TOP STORIES Russians risking isolation in the south prepare to attack...

Russians risking isolation in the south prepare to attack Ukraine

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Ukraine has warned that Russia is rushing to shore up its troops and defenses in the south, and that Kyiv still needs more weapons from the West, creating a heightened sense of urgency for an impending counteroffensive to retake territory Moscow has seized.

Ukrainians have been preparing the ground for a broad counter-offensive in southern Kherson region for weeks, and recent long-range missile strikes have left thousands of Russian soldiers stationed west of the Dnieper in and around the port city of Kherson stranded. a precarious position, largely cut off from Russian strongholds in the east.

But Russia is now deploying “the maximum number” of forces to the southern front in the Kherson region, the head of Ukraine’s National Security Council told Ukrainian television late Wednesday. Official Aleksey Danilov described “a very powerful movement of their troops” to the front in Kherson.

While Western weapons have been pouring into the country, Ukraine has said more weapons are still needed and ammunition remains limited. Some Ukrainian officials are growing frustrated with what they see as the slow pace of arms shipments from Western allies. Donor countries are training Ukrainian soldiers to use the new equipment, but this has not yet been completed.

“Just give them weapons and let them work,” said Natalya Gumenyuk, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Southern Military Command, which is in charge of the Kherson offensive.

“They pat us on the shoulder and say, ‘Wait,'” she said. “We need more than moral support, although we are grateful for it. We need real support, real weapons, real ammunition for these weapons.”

On Thursday, marking a national holiday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky strongly defended his country’s sovereignty and independence, rejecting the idea put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Ukraine is a recent sham that rightfully belongs to Russia.

“Every day we fight for everyone on the planet to finally understand: we are not a colony, not an enclave, not a protectorate,” Mr. Zelensky said. “Not a province, eyalet or specific land, not a part of foreign empires, not a “part of the land”, not a union republic. Not an autonomy, not a province, but a free, independent, sovereign, indivisible and independent state.”

In Kherson, which the Russians captured shortly after the invasion in February, they have had several months to reinforce their defensive lines, and the Ukrainians have yet to launch a major ground counteroffensive.

“Of course, we are waiting for the command to attack, but not everything is so simple,” said the senior sergeant. Oleksandr Babinets, 28, a member of the Ukrainian 28th separate mechanized brigade, which dug in along the western border of the Kherson region.

“The Russians have set up defensive lines, dug in and deployed a lot of weapons,” he said. “We don’t just want to go ahead and die just like that. We have to work smart.”

Over the past month, with most Russian forces locked in battles far to the east, in the Donbas region, Ukrainian forces in the south have managed to push Moscow’s forces several miles towards Kherson. The nearest ones, along the western border of the Kherson region, are about 30 miles from the city. There, the queues are pretty much frozen as each army fights for advantage.

As a counter-offensive brews, Russia has resumed attacks northwards, striking from the Black Sea, Belarus and Russia, injuring at least 15 people near the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian authorities said on Thursday. The attacks were the first in weeks against a metropolitan area that the initial Russian offensive at the start of the war failed to capture.

“Not a calm morning,” Mr. Zelenskiy said in a video message. “Rocket terror again. We won’t give up.”

According to Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ignat, at least 20 Russian strikes were carried out by Kalibr cruise missiles fired from warships in the Black Sea, Iskander ballistic missiles from southern Belarus, and missiles fired by fighter jets from Russian territory.

Five strikes were carried out in the Kyiv region, disrupting the vague sense of normality that had been established since Russian troops withdrew from the region in late March, beaten back by a stubborn Ukrainian defense, resulting in heavy Russian casualties.

Galina Sergienko, who lives in Vyshgorod, a suburb of Kyiv, said her 5-year-old daughter was particularly frightened.

“Our whole house was shaking,” Ms. Sergienko said.

The Ukrainians believe the most promising front for a major offensive is the western part of Kherson, where Ukrainian troops recently launched strikes to cut off Russian troops from their supply routes across the Dnieper River, which separates Ukraine from Kherson region itself.

Ukrainian officials and Western military analysts said several strikes this week on a key bridge across the Dnieper and other critical roads and bridges in recent days have left Russian forces around Kherson especially vulnerable.

A British intelligence report on Thursday said Russia’s main fighting force on the river’s west bank “now looks very vulnerable” due to strikes on the bridge.

“The city of Kherson, the most politically significant settlement occupied by Russia, is now practically cut off from other occupied territories,” the report says. “Losing it would seriously undermine Russia’s attempts to present the occupation as a success.”

However, the Russians appear to be trying to build another crossing over the river. Yuri Sobolevsky, regional official in Kherson, posted on facebook on Thursday that four tugboats were pulling pontoons across the Dnieper, even though he argued that a floating bridge would not help the Russians resupply their troops.

The head of the Ukrainian military administration in Kherson, Sergei Khlan, predicted that the Russians would fail because of “the raging current of the river, which makes it impossible to build crossings.”

The Russians may also try to smuggle equipment across the river, he said, but a statement by local officials in Kherson loyal to Moscow that there would be no relief supplies for at least three days underscored the depth of their dilemma.

The military maneuvers took place on Thursday as Ukrainians paused to celebrate a new national holiday, Statehood Day, which was created last summer when the country was threatened by a Russian invasion.

Ukraine chose the date to mark the so-called “baptism of Rus” when Grand Duke Vladimir of Kievan Rus, the first Slavic state, converted to Christianity in the 10th century and began converting his people. This event, and Vladimir himself, are considered by both Russia and Ukraine to be central to their national identity.

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