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The Russian tie is loosening in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second eastern city that had been bombed since late February, Ukrainian officials said late Tuesday to Wednesday. The conflict could extend to the southwest according to Washington.

“Our armed forces have given us good news from the Kharkiv region. The occupiers are gradually being driven out of Kharkiv,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video. “I am grateful to all our fighters who hold their ground and show superhuman strength to drive back the invading army.”

“The localities of Cherkasy Tychky, Rusky Tychky, Roubijné and Bayrak have been liberated” in the region of this large city, the Ukrainian general staff said on Facebook. “Thus, the enemy was pushed even further away from Kharkiv, and the occupiers had even fewer opportunities to reach the regional center.”

But “the intensity of the bombing in the Kharkiv district has increased,” he noted. Furthermore, according to Oleg Snegoubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration speaking on Telegram, “when withdrawing, the Russian occupiers leave behind deadly traps”, mines.

“Significant Progress”

The northern and northeastern districts of Kharkiv, which had around 1.5 million inhabitants before the war, were hit by Russian rockets for weeks, killing civilians. At the end of February, the Russians wanted to take the city, in vain: Ukrainian forces resisted and pushed them a few kilometers away, at the cost of fierce fighting.

The American Institute for the Study of War (ISW) noted late last week that in this eastern part of the country, the Ukrainian army “is making significant progress and is likely to advance towards the Russian border in the coming days or weeks”.

It also seems to confirm the trend that emerged on the eastern front during this third month of the Russian invasion: on the one hand, Ukrainian units are counter-attacking and advancing east of Kharkiv, on the other, the Russians are slowly eroding the terrain about 150 km away. southeast of the Ukrainian advance, towards the part of Donbass not yet under Russian or pro-Russian separatist control.

The “second phase” of the “special military operation” announced by Moscow is aimed at total control of Donbass, and fighting is particularly intense in the Lugansk region.

And Transnistria?

But now attention is also turned to the southwest of the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to “extend” the conflict to Transnistria, a region of Moldova that seceded in 1990, US intelligence chief Avril Haines said on Tuesday.

On 22 April, a Russian general, Rustam Minnekayev, also argued that “the control of southern Ukraine is also a corridor to Transnistria, where there are also cases of oppression of the Russian-speaking population”. However, the defense of Russian speakers is one of Moscow’s justifications for the current war. In addition to the Crimea annexed in 2014, Russian troops occupy much of southern Ukraine, including the regional capital of Kherson.

According to the Ukrainian command to the south, Russian troops are in the process of attacking “mercilessly” the Mykolaiv region, which represents the last blockade before Odessa in the west. “Private homes, agricultural facilities were damaged and the electricity supply to one of the locations was interrupted,” he said overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday.

Odessa, an important cultural center for Ukrainians and Russians, has been hit sporadically by Russian missiles since the start of the conflict. This Russian-speaking port city received a surprise visit from the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, on Monday.

In the vicinity of Odessa, “the psychological pressure on the neighboring population of Transnistria continues” with “the possible blockade of the region due to the decommissioning of the Dniester bridge, which was again attacked by missiles”, the Ukrainian command also advanced to the south.

In late April and early May, explosions rocked Transnistria, where Russian troops have been stationed for thirty years. Russia immediately said it was “alarmed” by these “terrorist acts”, indicating that it was monitoring the situation closely. For its part, the European Union announced on May 4 that it would “significantly increase” its military aid to Moldova. This small non-NATO country also received support in late April from Paris and Berlin.

Vote on US military aid

In the southeast, Russian forces again attacked the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, where dozens of Ukrainians, soldiers and civilians are still hiding. “Dozens of strikes”, “every hour”, wrote Petro Andriouchchenko, deputy mayor of this port city taken by the Russians and almost completely destroyed, in the Telegram.

The US intelligence chief also said Putin was counting on the loss of Western support for Ukraine and was preparing for “a protracted conflict” for which he would “probably” impose martial law in Russia. Which could lead to a “more unpredictable and potentially escalating trajectory” in the coming months, according to Haines.

In Kiev, emptied of most of its residents at the start of the Russian invasion, nearly two-thirds of the capital’s 3.5 million people have returned, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Tuesday. In the evening, he announced the death, at the age of 88, of the first president of independent Ukraine, Leonid Kravtchouk (1990-1994). This former apparatchik returned to the political scene in 2020, becoming, at the request of President Zelensky, one of the Ukrainian negotiators in the negotiations with Russia over the Donbass conflict.

On the US aid side for Ukraine, the House of Representatives adopted a staggering nearly $40 billion envelope on Tuesday night, following Joe Biden in his unwavering support for Kiev. The text voted on by elected officials from both camps includes an economic and humanitarian component, but also arms and ammunition. It must now be voted on in the Senate later this week or early next week before being enacted by the US president.

This article was automatically published. Sources: ats/afp

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