Russia presses advantage in eastern Ukraine and says POWs’ bodies can be handed over

Kyiv still awaiting proof that 65 captured troops were killed in border plane crash

Ukraine said Russia was launching heavy attacks in the eastern Donetsk region as Moscow announced that it was ready to hand over the bodies of dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war allegedly killed in a plane crash that the Kremlin blamed on Kyiv.

Russian forces were trying to push further west towards the Kyiv-held towns of Chasiv Yar, Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka in Donetsk region after capturing Avdiivka last month and Bakhmut last May, Ukraine’s military said on Friday.

“In the Avdiivka area, the enemy increases the intensity of artillery fire, has a significant advantage in ammunition and increases the number of assault groups ... throwing new reserves into action, and therefore has some local successes,” said Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, commander of Kyiv’s forces in a large section of eastern Ukraine.

“Over the past 24 hours, the Russians carried out 36 air strikes, 56 combat engagements, 1,074 artillery strikes and 118 ‘kamikaze’ drone strikes”, Gen Tarnavskyi said of his area of operations.


Illia Yevlash, spokesman for Ukrainian military units operating further north in Donetsk region, said the Russians were “accumulating very powerful forces” for an attack on Chasiv Yar near occupied Bakhmut.

“Access to Chasiv Yar would allow the enemy to continue their offensive operations, preparing for an attack on Kostiantynivka. Of course, the primary goal in Donetsk region is the Kramatorsk-Sloviansk agglomeration,” he added.

Ukrainian forces are on the backfoot in parts of Donetsk region following their withdrawal from Avdiivka and amid shortages of artillery ammunition, due largely to the refusal of Republicans in the US Congress to approve a White House request for $60 billion (€56 billion) in new military aid.

The Kremlin’s human rights commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova said Moscow was ready to hand over the bodies of 65 Ukrainian POWs that it claims were killed when Kyiv’s forces allegedly shot down a Russian military transport plane over the Russian border region of Belgorod in January.

“Everything required for this from a procedural point of view is in place,” she said. “The bodies can be transferred according to the existing procedures.”

I believe that Russia is once again exploiting the issue of the Il-76… I can confirm that I have not received any official passenger manifests or other information

—  Dmytro Lubinets

Kyiv says it has seen no evidence that POWs were on the plane, however, and has not taken responsibility for the crash of the Il-76 transport plane, although some Kyiv security service sources did suggest it had been shot down.

“I believe that Russia is once again exploiting the issue of the Il-76 ... I can confirm that I have not received any official passenger manifests or other information,” said Dmytro Lubinets, Ukraine’s parliamentary commissioner for human rights.

“Ukraine ... demanded a transparent investigation, access to the crash site, the involvement of international organisations in the investigation and lists confirming the supposed presence of POWs on the flight,” he added. “But I didn’t receive anything.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe