Russian troops are withdrawing from Ukraine’s second-largest city, Ukrainian officials said on Saturday.
The Russians have spent weeks unleashing their power in Kharkiv, a city of more than 1.4 million people in northeastern Ukraine. But now they are stepping up their attacks on the eastern province of Donetsk.
Ukraine is “entering a new – long-term – phase of the war,” Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Saturday.
When the Russians left Kharkiv, US Republicans entered Kiev. A group of Republican senators led by minority leader Mitch McConnell met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the capital. Sens was also present. Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas.
The visit came after McConnell’s Kentucky counterpart Rand Paul blocked another $40 billion in US aid to Ukraine until next week.
On Instagram, Zelenskyy called the senators’ trip “a strong signal of bipartisan support for Ukraine on the part of the US Congress and the American people.”
Delivering his evening video speech on Saturday, Zelenskyy said the visit showed “the strong connection between the Ukrainian and American people. We discussed various areas of support for our country, including defense and finance, as well as strengthening sanctions against Russia.”
Several US dignitaries traveled to the embattled nation this month. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a group of fellow House Democrats visited on May 1 and pledged US support to Zelenskyy. First Lady Jill Biden met with Zelenskyy’s wife Olena Zelenska last week.
Russian Vladimir Putin launched the unprovoked war against his western neighbor on February 24. His troops encountered strong resistance from the Ukrainians.
After his attempt to capture Kiev failed, the Russian despot shifted his focus east to the industrial region of Donbas, where Ukraine has been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
Russia’s new plan is to try to encircle the main Ukrainian troops – who are stationed in that area – and capture parts of the Donbas that remain under Ukraine’s control.
Heavy fighting has made it difficult for journalists to document the action in the east, but both sides appear to be gaining – and giving in – ground. Russia has captured some Donbas villages, but Zelenskyy said Ukraine has retaken six towns or villages in the last day.
But in Kharkiv, which is just 80 kilometers southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, the picture seems clearer.
Ukraine “appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv,” said the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank. “Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone capturing Kharkiv, and then drove them out of the city, as they did with Russian forces trying to capture Kiev.”
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There were no bombings in Kharkiv the day before, regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said. Instead, he said, Ukrainian forces had launched a counteroffensive near Izyum, which is 120 kilometers south of Kharkiv and has been under Russian control since early April.
There is also intense fighting on the Siversky Donets River. Ukraine launched counterattacks near the city of Severodonetsk but failed to stop the Russian advance, according to Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst.
“The fate of a large part of the Ukrainian army is being decided – there are around 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers,” Zhdanov said.
The war is not just hitting Ukrainians, but is taking a heavy toll on the world’s food supply, the Group of Seven Major Economies said on Saturday.
“Russia’s war of aggression has spawned one of the most serious food and energy crises in recent history, which now threatens the most vulnerable across the world,” the G-7 said in a statement.
Ukraine supplies grain to much of the world, and up to 50 million people, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, will face starvation in the coming months unless Ukrainian grain is distributed, said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, which hosted the G-7. meeting of diplomats.
With news services