Ukraine drove Russia’s forces away from its eastern city of Kharkiv and launched a counterattack to disrupt their supply lines to the Donbas region, as Nato pledged continued support for Kyiv and said it could win its war against Moscow.
Kharkiv has been under attack and suffered major damage since the Kremlin launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, but the sound of shelling receded in recent days as Russia’s troops were driven back towards their own border, which is just 35km from Ukraine’s second city.
Regional governor Oleh Sinegubov accused Russia’s military of targeting residents who tried to return to villages near the border, and urged people not to rush back to areas that were still within range of Russian artillery and could be littered with unexploded ordnance.
Mr Sinegubov said some Ukrainian units were now shifting focus to the town of Izium, 125km southeast of Kharkiv city, in a bid to prevent Russia resupplying its forces as they try to take full control of the Donbas region, where fierce fighting continues.
“The hottest spot remains the Izium direction. Our armed forces have switched to a counteroffensive there. The enemy is retreating on some fronts,” he said.
Western powers say Russia is making slow gains while sustaining heavy losses in Donbas, which it is intent on capturing in full after being driven back from Kyiv and Kharkiv.
British military intelligence said on Sunday that Russia had lost about a third of the ground combat forces it deployed in Ukraine, and was “significantly behind schedule” in Donbas and unlikely to make swift advances during the next 30 days.
Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said after a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers that “Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going as Moscow had planned.”
“They failed to take Kyiv. They are pulling back from around Kharkiv, their major offensive in the Donbas has stalled. Russia is not achieving its strategic objectives,” he added.
Russian president Vladimir Putin “wants Ukraine defeated, Nato down and Europe and North America divided. But Ukraine stands, Nato is stronger than ever. Europe and North America are solidly united. Ukraine can win this war . . . We must continue to step up and sustain our military support to Ukraine,” he said.
Several missiles hit a military facility near Ukraine’s western border with Poland on Sunday, as Russia pressed on with what it calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its pro-western, democratic neighbour.
Kyiv and its allies accuse Russian forces of committing war crimes in Ukraine, and say Moscow’s attacks on the country’s infrastructure and blockade of its southern ports are preventing the export of millions of tonnes of grain, and risk fuelling an international food crisis.
“Russia has deliberately chosen to extend the military war against Ukraine now as a . . . grain war to many states in the world, especially in Africa,” said German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock.
“We must not be naive. This is not collateral damage. It is a deliberately chosen instrument in a hybrid war that is being waged right now. Russia is preparing the ground for new crises to deliberately weaken international cohesion against Russia’s war.”
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged countries to provide his military with more urgently needed weapons, to help end the war and “prevent global famine”.
“More and more countries around the world are realising that Russia, by blocking the Black Sea for us and continuing this war, puts dozens of other countries at risk of a price crisis in the food market and even famine. This is another incentive for our anti-war coalition to act more decisively together,” he added.