Ukrainian forces have reclaimed some territory in the south while repelling Russian attacks in the hotly contested Donbas, the Ukraine military claimed Thursday.
“Due to the successful actions of Ukrainian defenders, Russian enemy lost control over several settlements on the border of Mykolayiv and Kherson regions,” the Ukraine military said it its daily war update. “Eleven enemy attacks were repulsed in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts over the past 24 hours.”
Donetsk and Luhansk are home to separatists and were recognized as republics by Russia days before the war broke out 10 weeks ago.
Air raid sirens sounded in cities across the country on Wednesday night, and attacks were reported near Kyiv, the capital; in Cherkasy and Dnipro in central Ukraine; and in Zaporizhzhia in the southeast. In Dnipro, authorities said a rail facility was hit.
Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said rail infrastructure attacks were meant to disrupt the delivery of Western weapons to Ukraine. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu complained that the West is “stuffing Ukraine with weapons.”
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►Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has expressed support for Russia in the war and whose country has been used as a staging ground for Russian troops, said he hadn’t expected the Russian offensive to “drag on this way.”
►More than 300 civilians have been evacuated from Mariupol and four other towns to Ukrainian-held Zaporizhzhia, the United Nations said.
►Russian troops have broken into the territory of the Azovstal steel mill, Ukraine’s final holdout in the besieged city of Mariupol, the commander of the main force defending the mill said.
Kherson shows signs of long-term Russian control
The Ukrainian city of Kherson as showing signs that Russia could be in control for the long term. The Russian currency is being introduced and reports are mounting that a sham referendum would be held to legitimize Russian annexation, some locals say. Military checkpoints are everywhere. Kherson, a southern city of about 280,000 and home to ship-building industry on the Dnieper River, became the first major Ukrainian city to fall to Russian forces on March 2. Since then, Russia’s actions to cement control and warnings from U.S. and Ukrainian officials of possible annexation plans have ramped up fear and uncertainty in the strategic provincial capital.
“If we don’t go now … we go never,” Danets, 22, told USA TODAY by phone on Monday from Romania, just over two weeks after she fled by car. Read more here.
– Chris Kenning
Belarus announces start of military exercises
Belarus announced it was starting military exercises Wednesday, insisting it had no plans to threaten any neighbors. Russia used Belarus as a staging ground in its invasion, and the U.S. government has wanted citizens not to travel to Belarus and closed its embassy there due to its involvement in the invasion. The military exercises would assess the readiness and capability of the country’s armed forces, and the military’s ability to operate on “unknown terrain in a rapidly changing situation,” the Belarusian Defense Ministry said.
It said the maneuvers “do not threaten the European community in general and any neighboring countries in particular.”
Contributing: The Associated Press