Russians ‘pushed out of Kharkiv’ as Washington warns of long war

KYIV: Russian troops are being pushed out of Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, President Volodymyr Zelensky said, but he sounded cautious when Washington said Vladimir Putin will not stop east and is ready for a long war.
Following that bleak forecast, and after President Joe Biden warned that Ukraine would likely run out of money to continue fighting within days, the US House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to send a $40 billion aid package to the country.
The US Senate is expected to approve the decision late this week or next week, a sign of rare bipartisan support that would bring total US aid to Ukraine to about $54 billion.
“With this aid package, America is sending a resounding message to the world of our unwavering determination to stand by the courageous people of Ukraine until victory is won,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues before the vote.
In his late night speech on Tuesday, Zelensky said he had “good news” from the northeastern region of Kharkov.
“The occupiers are gradually being pushed away,” he said. “I am grateful to all our defenders who hold the line and have shown truly superhuman strength to drive out the army of invaders.”
The head of Kharkiv’s regional state administration, Oleg Synegubov, said on Telegram that “heavy fighting” was going on in the region and that the city itself was under heavy fire.
“Thanks to successful offensive operations, our defenders freed Cherkasy Tyshky, Rusky Tyshky, Rubizhne and Bayrak from the invaders,” he said.
“Thus the enemy was driven even further out of Kharkov and the occupiers had even less chance to fire at the regional center.”
Despite the apparent progress, Zelensky urged Ukrainians “not to create an atmosphere of specific moral pressure, when certain victories are expected weekly and even daily,” a reflection of the intense pressure Russia is exerting on its neighbor.
A strong example of this was seen in the Kharkiv region itself, where Synegubov announced that 44 civilian bodies had been found under the rubble of a destroyed building in the eastern city of Izyum, now under Russian control.
Since Moscow tried and failed to take Kiev in the early weeks of the invasion in late February, Moscow has shifted its focus to the Russian-speaking Donbas region to the east.
But on Tuesday, US director of national intelligence Avril Haines said the decision to concentrate Russian forces there was “just a temporary shift”.
“We assess that President Putin is preparing for a long-standing conflict in Ukraine, in which he still plans to achieve targets beyond the Donbas,” Haines said, adding that US intelligence believes he is determined to build a land bridge to the Russian-controlled territory in Moldova.
One way to achieve that goal would be to take the southern city of Odessa, where rocket attacks destroyed buildings, set a shopping center on fire and killed one person, as well as a visit from European Council President Charles Michel on Monday. .
In the equally strategic port of Mariupol, about 1,000 troops are trapped in dire circumstances at the Azovstal steel plant, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told AFP.
The factory is the last bastion of resistance in the city, which has undergone ruthless destruction.
An online petition calling on the United Nations to bring back all remaining soldiers has gathered more than 1.1 million signatures on Tuesday.
Many civilians have been evacuated from the factory in recent days as Russia pushes for full control of Mariupol to open a new land corridor from Crimea, which it seized in 2014.
But the Ukrainian presidency said the “epicenter of the fighting has moved” to Bilogorivka in the Lugansk region of the Donbas, the site of a deadly Russian airstrike on Sunday that killed 60 people, Ukrainian officials said.
The shelling also continued in the easternmost strongholds of Ukraine, the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.
“The constant shelling by Russian troops does not allow a full evacuation of civilians and wounded from the war zone,” the Ukrainian army said on Wednesday.
Civilians struggle to survive between the constantly shifting front lines.
“I feel total apathy. I am starved morally — not to mention physically,” said mason Artyom Cherukha, 41, as he collected water from a natural spring in Lysychansk.
He was trying to get supplies for his family of nine as people in the area are steadily losing access to water and food.
“We’re sitting here counting the bombs,” Cherukha said.
Despite the magnitude of the Russian offensive, the current fighting force may not be large or strong enough to capture and hold the territory it is pursuing, US intelligence chief Haines said.
The United States considers it increasingly likely that Putin will mobilize his entire country, including ordering martial law, and is counting on his perseverance to reduce Western support for Ukraine.
“He is likely counting on the determination of the US and the EU to ease as food shortages, inflation and energy prices worsen,” Haines said.
Ukraine has urged Western countries for more support and has been particularly critical of Germany for its slow response and unwillingness to give up Russian energy.
The tone changed on Tuesday with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s surprise visit to Bucha, a town outside Kiev where Russian troops have been accused of war crimes.
“I want to thank Germany for changing its stance on a number of issues,” including arms deliveries to Kiev and supporting a Russian oil embargo, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters in Kiev with Baerbock.
Kuleba urged the European Union to admit his country.
“Ukraine’s membership of the EU is a matter of war and peace in Europe,” Kuleba said. “One of the reasons this war started is that Putin was convinced that Europe does not need Ukraine.”
Western powers on Tuesday separately accused Russian authorities of carrying out a cyber-attack on a satellite network an hour before the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine to clear the way for the attack.
The Russian embassy in the United States has denied the allegations.
“Such statements are absurd and ripped from the true state of affairs,” it said on Telegram.
“Our country has never engaged in cyber-aggression.”

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