(AP) — Russian troops are withdrawing from Ukraine’s second-largest city after weeks of heavy bombardment, the Ukrainian military said Saturday as Kyiv and Moscow’s forces engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s east.
Ukraine’s general staff said the Russians were pulling back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on guarding supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern Donetsk region in order to “deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.”
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine was “entering a new – long-term – phase of the war.”
As the country’s top prosecutor put a Russian soldier on trial for war crimes, the first of dozens that could face charges, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainians were doing their “maximum” to drive out the invaders and that the outcome of the war would depend on support from Europe and other allies.“No one today can predict how long this war will last,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address late Friday.
Russia’s offensive in the Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, appeared to be turning into a village-by-village, back-and-forth slog with no major breakthroughs on either side. After failing to capture Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, the Russian military decided to concentrate on the Donbas, but its troops have struggled to gain ground.Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s forces made progress, retaking six Ukrainian towns or villages in the past day. Western officials said Ukraine had driven Russian forces back around Kharkiv, which was a key target for Moscow’s troops.
“The Russians really haven’t made much in the way of tactical gains recently,” one Western official said, describing the war’s front line as “oscillating.”
“The Ukrainians continue to launch counterattacks, particularly around Kherson and Kharkiv. We expect this to settle into a long attritional battle,” the official said on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.
The Ukrainian military chief for the Luhansk region of the Donbas said Friday that troops had nearly full control of Rubizhne, a city with a prewar population of around 55,000.