Russian forces struggled on Wednesday to encircle the Ukrainian army’s last stronghold in a long-contested eastern province, as shocks reverberated over a Russian airstrike on a shopping mall that killed at least 18 people in the country’s center over two days. before.
Moscow’s battle to seize the entire Donbas region from Ukraine saw Russian forces advance on two towns south of Lysychansk as Ukrainian troops fought to avoid their encirclement.
The British Defense Ministry said Russian forces were making “incremental advances” in their offensive to capture Lysychansk, the last town in Luhansk province under Ukrainian control following the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from the neighboring town of Sievierodonetsk.
Russian troops and their separatist allies control 95% of Luhansk and about half of Donetsk, the two provinces that make up the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas.
The latest assessment by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said the Ukrainians were likely in a fighting retreat to seek more defensible positions while depleting the manpower and resources of Russian forces. .
Avril Haines, director of US national intelligence, said Russia “may think time is on its side” because of mounting costs to the West and fatigue as the war drags on. The most likely scenario predicted by US intelligence, Haines said, is a “grinding fight” in which Russia consolidates its control over southern Ukraine by the fall.
The United States correctly predicted that Russia would invade Ukraine in February, but wrongly assessed that it would quickly seize Kyiv. Speaking at an event in Washington on Wednesday, Haines said Russian President Vladimir Putin “effectively has the same political objectives that he had previously, that is, he wants to take most of Ukraine” and move it away from NATO.
“We do see a disconnect between Putin’s short-term military goals in this area and the capability of his military, a kind of mismatch between his ambitions and what the military is capable of achieving,” Haines said.
Meanwhile, teams continued to search through the rubble of the shopping mall in Kremenchuk, where Ukrainian authorities say 20 people are still missing.
Ukrainian State Emergency Services press officer Svitlana Rybalko told The Associated Press that along with the 18 people killed, investigators found fragments of eight more bodies. It was not immediately clear if that meant there were more victims. Several survivors had limbs amputated.
“Police cannot say for sure how many (victims) there are. So we are not finding bodies but body fragments,” Rybalko said. “Now we are clearing at the very epicenter of the explosion. Here, we can hardly find bodies as such.”
Several families stood by what was left of the Amstor shopping center Wednesday morning hoping to find their missing loved ones.
“This is pure genocide,” said local resident Tatiana Chernyshova as she went to lay flowers at the site. “Those things cannot happen in the 21st century.”
“We need to get everyone involved to help stop the war, help us fight against these scum, these Russian aggressors,” Chernyshova said.
Psychologists working on site with families said they were trying to help people come to terms with their loss.
“We’re trying to help them release their emotions now, because then it gets harder and much more painful,” said a psychologist, who did not give his name because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
After the attack on the mall, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of becoming a “terrorist” state. On Wednesday, he rebuked NATO for not more fully embracing or equipping his beleaguered country.
“NATO’s open door policy should not resemble the old Kyiv metro turnstiles, which stay open but close when you approach them until you pay,” Zelenskyy told NATO leaders gathered in Madrid, speaking by video link. Has Ukraine not paid enough? Has our contribution to the defense of Europe and of all civilization not been enough?
He called for more modern artillery systems and other weapons and warned NATO leaders that they had to provide Ukraine with the help it needed to defeat Russia or “face a long overdue war between Russia and you.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Wednesday dismissed what she said was a “blatant provocation” by the Ukrainian government in trying to blame the Russian military for the missile attack on the mall.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said there was a “realistic possibility” that the strike at the mall “was intended to strike a nearby infrastructure target”.
“Russian planners are likely to remain willing to accept a high level of collateral damage when they perceive a military need to attack a target,” the ministry said. “It is almost certain that Russia will continue to carry out strikes in an effort to prevent the resupply of Ukrainian frontline forces.”
Russia’s military is also experiencing a shortage of more modern precision strike weapons, which is compounding civilian casualties, the British ministry said.
In southern Ukraine, a Russian missile attack on a multi-story apartment building in Mykolaiv on Wednesday killed at least four people and wounded five, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the missile attack on Mykolaiv targeted a base for training “foreign mercenaries” as well as ammunition depots.
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