Ukraine says its troops are retaking territory in its eastern Kharkiv province as Moscow's forces focus on seizing control of the Donbas region to the southeast, amid US warnings that Russia is preparing for a "prolonged conflict" with its pro-western neighbour.
The general staff of Ukraine's armed forces said the army had liberated the villages of Cherkasy Tyshky, Rusky Tyshky, Rubizhne and Bayrak, in a push towards the Russian border that prompted Moscow to send some 500 soldiers to the area from Donbas as reinforcements.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, is just 35km from Russia, and it has been under constant assault since the Kremlin launched an all-out invasion of the country on February 24th, suffering major damage to civilian infrastructure from shelling and bombing.
Ukraine's recent counterattack in the region has pushed much of Russia's artillery out of range of central Kharkiv, prompting mayor Ihor Terekhov to announce plans to relaunch some public transport next week as life slowly returns to the city's streets.
Fierce artillery exchanges continued along the front line in Donbas, where Russia’s military has concentrated its efforts and is making slow gains after being forced to abandon a bid to seize Kyiv.
Ukrainian officials who fled the near-total Russian takeover of the Donbas port of Mariupol said some civilians may still be in the Azovstal steelworks, the last stronghold of the only remaining Ukrainian soldiers in the devastated city, following the evacuation of hundreds of people from the plant in recent days.
Ukraine says Russia’s bombardment of Mariupol may have killed 20,000 residents, and it accuses Moscow’s troops of committing war crimes in the city and then trying to hide evidence in mass graves.
On a visit to Irpin and Bucha, towns near Kyiv where Russian forces are also accused of committing atrocities, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said there should "never again be impunity for the war crimes committed by Russia, the deportations, or for the murderers and rapists".
"That is why we will provide political, financial, and support through German staff, particularly at the International Criminal Court, " she added.
“We owe it to the victims that we don’t just commemorate them here, but that we hold the perpetrators to account . . . And we as the international community will do this. That’s the promise we can and must make here in Bucha.”
‘Goals beyond the Donbas’
Avril Haines, US director of national intelligence, told the US Senate armed services committee that assessments showed Russian president Vladimir Putin "is preparing for prolonged conflict in Ukraine during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbas".
She warned that a growing war of attrition in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s mounting frustration over a lack of clear success on the battlefield “likely means the next few months could see us moving along a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory”.
Lieut Gen Scott Berrier, the head of the US defence intelligence agency, told the same hearing that the “Russians aren’t winning and the Ukrainians aren’t winning”.
Ms Haines said Mr Putin was increasingly likely to impose martial law in Russia or reorientate its industry towards military production, but “would probably only authorise the use of nuclear weapons if he perceived an existential threat to the Russian state or regime”.
The Czech Republic has been elected to join the UN Human Rights Council in place of Russia, which was suspended from the body due to its invasion of Ukraine.
"We belong on the human rights council. Russia does not," said Czech foreign minister Jan Lipavsky.