Kyiv | The Russian noose is loosening on Kharkov, Ukraine’s second city to the east and which has been shelled since late February, Ukrainian authorities said on Tuesday night, while the conflict could spread to the region, authorities said. southwest. Washington.
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“Our armed forces have given us all good news from the Kharkiv region. The occupiers are gradually being pushed back from Kharkov,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video. “I am grateful to all our fighters who hold out and display superhuman strength to repel the invading army.”
“The towns of Cherkasy Tychky, Rusky Tychky, Roubijné and Bayrak have been liberated” in the region of this major city, the Ukrainian General Staff said on Facebook. “Thus, the enemy was pushed even further away from Kharkov and the occupiers had even fewer opportunities to hit the regional center.”
But “the intensity of the shelling in Kharkiv district has increased,” he also noted. In addition, according to Oleg Snegoubov, head of Kharkov’s regional administration speaking on Telegram, “by retreating, the Russian occupiers are leaving behind deadly traps”, mines.
The northern and northeastern districts of Kharkov, which had a population of about 1.5 million before the war, have been hit by Russian missiles for weeks, killing civilians. At the end of February, the Russians wanted to take the city in vain: the Ukrainian troops resisted and pushed them back a few kilometers further, at the cost of heavy fighting.
The American Institute for the Study of War (ISW) noted late last week that the Ukrainian military in this eastern part of the country is “making significant progress and is likely to advance toward the Russian border within days or weeks.
It also seems to confirm the trend that emerged during this third month of the Russian invasion on the eastern front: on the one hand, Ukrainian units counterattack and advance east of Kharkov, on the other hand, the Russians are gradually nibbling about 150 km southeast of the Ukrainian advance, towards the part of Donbass not yet under Russian or pro-Russian separatist control.
What about Transnistria?
The “second phase” of the “special military operation” announced by Moscow is aimed at total control of the Donbass, and the fighting is particularly fierce in the Lugansk region.
But attention is now also turning to the southwest of the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to “expand” the conflict into Transnistria, a region of Moldova that seceded in 1990, US intelligence chief Avril Haines said Tuesday.
On April 22, a Russian general, Rustam Minnekayev, had also argued that “control of southern Ukraine is also a corridor to Transnistria, where there are also cases of oppression of the Russian-speaking population”. However, the defense of Russian speakers is one of Moscow’s justifications for the current war.
In addition to Crimea, which was annexed in 2014, Russian troops occupy much of southern Ukraine, including the regional capital Kherson.
According to the Ukrainian command for the south, Russian forces are “relentlessly” attacking the Mykolaiv region, which represents the ultimate lock for Odessa in the west. “Private homes, agricultural facilities were damaged and electricity supply to one of the places was interrupted,” he said from Tuesday to Wednesday.
Odessa, an important cultural center for both Ukrainians and Russians, has been sporadically hit by Russian missiles since the start of the conflict. This Russian-speaking port city received a surprise visit from the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, on Monday.
Near Odessa, “the psychological pressure on the neighboring population of Transnistria continues” with “the possible blockade of the region due to the dismantling of the Dniester Bridge, which was again attacked by missiles”, the Ukrainian command for the south.
In late April and early May, explosions shook Transnistria, where Russian troops have been stationed for thirty years.
Russia immediately said it was “alarmed” by these “terrorist acts”, indicating that it is closely monitoring the situation. For its part, the European Union announced on May 4 that it would “significantly increase” its military aid to Moldova. This small country, not a member of NATO, also received support from Paris and Berlin at the end of April.
Vote on US military aid
In the southeast, Russian troops have again stormed the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, where dozens of Ukrainians, soldiers and civilians are still hiding. “Dozens of strikes”, “every hour”, wrote Petro Andriouchchenko, deputy mayor of this Russian-occupied and almost completely destroyed port city on Telegram.
The US intelligence chief also said Mr Putin is counting on a loss of Western aid to Ukraine and is preparing for “a protracted conflict”, for which he will “probably” impose martial law in Russia. What according to M. could lead to a “more unpredictable trajectory and possibly an escalation” in the coming monthsme hate.
In Kiev, which had been stripped of most of its inhabitants at the start of the Russian invasion, nearly two-thirds of the capital’s 3.5 million inhabitants have returned, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Tuesday.
In the evening he announced the death at the age of 88 of the first president of independent Ukraine, Leonid Kravtchouk (1990-1994). This former apparatchik returned to the political scene in 2020 by becoming one of the Ukrainian negotiators in talks with Russia over the Donbass conflict at the request of President Zelensky.
On the side of US aid to Ukraine, the House of Representatives passed a staggering envelope of nearly $40 billion on Tuesday evening, following on from Joe Biden in his unwavering support for Kiev. The text voted by elected officials from both camps contains an economic and humanitarian component, as well as weapons and ammunition. It must now be voted on in the Senate by the end of the week or early next week before it is announced by the US president.
As regards sanctions against Russia, negotiations continue on the draft EU embargo on Russian oil, which is currently blocked by Hungary. An agreement is possible “within a week”, French Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune assured Tuesday.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, whose country is heavily dependent on Russian gas but supplies weapons to Ukraine, met Joe Biden at the White House on Tuesday. The first called for “a strong European Union (…) in the interests of the United States”, praising the US president “a good friend and great ally”.