Russian forces hold the line in Kherson as Ukraine counterstrikes

Moscow’s defence ministry says it repelled a major attack by Kyiv’s troops in the south and inflicted ‘significant losses on the enemy’.

A Russian soldier guards an area at the Alley of Glory exploits of the heroes in Kherson city, south Ukraine, May 20, 2022
A Russian soldier stands guard in the southern region of Kherson, which has come under attack by Ukraine forces in recent weeks [File: Russian Defence Ministry via AP]

Russia says its forces have battled oncoming Ukraine troops to a standstill in the country’s south and inflicted “significant losses”.

Russian soldiers held their positions during “fierce fighting” in the Kherson region and Ukrainian troops were also targeted in the eastern region of Donetsk, Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday.

“The enemy made attempts to break through the defence of the Russian troops in the areas of Koshara and Pyatykhatky in the Kherson region with forces of up to three battalions, including one tank battalion,” chief defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

“The Russian army units held their positions in fierce battles, inflicting significant losses on the enemy,” he said.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the battlefield reports.

Ukraine’s presidential office said Moscow’s military shelled towns and villages along the front line in the east and “active hostilities” continued in the Kherson region.

Ukrainian army spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun said the Russians began the evacuation of “state institutions” from the Kherson region to Crimea. Shtupun said the Ukrainian army carried out 20 attacks over the past day.

Russian forces targeted more than 30 towns and villages across Ukraine, launching five missiles and 23 air strikes and up to 60 rocket attacks, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said.

Fighting was particularly intense in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk and the strategically important Kherson province. They were three of the four provinces Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed as part of Russia last month.

Konashenkov acknowledged that Russia attacked Ukrainian regions on Sunday.

“During the past 24 hours, the Russian armed forces continued to strike with high-precision, long-range, air-launched weapons at military command and control facilities as well as the energy system of Ukraine,” Konashenkov said. “The goals of the strikes were achieved. All assigned targets were hit.”

Shelling by Ukrainian forces damaged the administration building in the city of Donetsk, capital of the Donetsk region, the head of its Russian-backed administration said on Sunday.

“It was a direct hit. The building is seriously damaged. It is a miracle nobody was killed,” Alexey Kulemzin said while surveying the wreckage.

There was no immediate reaction from Ukraine to the attack on Donetsk city, which was annexed by Russian-backed separatists in 2014 along with a large part of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Battle for Bakhmut

The war’s momentum has shifted towards Ukraine after it launched a series of counterattacks seven weeks ago. Its military has recaptured cities, towns and villages that Russia took early in the war.

While Russia has been falling back across much of Ukraine, in the eastern city of Bakhmut in Donetsk, Ukraine troops are on the defensive.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday fighting was raging in the area.

“The key hot spots in Donbas are Soledar and Bakhmut,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. “Very heavy fighting is going on there.”

Ukrainian soldiers still control the northern and western parts of the city. Pro-Russian separatist forces have pressed ahead east and south of Bakhmut, relying on their base in the city of Donetsk, 100km (62 miles) away.

Russian forces have repeatedly tried to seize Bakhmut, which sits on a main road leading to the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, both in the Donetsk region.

Although Ukrainian troops have recaptured thousands of square kilometres of land in their recent counteroffensives in the east and south, officials said progress is likely to slow once Kyiv’s forces meet more determined Russian resistance.

In Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, Russia said it destroyed three US-manufactured howitzers and a crossing point on the Oskil River set up by Ukrainian forces to move reserves and ammunition. The river flows south into the Siversky Donets, which snakes through eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.

The spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Southern Military Command said Russian forces were suffering severe shortages of equipment, including ammunition, because of the damage inflicted last weekend in by an explosion on a bridge linking the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula with Russia.

“Almost 75 percent [of Russian military supplies in southern Ukraine] came across that bridge,” Natalia Humeniuk told Ukrainian television, adding that strong winds had also stopped ferries in the area.

“Now even the sea is on our side,” she said.

Staging ground strikes

Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said on Telegram on Sunday that Ukraine would prevail in the war because of the continued military aid it is receiving from the West and the cumulative impact of Western sanctions on Russia’s economy.

“Ukraine’s offensive is strategic and the defeat of Russia is inevitable,” Yermak said.

Meanwhile, in western Russia along the border with Ukraine, Russian officials said their air defences shot down “a minimum” of 16 Ukrainian missiles in the Belgorod region, Russia’s Ria Novosti reported. The regional governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said four people were wounded.

Russian authorities in border regions have repeatedly accused Kyiv of firing at their territory and said civilians were being wounded. Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the alleged attacks or commented.

Russia has long used Belgorod as a staging ground for shelling and missile attacks on Ukrainian territory.

On Saturday, two men from a former Soviet republic who were training at a Russian military firing range in Belgorod opened fire at volunteer soldiers during target practice, killing 11 people and wounding 15 before being shot dead themselves.

The Russian defence ministry, which reported the killings, called the incident a terrorist attack.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies