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Russia using diversionary attacks on Kharkiv to divert Ukrainian troops from Donbas

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A boy with a toy machine gun stands near Ukrainian servicemen as they patrol central Kyiv. Photo: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

A boy with a toy machine gun stands near Ukrainian servicemen as they patrol central Kyiv. Photo: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

A boy with a toy machine gun stands near Ukrainian servicemen as they patrol central Kyiv. Photo: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

Fresh attacks near the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv injured a dozen people yesterday, as Russia targeted the country’s north and south in a bid to divert Ukrainian reinforcements from the epicentre of fighting in Donbas.

The diversionary strikes came as the governor of Luhansk region said Ukrainian troops may have to abandon Severodonetsk and Lysychansk – the twin cities at the centre of the fiercest fighting – in the face of overwhelming Russian assaults.

“In order to avoid encirclement, our command could order that the troops retreat to new positions,” said Serhiy Gaidai on national television. “All of Lysychansk is within reach of their fire. It is very dangerous in the city.”

Russian breakthroughs over the past two days have prompted warnings that the two-month battle for the twin cities on the Seversky Donets river could soon be reaching its climax.

The ministry of defence in Britain said the Russians had advanced more than 4km towards the southern edge of Lysychansk since Sunday, jeopardising the remaining supply route to Ukrainian-controlled territory.

Ukraine’s general staff said yesterday evening that its troops had repelled a Russian assault on the city’s southern fringes and that the enemy was regrouping.

General Valery Zaluzhny, the head of the Ukrainian armed forces, appeared to confirm a withdrawal was being considered, writing in a post that “we are forced to conduct a mobile defence, to occupy more advantageous lines and positions.”

The loss of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk would be a political and tactical blow for Ukraine, leaving Russia in full control of the Luhansk region, but is unlikely to end the war.

Ukrainian generals hope their full-throttled defence of the cities will have caused Russia significant casualties and bought time for deliveries of the Western weapons they hope could turn the tide of the war. The first of those weapons, American HIMARS rocket launchers, arrived in the country yesterday.

Oleksii Reznikov, the Ukrainian defence minister, wrote on Twitter: “Summer will be hot for Russian occupiers. And the last one for some of them.”

HIMARs out-range and are more accurate than the Russian equivalent, and Ukraine hopes they will allow it to win the artillery duels that have become a defining feature of the battle for Donbas.

Meanwhile, Oleksiy Arestovych, an advisor to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, said Russia had renewed attacks on other cities to “terrorise the population” and to force Kyiv to pull resources back from the fight in Donbas.

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Authorities in Kharkiv, on Ukraine’s northern border with Russia, have said shelling this week has been the worst since May. Explosions were still being heard in the city last night. Powerful explosions were also reported in Mykolaiv and Odessa in the south yesterday. Vitaly Kim, governor of Mykolaiv, said Russia has renewed efforts to seize all of the Kherson region and move closer to Mykolaiv.

“The enemy is deliberately trying to intimidate the civilian population,” he said, adding that the Russians are hoping to reach the border with Mykolaiv in less than two months.

Meanwhile, two Britons and a Moroccan are preparing to appeal against the death sentences they received from pro-Russian separatists, one of their lawyers has said.

Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner from the UK and Brahim Saadoun from Morocco were captured while fighting for Ukraine. They were convicted by a court in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), one of Russia’s proxies in eastern Ukraine, for alleged “mercenary activities”.

They insist they were regular soldiers serving in the Ukrainian army. The verdict was condemned internationally, with British politicians calling it the result of a “show trial”.

Yulia Tserkovnikova, Mr Pinner’s lawyer, has confirmed she will now be challenging the decision.

“My colleagues and I are currently preparing the full text of an appeal against the sentence in the interests of our defendants,” she said, according to reports in Russia’s state news agency Tass.

“Undoubtedly, if the appeal is dismissed and the sentence comes into force, a request for clemency will be filed as this is an inherent right of the defendants, under the legislation of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” she added.

Mr Aslin’s family spoke out about their fear that time was “running out” to ensure the men’s safety.

Speaking to the BBC, Pamela Hall, the 28-year-old’s grandmother, said her grandson had told his mother that he would be executed soon.

“There are no words, just no words. It’s got to be everyone’s worst nightmare to have a member of your family threatened in this way,” she said.

“I have to believe what Aiden has said to us – that if the DPR doesn’t get some response then they will execute him. Obviously, I hope that isn’t true.”

The Russian ambassador in London confirmed the UK had asked Moscow to intervene in the case. But Andrei Kelin expressed an unwillingness to cooperate, suggesting that the British entreaty was “arrogant”.

He also indicated that London should approach the DPR to speak about the matter. 

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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