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KYIV, Ukraine -- Russian troops are withdrawing from around Ukraine's second-largest city after bombarding it for weeks, the Ukrainian military said Saturday, as Kyiv and Moscow's forces engaged in a grinding battle for the country's eastern industrial heartland.

Ukraine's general staff said the Russians were pulling back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on guarding supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern Donetsk province in order to "deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.

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Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine was "entering a new - long-term - phase of the war."

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainians were doing their "maximum" to drive out the invaders and that the outcome of the war would depend on support from Europe and other allies.

"No one today can predict how long this war will last," Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address late Friday.

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ABC News' Ian Pannell reports from the frontline with the latest news on the war in Ukraine.



In a show of support, a U.S. Senate delegation led by Republican leader Mitch McConnell met with the Ukrainian president in Kyiv. A video posted on Zelenskyy's Telegram account showed McConnell, who represents the state of Kentucky, and senators Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas greeting him.

After Russian forces failed to capture Kyiv following the Feb. 24 invasion, President Vladimir Putin shifted his focus eastward to the Donbas, an industrial region where Ukrainian troops have battled Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

Russia's offensive aims to encircle Ukraine's most experienced and best-equipped troops, who are based in the east, and to seize parts of the Donbas that remain in Ukraine's control.

Getting a full picture of the direction the fighting in the east is taking has been difficult because airstrikes and artillery barrages have made it extremely dangerous for reporters to move around. But the battle appears to be a back-and-forth slog with no major breakthroughs on either side.

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Russia has captured some Donbas villages and towns, including Rubizhne, a city with a prewar population of around 55,000.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine's forces had also made progress in the east, retaking six Ukrainian towns or villages in the past day.

Kharkiv, which is not far from the Russian border and only 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has undergone weeks of intense shelling. The largely Russian-speaking city with a prewar population of 1.4 million was a key Russian military objective earlier in the the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major Ukrainian cities.

Ukraise "appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv." the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said. "Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city, as they did to Russian forces attempting to seize Kyiv."

Regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said in a post on the Telegram messaging app that there had been no shelling attacks on Kharkiv in the past day.

He said Ukraine had launched a counteroffensive near Izyum, a city 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of Kharkiv that has been under effective Russian control since at least the beginning of April.

Fighting was fierce on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, where Ukraine has launched counterattacks but failed to halt Russia's advance, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst.

"The fate of a large portion of the Ukrainian army is being decided - there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers," he said.

However, Russian forces suffered heavy losses in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross the same river - the largest in eastern Ukraine - in the town of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian and British officials said, in another sign of Moscow's struggle to salvage a war gone awry.

Britain's Defense Ministry said Russia lost "significant armored maneuver elements" of at least one battalion tactical group in the attack. A Russian battalion tactical group consists of about 1,000 troops.

The ministry said the risky river crossing was a sign of "the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine."

Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation that Ukrainians were doing everything they could to drive out the Russians, but "no one today can predict how long this war will last."

"This will depend, unfortunately, not only on our people, who are already giving their maximum," he said. "This will depend on our partners, on European countries, on the entire free world."

The Ukrainian leader warned that the war causing a food crisis around the world as a Russian blockade stops Ukrainian grain from leaving port.

The Group of Seven leading economies echoed that warning, saying Saturday that "Russia's war of aggression has generated one of the most severe food and energy crises in recent history, which now threatens those most vulnerable across the globe."

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the war in Ukraine aiming to thwart NATO's expansion in Eastern Europe. But the invasion of Ukraine has other countries along Russia's flank worried they could be next.

This week, the president and prime minister of Finland said they favored their country seeking NATO membership. Officials in Sweden are expected to announce a decision Sunday on whether to apply to join the Western military alliance.

Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinist that there are no threats to Finland's security and joining NATO would be an "error" that would "negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations."

The Kremlin said the two leaders had a "frank exchange of views" in a phone call on Saturday.

Niinist said the discussion "was straightforward and unambiguous and was held without exaggeration. Avoiding tensions was considered important."

Russia's response to the moves by Finland and Sweden has so far been muted, though Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Saturday that their accession to NATO would heighten security tensions in the Arctic, "turning it into an arena of military competition."

The Nordic nations' potential bids were thrown into question Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is "not of a favorable opinion" toward the idea.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to meet his NATO counterparts, including the Turkish foreign minister, this weekend in Germany.

In other developments:

- Ukrainian fighters holed up in a steel plant in the ruined southern port of Mariupol faced continued Russian attacks on the last stronghold of resistance in the city. Ukraine's deputy prime minister said Ukrainian authorities are negotiating the evacuation of 60 severely wounded troops from the steelworks. Iryna Vereshchuk said Russia had not agreed to the evacuation of all wounded fighters at the plant, who number in the hundreds.

-The deputy speaker of the Russian parliament, Anna Kuznetsova, visited Kherson, a region bordering the Black Sea that has been held by Russia since the early days of the war. Russia has installed a pro-Moscow regional administration, and Britain's defense ministry said Russia could stage a local referendum on joining Russia, with the results likely manipulated to show majority support for breaking away from Ukraine.

