Ukrainian troops are resisting attacks by Russian forces in two eastern cities, while those on the southern front are poised to fight for the strategic Kherson region, which Russia appears to be reinforcing.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in his daily address to the nation on Wednesday, said fighting remained intense in the eastern Donbas region near Bakhmut, a town that Russia’s Wagner forces have made a concerted effort to seize. .
“The situation at the front has not changed significantly,” Zelenskyy said. “The fiercest battles are in the Donetsk region, towards Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
“This is where the madness of the Russian commando is most evident,” he added. “Day after day, for months, they are driving people to their deaths there, concentrating the highest level of artillery attacks.”
Much of the front remains off limits to journalists, but on the main southern front, the Russians were apparently strengthening their positions in the city of Kherson.
At least 70,000 people have fled their homes in Kherson province in the space of a week, a Moscow-based official, Vladimir Saldo, told a regional television channel. Ukraine has previously called the evacuation “a propaganda show.”
Pro-Kremlin authorities have tried to move residents to Russian-controlled areas on the left bank of the river, but do not plan to withdraw any forces as Ukrainian troops are expected to bid for the main urban area on the river. right margin. .
Kherson is one of four partially occupied Ukrainian provinces that Russia claims to have annexed following its invasion of Ukraine in late February.
It includes the only land route to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014, and the mouth of the Dnieper River, a vital economic artery that bisects Ukraine.
Military officials and analysts say the looming battle for the city of Kherson will determine whether Ukraine can loosen Russia’s grip on the south, describing it as one of the biggest since the start of the war.
In a section north of the Russian-occupied pocket on the west bank of the Dnieper, Ukrainian soldiers said Russian bombardment was increasing again after declining in recent weeks, according to the Reuters news agency.
Intermittent artillery fire echoed from both sides, with towers of smoke rising in the distance. A Ukrainian helicopter gunship flew low over the fields, fired rockets at Russian positions and circled around spitting flares to distract heat-seeking anti-aircraft rockets fired at it.
Meanwhile, radio intercepts indicated that the newly mobilized recruits had been sent to the front lines and the Russian forces were firmly entrenched.
“The fortified positions that the enemy has established are concrete and have a minimum of three defense lines,” a Ukrainian army commander, who gave his name as Mykola, near Shevchenkove told Al Jazeera last week.
“The Russian military should not be underestimated,” he said.
Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, said on Wednesday that wet weather and rough terrain were making the counteroffensive in Kherson more difficult than in the northeast, where he pushed Russia back in September.
Since Russia began losing ground in recent weeks, President Vladimir Putin has taken a series of steps to escalate the war, calling up hundreds of thousands of reservists, proclaiming the annexation of occupied lands and repeatedly threatening to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.
On Wednesday, Putin oversaw drills by Russia’s strategic nuclear forces that involved multiple practice launches of cruise and ballistic missiles, with state television broadcasts dominated by images of submarines, strategic bombers and missile forces practicing retaliatory launches for a atomic attack.
This month, Russia launched a new bombing campaign with allegedly Iranian-made missiles and drones against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, which also hit parks and homes across the country.
The Russians continued to “terrorize” the Kyiv region, launching several attacks on Wednesday night, Governor Oleksiy Kuleba said on the Telegram messaging app.
“The suppression of the fire and the consequences of the attack continue,” he said, adding that there were no casualties.
Despite the rising tensions, United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths said he was “relatively optimistic” that a UN-brokered deal allowing the resumption of Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports would be extended. beyond mid-November.
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