The Russian military has shelled the entire front line in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, Ukrainian officials said, as part of what appears to be the Kremlin’s ambition to secure only the bulk of the land it claims.
The fiercest fighting took place near the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, the region’s governor, Pavlo Kiurilenko, said in a television interview. In the Ukrainian-controlled areas of Dontesk, five civilians were killed and two wounded the previous day, he said early Friday.
“The entire front line is being bombed,” he said, adding that Russian troops were also trying to advance near Liman, which was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in November, one of several setbacks suffered by Russia since it invaded its neighbor in February.
In Bakhmut and other parts of the Donetsk region, neighboring Luhansk province, Ukrainian forces counterattacked with barrages of rocket launchers, a Reuters witness said.
“The Russians have intensified their efforts in Donetsk and Luhansk,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video message.
“They are now in a very active phase of trying to carry out offensive operations. We are not advancing anywhere, but rather defending, destroying the enemy’s infantry and equipment wherever it tries to advance.”
In a report published early Friday, the Ukrainian General Staff claimed its forces had attacked Russian positions and troop assembly points in at least five cities in southern Ukraine.
Russian losses amounted to about 240 wounded, with three ammunition depots and around various military equipment destroyed, he added.
Reuters was unable to verify reports of the battlefield.
In a reminder that, despite hostilities, Russia maintains lines of communication with the West, the United States said Russia had released American basketball player Brittney Griner in exchange for the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The White House said the prisoner swap would not change its commitment to the people of Ukraine.
Separately, a U.S. citizen ordered deported by a Russian court over a domestic dispute left Russia late Thursday.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a defense bill that provides Ukraine with at least $800 million in additional security equipment aid next year.
The United States was also preparing to send Ukraine a $275 million military aid package offering new capabilities to defeat drones and strengthen air defenses, according to a document seen by Reuters and people familiar with the move.
DO THE OBJECTIVES OF WAR CHANGE?
President Vladimir Putin has made contradictory statements about the goals of the war, but it is now clear that the goals include some expansion of Russia’s borders, in contrast to comments at the beginning of the “special military operation,” when he said Russia’s plans did not include the occupation of Ukrainian lands.
The Kremlin said Thursday it was determined to secure at least most of Ukraine’s eastern and southern territories that Moscow has declared part of Russia, but appeared to give up seizing other western and northeastern territories that Ukraine has reconquered.
Russia proclaimed in October that it had annexed four provinces, which it calls “new territories,” shortly after holding so-called referendums that were rejected as false and illegal by Ukraine, the West and most United Nations countries.
Although Russia made it clear that it wanted to take full control of Donetsk and Luhansk, two Russian-speaking regions collectively known as the Donbass, it did not make clear how much of the Zaporizhia and Kherson regions were being annexed.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says his troops will eventually expel Russia from all captured territory, including the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.
MINES IN KHERSON
In the settlement of Posad-Pokrovske in southern Kherson, retaken by Ukraine, villagers have returned to houses damaged or reduced to rubble by Russian shells, nestled in a landscape of downed electric poles and used ammunition.
Zelenskiy paid tribute to the four policemen killed by landmines in Kherson province.
“This is perhaps even more ferocious and devious than missile terror,” Zelensky said.
“Because there is no anti-mine system that can destroy at least part of the threat like our anti-aircraft systems do.”
He accused the Russian military of leaving landmines, booby traps, mined buildings, cars and infrastructure in places they abandoned under Ukrainian military pressure.
On Thursday, Russian naval forces shot down a Ukrainian drone over the Black Sea, according to the governor of Sevastopol, a major port and the largest city in Crimea, installed by Russia.