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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Ukraine advances deeper into areas held by Russia

People gather to wait for humanitarian aid as shelling between Ukrainian and Russian forces continued in the town of Kupiansk, Ukraine, on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022.

By Marc Santora

Ukrainian forces have battled their way back into territory in eastern Ukraine, officials said Tuesday, reclaiming areas lost under months of relentless fire of Russian artillery. It is part of a remarkable turnaround from June, when the Ukrainian army was nearly out of ammunition and struggled to slow the Russian assault.

A Ukrainian official said Tuesday that Ukrainian forces had retaken Bilohorivka, a coal mining village on the banks of the Siversky Donets River that in May was the scene of one of the deadliest engagements of the war for Russian forces.

The Ukrainian military was more cautious in declaring victory in Bilohorivka, given that control over towns and villages has proved tenuous in the past. But while only a small village, it would be a potent signal that Russia no longer has full control of the Luhansk region, which along with Donetsk makes up Donbas, the main stated targets of the Kremlin’s war effort.

“Our defenders have squeezed the invaders out and are in full control of the town,” said Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian military governor of the Luhansk region, although he noted that it was still under artillery fire and had largely been razed by the Russians.

“There are several towns like this in Luhansk province,” he said.

He had said in earlier comments that there would be “a hard fight for every centimeter of Luhansk land.”

In the neighboring region of Donetsk, several Russian war bloggers reported that Ukrainian forces were attacking the strategically important city of Lyman, which also fell to the Russians in May, from two directions.

“We have losses,” reported War Gonzo, a Russian military blogger who has more than 1 million followers. “We hold on and fight with all our might.”

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, said Monday that Ukrainian forces had gained two footholds on the left bank of the Oskil River, which retreating Russian forces had hoped to use as a natural defensive barrier.

Several villages near Lyman are now under the control of the Ukrainian military, he said, and Lyman is in imminent danger of being surrounded.

The claims by both the Russians and the Ukrainians — which come after a Ukrainian breakthrough in the northeast this month following months of war — could not be immediately verified, but they both painted a similar picture of Ukrainian advances and were supported by satellite and geolocated war footage.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, in his overnight address Monday, announced efforts to secure recently retaken eastern territory, even as he underlined the importance of continuing to make rapid gains to deny Russia “any foothold on Ukrainian soil.”

“The pace is very important now — the pace of stabilization in the liberated areas, the pace of movement of our troops, the pace of restoration of normal life in the liberated territory,” Zelenskyy said.

An influx of Western weapons has allowed Ukraine to move from defensive to offensive operations, but it remained unclear whether they could sustain their advances as Russian forces regroup and retreat to more heavily fortified defensive positions. Zelenskyy said the pace of aid from Ukraine’s Western allies needed to keep up with the speed of Ukraine’s military advance.

A senior U.S. defense department official told reporters Monday that the Pentagon was open to potentially sending Western tanks to Kyiv. And Prime Minister Liz Truss of Britain vowed to continue her country’s military support for Ukraine next year, committing to match this year’s spending of more than $2.6 billion.

Ukraine’s military noted that Russia remained focused on taking all of the Donetsk region and keeping control of the territory it has taken. At the same time, Ukrainian officials said Russia had launched missile strikes, airstrikes and rocket attacks across Ukraine, including targeting civilian infrastructure.

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