Russian soldiers are pressing ground and air strikes on several settlements in eastern Ukraine, officials said Wednesday, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated capturing the territory during the Nine Months War.
Near the city of Lisichansk, Russia has deployed more troops to try to capture the village of Bilohorivka, the region’s Ukrainian governor said, while a commander in another heavily fought settlement described an intensification of Russia’s air offensive.
“They are bringing more and more reserves” around Bilohorivka to try to capture the city, Luhansk governor Serhi Haiday said on Ukrainian television. “There are constant attacks.”
In the settlement of Bakhmut and other parts of the Donetsk region near Luhansk, the assault left nine civilians dead, the regional governor said. Ukrainian forces counterattacked with volleys of rocket launchers, according to Reuters witnesses.
Fighting raged along the entire demarcation line in Donetsk and the frontline city of Avdivka was shelled by Russian tanks on Thursday morning, said Tatiana Ignatchenko, a spokeswoman for the Donetsk regional administration.
Putin made it clear on Wednesday that expanding Russia’s borders was a key goal of the war, in contrast to the goals stated at the start of the Feb. 24 invasion, which he called a “special military operation,” when he said the plans for Moscow do not include the occupation of Ukrainian territory.
Putin said Russia had already achieved a “significant achievement” with the acquisition of “new territories” in Ukraine, referring to the annexation of four partially occupied regions in September, which Kiev and most UN members said condemned as illegal.
Warning that the war could be protracted, Putin said Russia had turned the Sea of Azov into its “inland sea”, now bounded by Russia and Russian-controlled territories in southern Ukraine, including Crimea.
He said it had been an aspiration of Peter the Great, the 17th- and 18th-century warrior czar to whom he has been compared in the past.
In recent weeks, Kiev’s forces have pushed Russia back from areas of land it held, including a major city, Kherson. President Volodymyr Zelensky says his troops will eventually drive Russia out of all conquered territory, including the annexed Crimea peninsula, located between the Black and Azov seas.
Russian naval forces shot down a Ukrainian drone over the Black Sea on Thursday, the Russian governor of Sevastopol, a major port and the largest city in Crimea, said.
Earlier this week, two similar attacks on Russian air bases dealt Moscow a blow to its reputation and raised questions about why its defenses have failed, as attention has turned to the use of drones in warfare. between neighbors. .
In the Ukrainian city of Melitopol, in the Russian-controlled Zaporizhia region and a supply route to Crimea, Russian authorities have called on men of fighting age to mobilize, the Ukrainian military staff said in a statement.
Russia has launched dozens of multi-rocket attacks since Wednesday, the staff said, along with 16 airstrikes and 7 rocket attacks.
Reuters could not immediately verify battlefield reports from both sides.
Hundreds of kilometers away, across Ukraine’s northern border, Russian soldiers were preparing to fight in wintry conditions by taking part in tactical training exercises in Belarus, a close ally of Moscow, the Russian defense ministry said.
Intense Russian diplomatic and military activity in Belarus in recent weeks has reignited fears that Moscow is pressuring its ally to become more involved in the war in Ukraine.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who called on Russian troops to quell a popular uprising two years ago, has allowed his country to serve as a base for a Russian invasion of their common neighbour.
It has so far prevented its own army from joining the operation, but there have been growing signs of Moscow’s involvement in Belarus in recent weeks. On Saturday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu flew unannounced to the capital Minsk. The minister and his Belarusian counterpart, Viktor Khrenin, signed the amendments to the security cooperation agreement between the two countries, without revealing the new terms.
Thousands of Russian servicemen have been deployed in Belarus since October, according to Ukraine, and Belarusian authorities are increasingly speaking of a threat of what they call terrorism from partisans operating across the border.