News Source: abc7.com

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Ukraine update: Russian soldiers reported missing in action actually piled high in body dump

This fragment of a destroyed Russian aircraft was added to museum exhibits in Kyiv, May 9, 2022.

Since the invasion began, Ukrainian-living-in-London Dmitri has translated hundreds of documents, text messages, and transcripts into English. His translations have helped to reveal disgruntled Russian soldiers who are aware that their leaders are lying to them, soldiers terrified that they are being sent into a meat grinder, and soldiers who have simply had enough and refuse to go when ordered. 

Some of Dmitri’s translations have been intensely difficult to read. Not because of an issue with grammar, but because of the content. That includes not just Russian soldiers phoning home to brag about the civilians they’ve killed and the items they’ve stolen from Ukrainian homes, but a Russian wife giving her husband permission to rape Ukrainian women. (That couple has since been identified.)

Still, none of the translations has been quite this grisly. Trigger warnings are usually reserved for video or images, but one seems appropriate in this case. So … be warned.

From the beginning of the war, we’ve seen claims that Russia had been underreporting their losses. On a few occasions, a number of dead and wounded at least close to what Ukrainian officials and U.S. intelligence have been estimating have made it onto Russian TV or other media outlets, but those numbers have quickly been replaced or walked back, often with numbers an order of magnitude lower. There have also been images of Russian war widows sullenly clutching a few dollars’ worth of compensation, but that compensation has been coming from private institutions, not the government of Vladimir Putin. 

Groups in Ukraine have set up “help lines” for Russian families, both with the purpose of helping locate soldiers who have gone silent after crossing into Ukraine, and driving home the point that Russian soldiers are dying in Putin’s illegal invasion in large numbers. Meanwhile, the Kremlin not only continues to report low numbers of casualties overall, but to list large numbers of troops as simply “missing in action,” sometimes with a hint of accusation that those missing are actually AWOL.

In this translation, a woman is looking for her brother, who has been among the missing in Ukraine. After a long search, his sister has found him. Though not in a way that anyone would want to find a family member.

Man: His sister, she went to Donetsk … there was a, basically a dump.

Woman: Oh, fuck.

Man: She paid money [to let them search through the bodies]. They are stacked on top of one another.

Woman: Oh, fuck.

Man: … She paid money, good money, so they moved the bodies around until they found him. … She says it’s a pile there. There’s nowhere else to put them. It’s a dump. I’m telling you in Russian — a dump. 

Woman: Oh, fuck. Shit …

Man: She says thousands. Thousands. They are thrown here and there, for them it’s easier to make it look like they are missing in action. … It’s not a morgue. It’s a dump.

The phrase “I’m telling you in Russian” in this exchange means more or less “I’m being serious.”

Recently, Putin has made promises about increasing the compensation for families of those lost in Ukraine, with payments as high as $45,000. Except those new promises also come with caveats. Limitations. Special circumstances. And don’t expect any of that money to go to those who are only “missing in action” at a dump where Russian bodies are stacked like cordwood.

Kharkiv

Not only has the Kharkiv region seen some of the most significant action over the last two weeks, it’s also some of the most visible. The work Ukrainian forces are doing to harass Russian battalion tactical groups gathered around Izyum may be doing just as much to disrupt Russia’s offensive, but because in that area Ukraine appears to be conducting more hit-and-run raids rather than systematically recapturing villages and clearing areas of Russian control, it’s much harder to follow the progress.

On the other hand, Ukrainian actions in Kharkiv have been more on the order of a classic counteroffensive, rolling back Russian-occupied territory town by town, putting in place members of territorial defense, preparing locations against any threat by Russia to retake the offensive. All of that generates chatter on Twitter and Telegram. The accompanying work from artillery, as reflected by data from satellites generally intended to track wildfires, also gives a good sense of priority targets and upcoming thrusts by infantry.

But when it comes to what’s happening in the Kharkiv area on Wednesday, the answer is a big shrug.

Kharkiv area on May 9, 2022.

For the moment, there are no reports of new, big movements in the Kharkiv area. A number of villages near Staryi Saltiv were recaptured on Saturday, and Ukrainian forces made progress at the western end of the line at Tsupivka, but both Sunday and Monday appear to have been relatively quiet. That includes a big reduction in the amount of shelling. On Sunday, Ukraine directed some shells into the area northwest of Lyptsi, which Ukrainian soldiers have entered, but reportedly do not control. There was also firing on an area about a kilometer north of Vesele, which Ukrainian soldiers have entered, but reportedly do not control. And there was firing at a chain of locations near Petrivka which, so far as can be determined, is still under Russian control.

But on Monday, the FIRMS data is all but clear. Whether that means Ukraine has taken some of these towns and it just hasn’t made it onto Twitter/Telegram in a recognizable way or something else is going on, I don’t know.

One reason to think something else might be going on: Ukraine seemed to be racing up the west bank of the Siverskyi Donets River in an effort to secure a bridge to the east. However, the bridge at Staryi Saltiv was blown by the Russians, then the bridge at Rubiznhe, then the bridge at Starytsya, then the bridge at Ohirtseve. And that’s it. There are no more bridges to race for.

