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Ukraine retakes territory in the east amid more Russian attacks

By Laura King and Nabih Bulos

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine pressed its counteroffensive against Russian troops Wednesday, pushing them back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv in what observers say could bring a new phase to the conflict even as U.S intelligence officials warned that Moscow was preparing for a protracted war.

The Ukrainian military said it was able to claw back a constellation of settlements north of Kharkiv, driving back Russian troops to less than a dozen miles from the Russian border.

The move, said Kharkiv regional Gov. Oleh Sinegubov, reduces pressure on Kharkiv city, Ukraine’s second-largest and a primary target of the Russian invasion since the beginning of the war.

“The occupiers had even less opportunity to fire on the regional center,” Sinegubov said on his channel on the Telegram messaging app Wednesday.

In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lauded his troops’ advance, saying that they demonstrated “superhuman strength.” But he cautioned his compatriots not to “spread excessive emotions” or expect a quick victory.

“It is not necessary to create such an atmosphere of specific moral pressure, when certain victories are expected weekly and even daily,” he said.

Zelenskyy’s words appeared to dovetail with the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency director’s characterization of the conflict as deadlocked.

“The Russians aren’t winning, and the Ukrainians aren’t winning, and we’re at a bit of a stalemate here,” Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, shortly before the House resoundingly approved $40 billion in additional weapons and other aid for Kyiv.

Ukrainian forces’ reported breakthrough near Kharkiv comes as fighting rages in other parts of the country, including around Zmiinyi Island, also known as Snake Island, an outcrop in the Black Sea roughly 90 miles south of the coastal city of Odesa. Ukrainian forces struck Russian air defenses and resupply vessels, according to a British Defense Ministry intelligence update Wednesday.

The island gained outsize symbolic importance early in the war, when Ukrainian soldiers stationed in a garrison there rebuffed a Russian warship’s demand to surrender with a colorful rejoinder.

The British Defense Ministry said that if Moscow can consolidate its position on the island with enhanced defenses, the outcrop could be used to “dominate the northwestern Black Sea.” But a redoubt there would also “offer Ukraine more opportunities to engage Russian troops” and destroy materiel.

In the beleaguered port city of Mariupol, Russian forces continued their attack on Ukrainian defenders bunkered in the sprawling Azovstal steelworks plant.

Those defenders issued an urgent plea Tuesday, publishing a series of photos on the Telegram channel of the Azov Regiment paramilitary group, calling on the United Nations and the Red Cross to help rescue hundreds of servicemen now living “without necessary medication and even food.”

“The servicemen you see in the photo and hundreds more at the Azovstal plant defended Ukraine and the entire civilized world with serious injuries at the cost of their own health,” the fighters’ statement said. “Are Ukraine and the world community now unable to protect and take care of them?”

Meanwhile, Ukraine announced that it would suspend gas shipments through a transit point that handles about one-third of the gas delivered from Russia to Europe.

In a statement Tuesday, Ukraine’s state-owned Naftogaz company declared “force majeure,” saying it would stop deliveries through Sokhranivka as of Wednesday because of interference by Russian and separatist troops now in control of the area.

Naftogaz said that “occupying authorities” had disrupted communications and interfered in the operation of the pipeline and that it was “no longer able to carry out uninterrupted and effective operational and technological control” over its facilities. The company said it asked Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas company, to transfer the relevant volumes to another connection located in Ukrainian-controlled area.

Gazprom declined, according to the Reuters news agency.

In Lviv, the western city that is a crossroads for those fleeing the war and those trying to return to homes they previously abandoned, the central train station was its usual hubbub of activity Wednesday. An entire refugee ecosystem has sprung up in and around the landmark Art Nouveau station: A World Food Kitchen tent was serving up borscht, and a free cafe slowly filled with new arrivals.

Those needing a respite after hours or days of travel were steered to resting rooms and a nursery. A few who stepped off trains with little but the clothes on their backs were ushered toward stacks of donated supplies: boxes of diapers, bottles of shampoo, piles of sweatshirts.

Volunteers braced for the arrival of an afternoon train from Pokrovsk, a heavily bombarded town in the province of Donetsk, in the eastern battle zone. “We know these people are going to be in bad shape — hungry and tired and scared,” said volunteer Valentin Andrushko.

After another train pulled in from Zaporizhzhia, a southeastern city that has been a way station for people fleeing Mariupol and its environs, a young volunteer spoke quietly with an elderly woman who was leaning on a cane and sobbing. She would briefly collect herself, nodding and wiping her eyes, and then break down again.

Some travelers were making a reverse journey, back to homes they had left weeks or months ago. Iryna Dragunova, a Lviv teacher, was seeing off her brother and sister-in-law, who were heading east to Kyiv, which they fled in the early weeks of the war. Neighbors in the capital told the couple that, other than some windows that shattered during a bombardment nearby, their apartment was intact.

“Even if it still doesn’t feel so safe, and even if I beg them to stay here with me, they just want to go home,” said Dragunova.

Together with her mother, 21-year-old Liz Ivanchenko was headed for the central city of Dnipro. When they first fled nearly two months ago, they were unable to persuade her 83-year-old grandfather to come along. But now, alone and ailing, he had agreed to accompany them back to Poland.

“We want him to be safe with us,” Ivanchenko said. “He wouldn’t go at first, but now he understands this war could go on for a very long time.”

____

(King reported from Lviv and Bulos from Amman, Jordan.)

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Dive Deeper:
Ukraine ‘pushing Russian troops back’
Ukrainian officials say successes on the battlefield are pushing Russian artillery out of range of parts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second…
Latest Ukraine updates: Kherson seeks annexation
Latest Ukraine news from May 11: Pro-Kremlin administration says it will ask to be incorporated into Russia by 2023.
Timeline: Week 11 of Russia’s war in Ukraine
Al Jazeera recaps key events during week 11 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Odesa pounded by multiple missiles as Russia hits Ukraine’s ports
ZHYTOMYR, Ukraine — Russia’s ambitions to overtake southern Ukraine appeared to grow Tuesday as authorities reported the use of hypersonic…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Ukraine offers to swap prisoners for hurt Mariupol fighters
Ukraine offered to release Russian prisoners of war in exchange for the safe evacuation of the badly injured fighters trapped…
Ukraine pushes back Russian troops in counter-offensive near Kharkiv
Ukraine said on Tuesday its forces had recaptured villages from Russian troops north and northeast of the city of Kharkiv,…
Get all your news in one place