Ukrainian leader says his troops continue to defy predictions

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says no one knows how long the war in his country will last, but Ukrainian forces are defying expectations by preventing Russian troops from invading eastern Ukraine. , where the fighting has been the fiercest in weeks.

In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy said he was proud that Ukrainian defenders had managed to stem the Russian advance in the Donbass region, which borders Russia and where Moscow-backed separatists have controlled much of the territory for eight years. .

“Do you remember how in Russia, at the beginning of May, they hoped to take over all of Donbass? the president said on Saturday evening. “It’s already the 108th day of the war, already June. The Donbass is holding up.

After failing to capture Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, at the start of the war, Moscow focused on seizing the largely Russian-speaking parts of Donbass still in Ukrainian hands, as well as the country’s southern coast. But instead of securing a quick and decisive takeover, Russian forces were drawn into a long and arduous battle, thanks in part to the Ukrainian military’s use of Western-supplied weaponry.

Ukrainian and Russian authorities said Sievierodonetsk, an eastern city with a pre-war population of 100,000, remained contested. The city and neighboring Lysychansk are the last major areas of Luhansk province of Donbass not under the control of pro-Russian rebels.

Leonid Pasechnik, leader of the separatist People’s Republic of Luhansk, said the Ukrainian fighters remained in an industrial area of ​​the city, including a chemical factory where civilians had taken refuge after days of Russian bombardment.

“Sievierodonetsk is not completely 100% liberated,” Pasechnik said on Saturday, alleging the Ukrainians were shelling the city from the Azot plant. “It is therefore impossible to call the situation calm in Sievierodonetsk, because it belongs entirely to us.”

Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai reported on Saturday that a large fire had broken out at the factory during hours of Russian bombardment.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, a counter-offensive pushed the Russians out of parts of the southern Kherson region they had taken at the start of the war, according to Zelenskyy. Moscow installed local authorities in Kherson and other occupied coastal areas, offering residents Russian passports, broadcasting Russian news programs and taking steps to introduce a Russian school curriculum.

Zelenskyy said that even if the end of the war is not in sight, Ukraine should do everything it can to make the Russians “regret everything they have done and answer for every murder and every strike on our beautiful State”.

The Ukrainian leader claimed that Russia had suffered about three times more military casualties than the number estimated for the Ukrainian side, adding: “For what? What did it bring you, Russia?” There are no reliable independent estimates of the number of war dead so far.

Speaking at a defense conference in Singapore on Sunday, Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe said Beijing continues to support the peace talks between Russia and Ukraine and hopes that states United States and its NATO allies will hold discussions with Russia “to create the conditions for a rapid ceasefire”. .”

“China will continue to play a constructive role and make its contribution to easing tensions and achieving a political resolution to the crisis,” Wei said.

He suggested that countries supplying arms to Ukraine were impeding peace by “adding fuel to the fire” and pointed out that China had provided no material support to Russia during the war.

“The growth of Sino-Russian relations is a partnership, not an alliance,” Wei said.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said in its latest assessment that Ukrainian intelligence suggested the Russian military was planning “to fight a longer war”.

The institute quoted the deputy head of Ukraine’s national security agency as saying Moscow had extended its wartime schedule until October, with adjustments to be made based on successes in Donbass.

The intelligence “probably indicates that the Kremlin has, at a minimum, recognized that it cannot quickly achieve its objectives in Ukraine and is still adjusting its military objectives in an attempt to correct the initial shortcomings of the invasion of Ukraine,” he said. said the think tank.

The Ambassador of the Lugansk People’s Republic to Russia, Rodion Miroshnik, said on Saturday that 300 to 400 Ukrainian soldiers remained stuck inside the chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk, along with several hundred civilians.

The Russians have established contact with Ukrainian troops to organize the evacuation of civilians, but the troops will only be allowed to leave if they lay down their arms and surrender, Miroshnik said.

Similar conditions existed for weeks at a steelworks in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol before a civilian evacuation was organized and defending troops were ordered by Ukrainian military commanders to withdraw. The fighters who came out of the Mariupol plant were taken prisoner by the Russians.

Pasechnik, the separatist leader of the unrecognized Luhansk republic, said Ukrainians taking a stand in Sievierodonetsk should save themselves trouble.

“If I were them, I would already make the decision (to surrender),” he said. “We will achieve our goal in any case. We will liberate the industrial zone in any case. We will liberate Sievierodonetsk in any case. Lysychansk will be ours anyway.

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David Rising contributed from Bangkok.

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