The fight in Ukraine has largely become an artillery battle, as Ukrainian forces have frustrated Russian efforts to sixteen territories in the eastern part of the country, a senior US Defense Department official said Friday.
Ukrainian artillery, bolstered by nearly 90 US howitzer cannons, has prevented Russian forces from crossing the Donets River, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe battlefield developments. The failure of Russian troops to make river crossings is preventing them from consolidating their forces in the northern Donbas region of Ukraine.
All but one of the 90 US M777 howitzers are inside Ukraine, and Ukrainian soldiers report that the guns have been effective in attacking Russian positions, the official said.
Elsewhere, the Russians have made incremental gains but nothing deemed significant, the official said. The Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine appears to remain at least two weeks behind schedule.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov on Friday acknowledged the war with Russia had entered “a new, long phase.”
“To win it, we must plan resources carefully, avoid mistakes and project our strength in such a way that the enemy ultimately breaks,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
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►Russian shelling killed one civilian and injured 12 more people Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, part of the Donbas, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said Friday.
►President Joe Biden on Friday spoke with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö as the two Nordic nations weigh whether to join NATO.
►The European Union’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said Friday the bloc plans to give Ukraine almost 500 million euros, or $520 million, for heavy weapons.
►The British government said Friday it was adding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ex-wife and alleged girlfriend to its list of Russian individuals and entities facing economic sanctions.
►WNBA star Brittney Griner on Friday had her detention in Russia extended by one month, her lawyer said. Griner has been detained for allegedly having vape cartridges with cannabis oil, but US officials say she has been “wrongfully detained.”
►About 3,000 Mariupol civilians are being detained in prisons controlled by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukraine’s human rights chief said. Lyudmyla Denysova said officials are aware of at least two de facto prisons.
Ukrainian forces left in Mariupol steel mill determined to hold out
The deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, the last Ukrainian army unit holding out in the ruined port of Mariupol, said on Friday that his troops will resist Moscow’s forces “as long as they can,” despite shortages of ammunition, food, water and medicine .
Speaking during an online session of the Kyiv Security Forum, Sviatoslav Palamar said Russian forces continued to storm Azovstal steelworks, the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, where his forces are hunkered down.
“We continue to resist and follow the order of our senior political leaders to hold the defense. We are holding the defense and continue fighting despite everything,” he said.
Speaking to a panel including US generals Philip M. Breedlove and Wesley K. Clark, Palamar appealed to the US to help evacuate around 600 wounded soldiers from the Azovstal plant, and help extract the rest of the Ukrainian force.
Members of the Azov Regiment holed up at the plant have repeatedly refused to surrender to Moscow, citing fears of being killed or tortured.
US defense secretary speaks with Russian counterpart
US Dense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke on Friday with his Russian counterpart for the first time since before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Pentagon said.
Austin, who had not had a conversation with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu since Feb. 18, “urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
The call lasted about one hour. A US Defense Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the war’s developments said the Pentagon had sought contact with the Russian defense minister since their last call. It’s unclear why Shoigu chose to take Friday’s call.
Russian soldier faces first war crime trial of conflict
A Russian soldier accused of killing a civilian appeared in a Kyiv courtroom Friday in what is the first trial for an alleged war crime since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, 21, allegedly shot a 62-year-old man in the head in the northeastern village of Chupakhivka in the war’s first week. The member of the Russian tank unit faces up to life in prison under Ukrainian law.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said Friday there are 41 cases of war crimes suspected by Russian soldiers ready to be prosecuted.
“We have 41 suspects in cases with which we will be ready to go to court. All of them concern Article 438 of the (Ukrainian) criminal code on war crimes, but different types of war crimes. There is the bombing of civilian infrastructure, the killing of civilians, rape and looting,” Venediktova said on Ukrainian TV.
Since the invasion began in February, more than 10,700 potential war crimes have come under investigation by Venediktova. There are more than 600 suspects, including including Russian soldiers and government officials, according to her office.
Lawyers and judges briefly discussed procedural matters in Shyshimarin’s case on Friday. Defense attorney Victor Ovsyanikov said the court would be deciding on what evidence to allow in trial, but added that the case against the Russian soldier is strong.
Swedish report lays out costs, benefits of NATO membership
A Swedish government report on its potential NATO membership lists Russian cyberattacks as one of the numerous aggressive actions the country could face if it joins the military alliance.
The report published Friday comes as the Nordic country is weighing whether to join NATO and its neighbor in Finland said this week it wanted to be a part of the military alliance.
The Swedish report noted security benefits of NATO membership, but also said the country could be subject to hybrid attacks and violations of its airspace or waters.
Ukraine foreign minister: We’re still open to talks with Russia
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Friday his country is still willing to negotiate with Russia over blocked grain supplies and a diplomatic solution to end the war.
Kuleba made the comments in Germany where top diplomats from the Group of Seven are meeting. Kyiv has received “no positive feedback” from Moscow, which “prefers wars to talks,” Kuleba said.
“We are ready to talk, but we are ready for a meaningful conversation based on mutual respect, not on the Russian ultimatums thrown on the table,” he added.
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Omar Abdi said earlier this week that hundreds of schools across Ukraine have been bombarded by Russian forces. “In Ukraine today, education is also under attack,” Abdi said.
According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Russian forces continued the assault on Ukrainian education Thursday night, striking schools in the Chernihiv region.
Millions of children have been displaced by the war, and the United Nations estimates that 6 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the start of the invasion in February.
Russian assaults in multiple eastern Ukrainian villages were not all successful, the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said in an operational update Friday.
Villages were targeted near Donetsk, Lyman, Bakhmut and Kurakhiv, and artilitary was also fired on Ukrainian troops near Novopavlovsk and Zaporizhzhia, the general staff said. Bombardment of the Azovstal steel mill in the besieged city if Mariupol continues, the Ukrainian military said.
According to British defense officials’ assessment, Russian troops have not made significant advances in eastern Ukraine recently. Russian troops also suffered heavy losses when a column tried to cross the Siverskyi Donets river, west of Severodonetsk, on a pontoon bridge, the UK defense ministry said.
“Conducting river crossings in a contested environment is a highly risky maneuver and speaks to the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine,” the British officials said in a daily intelligence update.
Russian military has damaged over 500 medical facilities, Zelenskyy says
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday night said the Russian military has damaged 570 medical facilities and fully destroyed 101 hospitals since the start of the war in February.
“They are cowards, and they try to hide the truth behind missiles, airstrikes and artillery shelling,” Zelenskyy said in a nightly video address to the nation. “Therefore our task is to fight until we achieve our goals in this war: to free our land, our people and secure our security.”
Zelenskyy also said that Russian forces struck the Chernihiv region and hit schools and condemned what he suggested were senseless attacks on the refinery in the central Ukrainian industrial hub of Kremenchuk, on the Zaporizhzhia region and the Donbas.
Contributing: The Associated Press