflicting increasing suffering.

“It is hell there, and that’s not an exaggeration,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of the campaign.

“The brutal and completely senseless bombardment of Severodonetsk. Twelve dead and dozens wounded there in just one day,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation.

Bombed out factory
A Ukrainian policeman checks the wreckage in a heavily damaged sunflower seeds processing plant after a Russian bombing in Velyka Kostromka village (AP)

Meanwhile, in the first war crimes trial held by Ukraine, Sgt Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old member of a Russian tank unit, told a court in Kyiv on Thursday that he shot Oleksandr Shelipov, a 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian, in the head on orders from an officer.

Shishimarin apologised to the victim’s widow, Kateryna Shelipova, who described seeing her husband being shot just outside their home in the early days of Russia’s invasion.

She told the court that she believes Shishimarin deserves a life sentence, the maximum possible, but that she would not mind if he were exchanged as part of a swap for the Azovstal defenders.

Ukraine’s surprisingly stiff resistance has been bolstered by western arms and funding – and more help was on the way this week.

The G7 has agreed to provide more money to bolster Ukraine’s public finances, bringing the total aid to 19.8 billion dollars (£15.8 billion), Germany’s finance minister said. The goal is to ensure that Ukraine’s financial situation does not affect its ability to defend itself from Russia’s invasion.

Vadim Shishimarin
Vadim Shishimarin during a court hearing in Kyiv (AP)

Also, more US aid appeared to be on its way to Ukraine when the Senate overwhelmingly approved a 40 billion dollar package of military and economic aid for the country and its allies. The house of representatives voted for it last week, and US President Joe Biden’s quick signature is certain.

“Help is on the way, really significant help. Help that could make sure that the Ukrainians are victorious,” senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said.

In other developments, Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke by phone on Thursday with his Russian counterpart for the first time since the war began.

They agreed to keep the lines of communications open, the Pentagon said.

While Mariupol was a target from the start of the invasion and has been under effective Russian control for some time, a group of Ukrainian fighters have held out in the sprawling steel plant – symbolic of the way Ukrainian forces have managed to grind down the Russian troops.

While hundreds of fighters have left, in a brief video message, the deputy commander of the Azov Regiment said he and other fighters were still inside.

“An operation is under way, the details of which I will not announce,” said Svyatoslav Palamar.

While Ukraine has expressed hope for a prisoner exchange for those who have surrendered, Russian authorities have threatened to possibly try for war crimes some of the Azovstal fighters.

By Press Association

Latest World News

See more Latest World News

President Joe Biden listens as Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks

Ketanji Brown Jackson to be sworn in as US Supreme Court justice

An investigator works outside the Bataclan concert hall (Christophe Ena/PA)

Life without parole for surviving extremist who carried out Paris attacks

A shark is seen swimming across a sand bar (Phil Marcelo/AP)

Great white sharks head to Cape Cod as busy tourist season gets under way

Police outside the Bataclan concert hall in Paris (Catherine Wylie/PA)

Men convicted of involvement in 2015 terror attacks in Paris

Salah Abdeslam is believed to be the only surviving member of the group that killed 130 people in the 2015 Paris attacks

Islamic State member found guilty of mass murder for 2015 Paris terror attacks

Vatican Pope Pelosi

Pro-choice Nancy Pelosi receives communion at Vatican despite home city ban

Workers clear debris at the Kremenchuk shopping centre damaged in the Russian rocket attack

Search ongoing for 20 missing after Russian strike on Ukraine shopping centre

People attend a community vigil for the dozens of people found dead in a trailer in San Antonio

‘Difficult process’ identifying Texas lorry trailer death victims – authorities

World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

US abortion ruling ‘a setback’ that will cost lives, says WHO chief

Dutch farmers protesting against government plans gather for a demonstration at Stroe

Dutch PM condemns farmers’ protests at minister’s home

Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, is sworn in by committee chairman Bennie Thompson

Trump dismissed January 6 threats and wanted to join crowd, says former aide

India Killing

Hindu tailor killed in cleaver attack amid religious tensions in India

The superyacht Amadea, which was seized by the US from a Russian oligarch

£25bn from Russian oligarchs frozen in multinational seizure effort

Travis Barker is been hospitalised in LA

Travis Barker's family plea for 'prayers' after drummer hospitalised with mystery illness

Airbnb has permanently banned parties at all its properties

Airbnb permanently bans parties at all properties around the world

Capitol Riot Investigation

Trump was told protesters had weapons on January 6, former aide says