It’s entirely possible that, without being able to claim one of those bridges intact, Ukraine is rethinking its strategy for the area west of the Donets. Ukraine may leave fewer people in the area to secure existing gains and continue to press what are reportedly three Russian BTGs in the area, while doing something like what kos suggests in shifting forces to go after critical Russian supply points to the southeast. Ukraine might even decide to fold some of those experienced winners from around Kharkiv into the push against Izyum. The Kharkiv map may become a little more stable over the next few days … or not.

Oh, and one thing that may be worth noting is that Ukraine spent three solid days firing artillery into the area around the east end of the bridge across from Staryi Saltiv. There is a reservoir at that location, making the water almost 2 kilometers wide, which would seem to make this a very unlikely point for Ukraine to create a crossing, especially when the river is just 100 meters wide near Rubiznhe and 60 meters wide upstream at Startsya. However, Ukrainian engineers may have had a chance to examine the bridge at Staryi Saltiv and determined that repairs were possible. Or ... Ukraine was just firing at Russian gun emplacements on the far side of the river and it had nothing to do with the bridge. We’ll see.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian Ministry of Defense officials included Ruski Tyshky, Bairak, and Rubizhne on the list of locations officially liberated.

Note: As I was putting this together, there were conflicting claims that Ukraine has taken Lyptsi. It seems likely that Ukraine has recaptured much of the town proper, but Russian forces remain in positions very close on the west. There were also claims that Ukraine is in control of the road between Vesele and Bairak, which would seem like a very bad thing for those Russian troops still down at Petrivka.

Eastern Ukraine

Russian forces are slowly walking their way toward Lyman, with reports of Russian forces in Derylove to the north and some reports of small numbers of Russian troops on the north side of Lyman itself. Within the next day or two, the town could be pressed from west, east, and north. But that’s not happening yet, no matter how many people are sweating about it.

At the extreme east of Ukrainian-held positions, the The Wall Street Journal this morning has an article on conditions in Severeodonetsk, which is now connected to the rest of Ukrainian-controlled territory by a single road—a road that is under fire from Russian artillery. It’s a good reminder of the kind of sacrifices that are being made by everyone in Ukraine, not just those in the military.

There’s also this bit from Igor Girkin. (A reminder that Girkin is a Russian who formerly headed up the DNR and expected to become the leader of a Donetsk “republic” before he found himself on the losing end of political maneuvering among pro-Russian forces.)

x

На Донецькому напрямку окупанти здійснювали спробу штурмових дій у напрямках міста Марʼїнка, населених пунктів Камʼянка Ясинуватського району та Новомихайлівка Покровського району Донецької області. Успіху не мали. pic.twitter.com/rTA1zbRXD5

— IgorGirkin (@GirkinGirkin) May 10, 2022

In the Donetsk direction, the occupiers attempted assault operations in the directions of the town of Marinka, the settlements of Kamyanka, Yasynuvata district, and Novomykhailivka, Pokrovsky district, Donetsk region. They were unsuccessful.
 

Whenever you see phrases like “they were unsuccessful,” read that as vehicles and soldiers were wasted. For every small advance Russia makes, it appears to make many, many more of these unsuccessful attempts.

Russian Stuff Blowing Up Theater

And now, let’s watch Russian tanks, vehicles, and artillery go boom.

x

The aftermath of a Ukrainian strike on a Russian position in Vesele, Kharkiv Oblast. Presumably ammunition storage. https://t.co/Lavvpdfyas pic.twitter.com/2it3ZJwOXk

— Rob Lee (@RALee85) May 9, 2022

This could be why Ukrainian artillery moved on past Vesele on Saturday and was hitting positions to the north: no Russian equipment left in Vesele itself to hit.

x

A Russian T-90M getting destroyed in Kharkiv Oblast pic.twitter.com/Hdcc1h8eIh

— Illia Ponomarenko ???????? (@IAPonomarenko) May 10, 2022

Remember the extremely rare and new T-90M tank Russia sent into Ukraine only to have it turn up dead north of Kharkiv within a week? Turns out there is another one. I mean was.

x

#Ukraine: The Ukrainian 25th Airborne Brigade claimed to hit a Russian tank with the famous FGM-148 Javelin ATGM; whatever was struck, there is little left of it now. pic.twitter.com/PpFbqtECAr

— ???????? Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) May 9, 2022

It’s possible this is the same tank as some of the landscape features look similar. On the other hand, the explosion itself looks different and if Ukraine is now putting more than one drone in the air to capture multiple angles of Russian tanks being obliterated, that would be just showing off.

In any case, what happens to both these tanks shows just how incredibly powerful a Javelin is. This is a missile that is not screwing around.

x

#Ukraine: Somewhere in the South, the Ukrainian 59th Motorized Brigade struck Russian artillery positions with counter-battery fire, destroying and damaging several howitzers (Claimed to be D-30).

A 2S19 Msta-S was also claimed, but we can't verify what was actually hit. pic.twitter.com/XQF7ON8seF

— ???????? Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) May 10, 2022

I know it was in the last update, but watching those artillery positions fall one by one was too good to skip a repeat.

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