Ukraine says it has checked Russia's offensive in a key town, but Moscow says it will keep pushing

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian units locked in street battles with the Kremlin’s forces in a key northeastern Ukraine town have halted the Russian advance, military officials in Kyiv claimed Thursday, though a senior Moscow official said the frontline push had enough resources to keep going.

Russian attempts to establish a foothold in the town of Vovchansk, which is among the largest towns in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region with a prewar population of 17,000, “have been foiled,” Ukraine’s general staff said in a midday report.

It was not possible to independently verify the claim.

Six people were injured Thursday in one Russian daylight attack on Vovchansk using cluster munitions, local officials said, as emergency workers and volunteers were rescuing people affected by shelling. Among the injured were two medics.

Ukrainian authorities have evacuated some 8,000 civilians from the town. The Russian army’s usual tactic is to reduce towns and villages to ruins with aerial strikes before its units move in.

Vovchansk, located just 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the Russian border, has been a hotspot in the fighting in recent days. Russia launched an offensive in the Kharkiv area late last week, significantly adding to the pressure on Ukraine’s outnumbered and outgunned forces which are waiting for delayed deliveries of crucial weapons and ammunition from Western partners.

Russia has also been testing defenses at other points along the roughly 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line snaking from north to south through eastern Ukraine. That line has barely changed over the past 18 months in what became a war of attrition. Recent Russian attacks have come in the eastern Donetsk region, as well as the Chernihiv and Sumy regions in the north and in the southern Zaporizhzhia region. The apparent aim is to stretch depleted Ukrainian resources and exploit weaknesses.

NATO’s top military officer believes that Russia’s armed forces are incapable of any major advance.

“The Russians don’t have the numbers necessary to do a strategic breakthrough, we don’t believe,” U.S. General Christopher Cavoli – NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe – told reporters after a meeting of the organization’s top military brass in Brussels.

“More to the point, they don’t have the skill and the capability to do it; to operate at the scale necessary to exploit any breakthrough to strategic advantage,” Cavoli said.

Asked whether Russia might be about to launch its anticipated summer offensive early, Cavoli said “we can never be sure,” but he added that “what we don’t see is large numbers of reserves being generated some place” which would be needed for any such offensive.

Ukraine has repeatedly tried to strike behind Russian lines, often using drones though Russia’s response to the new technology used in unmanned vehicles has improved in recent months.

Russian naval aircraft Thursday destroyed 11 Ukrainian sea drones heading towards annexed Crimea in the western Black Sea, Russia’s Defense Ministry said, according to state news agency TASS.

Kyiv made no comment.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with his top military commanders in Kharkiv on Thursday and said the region “is generally under control.” However, he acknowledged on social media that the situation is “extremely difficult” and said Ukraine was again strengthening its units in Kharkiv. Zelenskyy also met with wounded soldiers and handed out medals.

“We clearly see how the occupier is trying to distract our forces and make our combat work less concentrated,” he said in his nightly video address Wednesday.

Former Russian defense minister and now the head of the presidential Security Council Sergei Shoigu insisted Russian troops are pushing the offensive in many directions and that “it’s going quite well.”

“I hope we will keep advancing. We have certain reserves for the purpose, in personnel, equipment and munitions,” he said in televised remarks.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, calculated that Russian forces attacking in Kharkiv have advanced no more than 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the shared border.

It reckons Moscow’s main aim in Kharkiv is to create a “buffer zone” that will prevent Ukrainian cross-border strikes on Russia’s neighboring Belgorod region.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a two-day visit to Kyiv this week, sought to reassure Ukraine of continuing American support. He announced a $2 billion arms deal, with most of the money coming from a package approved last month.

Ukrainian officials say their needs are urgent, and Western partners have vowed to expedite deliveries of military hardware.

Denmark is donating an extra 5.6 billion kroner ($814 million) to Ukraine, Danish Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen said Thursday, with half going to air defense systems.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to consolidate ties with China with an official visit to Beijing.

China has backed Russia diplomatically over its invasion of Ukraine and is now an important export market for Russian oil and gas. Moscow also has turned to Beijing for high-tech products.

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Samya Kullab in Kyiv, Ukraine, Lorne Cook in Brussels and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

05/16/2024 18:32 -0400

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