Ukraine launches counterattacks in the south to stop Russian control of Black Sea coast

THE NEW YORK TIMES – While the Russia concentrates most of its fighting forces on the offensive over the eastern region, from the Donbas, to Ukraine carried out a series of successful counterattacks in the south of the country, on another critical battlefront of the war.

The fighting in the east mobilizes and greatly affects both nations, with thousands of soldiers dead, but efforts in the south of the country, in areas now controlled by Russia, are essential for Ukraine to survive as an independent and economically viable state.

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The Ukrainians attack Russian positions located west of the Dnipro River and have won significant victories in the Kherson region. Russian forces seized these territories in the first weeks of the conflict and are constantly strengthening their positions.

Ukrainian counterattacks broke through the Russians’ outer perimeter defenses outside the city of Kherson, the regional capital, and retook several towns and villages.

A member of the Ukrainian Army in a trench near the cities of Mikolaiv and Kherson on June 12 this year.  Region is under Russian rule, but Ukrainian forces counterattack
A member of the Ukrainian Army in a trench near the cities of Mikolaiv and Kherson on June 12 this year. Region is under Russian rule, but Ukrainian forces counterattack Photograph: Genya Savilov / AFP

However, Ukrainian losses in the east and a limited supply of Western weapons – along with soldiers trained to use them – slowed this counteroffensive. And as Ukrainians begin to take on Russians entrenched in defensive positions, military analysts say it could be a long and bloody struggle to recapture populated urban centers.

The Russians have carried out several strikes to thwart the Ukrainian counteroffensive, but a senior US Defense Department official said this week that the Ukrainians have so far largely managed to keep their gains. The Ukrainian military said it is not naming every village and town it fights in, in order to maintain operational security.

The city of Kherson lies on the delta of the Dnipro River, which runs the length of Ukraine and essentially divides the country along an east-west axis. Kherson is the only city Russia controls west of the river. It provides a vital base for Russian forces in the south, with railway lines linking it to Crimea to the south and Russian-occupied territories to the east.

Russia continues to take measures to “Russify” the population, introducing the ruble, cutting off the region from Ukrainian internet and mobile providers and issuing Russian passports.

But even as Russian leaders continue to talk about plans to formally integrate the Kherson region into Russia through a referendum or some other method, a growing insurgency defies efforts to consolidate power. Ukrainian guerrillas assassinated Kremlin-approved local leaders, sabotaged Russian infrastructure, and helped the Ukrainian military attack Russian forces behind enemy lines.

Russian attacks intensify in eastern Ukraine

Russian forces have intensified attacks on the surrounding city of Lisichansk in an attempt to seize the last stronghold of resistance in Luhansk province, Donbas region, in eastern Ukraine. In recent weeks, Ukrainian troops have managed to prevent the conquest of the municipality, as happened with neighboring Sievierodonetsk a week ago. Ukraine’s President Volodmyr Zelensky on Saturday accused Russia of hitting civilian targets in “deliberate terror”.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces had taken control of an oil refinery on the edge of Lisichansk in recent days. However, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said fighting over the facility continued. “On the last day, the occupiers opened fire from all types of weapons available,” Haidai said on Saturday, 2nd, on the messaging app Telegram.

These are the two provinces that make up the Donbas region, where Russia has focused its offensive since withdrawing from northern Ukraine and the capital Kiev last month.

In Sloviansk, a major city in Donetsk still under Ukrainian control, four people were killed after Russian cluster missiles hit residential areas on Friday, Mayor Vadim Liakh said on Facebook. He said the neighborhoods were not home to military targets. Just yesterday, search teams were digging through rubble from a Russian air strike on Friday that hit residential areas near the Ukrainian port of Odessa – 21 people died.

Ukrainian Attorney General Irina Venediktova said on Saturday that rescuers and investigators were recovering fragments of missiles that hit an apartment building in the small coastal town of Serhievka. They were also taking measurements to determine the weapons’ trajectory, she said. “We are taking all necessary investigative steps to determine the specific people guilty of this terrible war crime,” said Irina.

Ukrainian authorities interpreted the missile attack in Odessa as revenge for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Cobras Island, near the Black Sea, with symbolic and strategic significance in the war that began with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Russia said its departure from the region was a “goodwill gesture” to help unlock grain exports.

Zelensky said on Saturday, 2, that three anti-ship missiles hit “a nine-story residential building” where around 160 people lived. “I emphasize: this is a deliberate and direct Russian terror, not a mistake or an accidental missile strike,” Zelensky said.

The British Defense Ministry said anti-ship missiles generally lacked accuracy against land targets. According to the British, Russia has likely been using this weaponry because of a shortage of finer-tuned artifacts.

The Kremlin responded that its targets are always fuel storage sites and military installations, not residential areas. Accusations against the army have become more frequent after missiles recently hit an apartment building in Kiev and an open shopping mall in Kremenchuk. On Saturday, May 2, Vitali Maletski, the city’s mayor, said the death toll in the attack on the shopping center had risen to 21 and one person was still missing. | WITH INFORMATION FROM AP

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