Ukrainian forces withdraw from Donbas city after attack The.webp

Ukrainian forces retreat from Donbas city after attack

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Ukrainian forces have conducted an organized withdrawal from a city in the eastern region of Donbass, an official said on Wednesday, marking a rare but modest battlefield triumph for Russia after a series of setbacks in its invasion equaled that started almost 11 months ago.

The Ukrainian army withdrew from the salt mining town of Soledar to “save the lives of personnel,” Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s armed forces in the east, told The Associated Press.

The soldiers retreated to previously prepared defensive positions, he said. Russia claimed almost two weeks ago that its forces took Soledar, but Ukraine denied it.

Moscow has presented the battle for the town not far from the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk province as key to conquering the entirety of Ukraine’s Donbass region, where Russian-backed separatists fought Ukrainian forces and controlled some areas for almost nine years before Russia in full Scope conquered was invasion.

As justification for the invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin cited the security of ethnic Russians living in Donetsk and the neighboring Luhansk province, which together make up the Donbass. Putin illegally annexed the Ukrainian provinces and two others in late September.

The withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Soledar brings Russian forces one step closer to taking Bakhmut, but military analysts say the city’s capture is more symbolic than strategic. The fighting in eastern Ukraine has largely come to a standstill for months.

Ukraine’s military has said its fierce defense of Soledar and Bakhmut helped tie down Russian forces.

Many of the Russian troops surrounding Soledar belong to the Wagner Group, a private Russian military company, and the fighting is said to have been bloody.

Since invading Ukraine, Moscow has prioritized taking full control of the Donbas, where it has supported a separatist insurgency since 2014. Russia has taken most of Luhansk, but about half of Donetsk remains under Ukrainian control.

“Russia does not reduce combat activities in Donbass, leaving behind a scorched desert for the Russian military to advance,” Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on state television.

Control of Soledar may allow Russian forces to cut supply lines to Ukrainian forces at Bakhmut, although the strength of Ukraine’s new defensive positions was unknown.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, said earlier this month that the fall of Soledar “will not mark an operationally significant development and is not likely to predict an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut.”

The institute said Russian intelligence operations had “exaggerated the importance of Soledar,” a small settlement. It has also been argued that the long and difficult battle contributed to the exhaustion of Russian forces.

Perhaps even more worrying for Moscow is that Western military aid to Ukraine is now being stepped up with the supply of tanks.

Elsewhere, Russian forces have continued to pound Ukrainian areas, particularly in the south and east.

Russian attacks wounded 10 civilians in the eastern province of Donetsk on Tuesday, provincial governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

Five were injured when Russian shells hit apartment blocks, he said.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russian forces launched four rocket attacks, 26 airstrikes and more than 100 rocket salvo attacks between Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning.

In addition to Donetsk, the Russian attacks also hit settlements in the north-east of the country in Kharkiv and Sumy, in the north of Chernihiv, in eastern-most Luhansk, in the south-east of Zaporizhia and in the southern provinces of Kherson.

Two people were killed and three others wounded in a Russian shelling on Wednesday at a grocery store in the city of Beryslav, in Kherson province, according to an online statement by the regional government.

On Tuesday, Russian shelling included 12 attacks on the region’s capital, also known as Kherson, damaging a maternity hospital, school, clinic, port buildings and residential buildings, the statement said.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was a professional comedian and actor before his 2019 election and has become an internationally recognized war leader in the 11 months since Russia invaded his country, turned 45 on Wednesday.

His wife, First Lady Olena Zelenska, said that although he’s the same person she met when she was 17, “something has changed: They smile a lot less now.”

“I wish you had more reasons to smile. And you know what matters. We all do,” she tweeted.


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