Ukraine intensified artillery and missile strikes against the Russian-controlled parts of the Donbas region, targeting weapons depots and military bases in an effort to stall a Russian offensive, while Moscow unleashed new salvoes of long-range missiles—some of them shot down by air defenses—on cities across Ukraine.
The city of Donetsk, the biggest in Russian-controlled Donbas, this weekend came under the worst artillery barrages since the conflict in eastern Ukraine began in 2014. The strikes hit military facilities, according to video footage of burning ammunition depots posted on local social-media channels, but also damaged civilian infrastructure. The Russian-appointed mayor of Donetsk,
whose office was also hit by the shelling, said five civilians had been killed.
According to Igor Girkin, a former Russian intelligence officer who sparked the violence in Donbas eight years ago by seizing the city of Slovyansk, Ukrainian shelling of Donetsk also destroyed the headquarters of the 1st Army Corps, the official name of the military force of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. The corps commander, Russian Maj. Gen. Roman Kutuzov, was killed by Ukrainian troops earlier this month.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine was launched by President
on Feb. 24 with the ostensible goal of protecting Donbas, one-third of which has been controlled by Russian proxies since 2014. But Russian forces have been unable to dislodge Ukrainian troops from the immediate outskirts of Donetsk in nearly four months of fighting.
Questioned about this failure at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday, Mr. Putin said that a frontal attack on Ukrainian positions near Donetsk would cause too many casualties and called for patience as Russian troops carry out a complex campaign to encircle Ukrainian forces in the region.
For the past month and a half, the fighting in Donbas concentrated around the city of Severodonetsk, the administrative center of the Ukrainian-controlled part of the Luhansk region, which together with the Donetsk region makes up Donbas.
While Russian troops have made slow gains in the city, at tremendous cost to both sides, they have so far failed in their efforts to take it over completely or to cut off the main access road to the remaining Ukrainian-held parts of Luhansk, such as the town of Lysychansk that overlooks Severodonetsk. Ukraine’s military said Sunday it repelled a Russian probe near the town of Toshkivka, forcing Russian forces to retreat.
A well-known Ukrainian commander, Oleh Kutsyn, head of the volunteer Carpathian Sich battalion, was killed near the city of the Izyum in the Kharkiv region, Ukrainian officials said Sunday.
The Russian offensive in Severodonetsk is likely to have been further stalled by a successful Ukrainian missile strike on an ammunition storage facility used by Russia and its proxy forces in the town of Krasny Luch, deep in the rear of Russian-controlled Luhansk. While the strike, using the Tochka-U ballistic missile, took place on Thursday, it was only over the weekend that the extent of the damage became clear, with footage showing a devastated wasteland littered with burned artillery shells. According to pro-Russian military correspondents, the Krasny Luch facility was the principal warehouse of Russian ammunition for the Severodonetsk offensive.
Russia’s main response to Ukrainian attacks in Donbas has been to intensify strikes against Ukrainian cities and infrastructure facilities. Russian missiles late Saturday hit oil refineries in the towns of Shebelyne near Kharkiv and Novomoskovsk near Dnipro, causing giant fires. A rescue worker died in Novomoskovsk when a burning fuel tank exploded Sunday morning, according to the regional government.
Russia also continued hitting the northeastern city of Kharkiv itself with Iskander missiles and long-range artillery. While Ukrainian forces pushed Russian troops from the immediate outskirts of Kharkiv last month, that counteroffensive stalled as Russia poured reinforcements into the area, seeking to prevent Ukrainian troops from reaching the nearby Russian border. Kharkiv Mayor
said Sunday he has canceled a planned visit to Madrid to stay put for “more effective coordination with the military to defend Kharkiv.”
Not all Russian long-range missile strikes are successful, especially as Ukraine in recent weeks started using its jet fighters to intercept incoming missiles. That is what happened Sunday morning over the towns of Irpin and Bucha near Kyiv, where a cruise missile was shot down, according to regional officials. In the southern Odessa region, two SS-N-26 Onyx supersonic missiles launched from Crimea were successfully intercepted, according to the regional administration there.
Ukraine has repeatedly asked Western partners for more and better weapons, particularly air-defense systems that could protect the country’s cities from Russian missiles. While Slovakia has provided Ukraine with a Soviet-designed S-300 system, no Western wide-area air-defense platforms have been supplied so far. Germany last month promised to deliver the modern Iris-T air-defense system, which could protect an entire city such as Kyiv or Odessa, but it will take months before it is actually shipped.
Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at [email protected]
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