Ukraine forces pull back from Donbas town after onslaught

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces have staged an organized withdrawal from a town in the eastern region of the Donbass, an official said Wednesday, amounting to a rare but modest battlefield victory for Russia. After a series of setbacks in the invasion that started about 11 months ago.

Ukrainian troops withdrew from the salt-mining town of Soledar “to protect the lives of officers,” Serhii Cherevaty, a spokesman for eastern Ukraine’s forces, told The Associated Press.

The soldiers retreated to defensive positions prepared earlier, he said. Two weeks ago, Russia claimed that its forces had captured the soldier, but Ukraine denied it.

Moscow has portrayed the battle for the town, not far from the Donetsk provincial city of Bakhmut, as key to seizing all of Ukraine’s Donbass region, where Russian-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian troops for nearly nine years and controlled some of Russia’s full-scale territory. invasion

Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited the security of ethnic Russians living in Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk province, which together make up Donbas, as justification for the invasion. At the end of September, Putin illegally seized Ukrainian provinces and two others.

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Ukraine’s troop withdrawal from Soledar brings Russian forces a step closer to Bakhmut, but military analysts say the capture of the town is more symbolic than strategic. Fighting in eastern Ukraine It has been at a standstill for months.

Ukraine’s military said strong defenses in Soledar and Bakhmut helped pin down Russian forces.

Many of Russia’s troops around Soledar belong to the Wagner Group, a private Russian military contractor, and the fighting has reportedly been bloody.

Since its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has prioritized taking full control of Donbas, where it has supported a separatist insurgency since 2014. Russia has captured most of Luhansk, but about half of Donetsk is under Ukrainian control.

“Russia is not reducing combat activity in the Donbass, leaving the burning desert where Russian troops are advancing,” Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kirilenko said on state television.

Taking control of Zoldar allows Russian forces to cut supply lines to Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut, despite the unknown strength of Ukraine’s new defensive positions.

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The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, said earlier this month that Soledar’s fall “does not mark an operationally significant development and is unlikely to foreshadow an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut.”

The institute said Russian information operations “over-exaggerate the importance of Solidar” and that it was a minor settlement. It also argued that the long and arduous war had led to the exhaustion of the Russian army.

Perhaps even more worrying for Moscow, Western military aid to Ukraine is now being bolstered by the supply of tanks..

Elsewhere, Russian forces continued to crack down on Ukrainian territoriesEspecially in the south and east.

Russian airstrikes wounded 10 civilians in eastern Donetsk province on Tuesday, provincial governor Pavlo Kirilenko said.

Five people were injured after Russian shells hit apartment blocks, he said.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said that from Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning, the Russian military carried out four missile attacks, 26 airstrikes and more than 100 attacks from rocket salvo systems.

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In addition to Donetsk, Russian offensives have affected population centers in the country’s northeastern Kharkiv and Sumy, northern Chernihiv, far-eastern Luhansk, southeastern Zaporizhia, and southern Kherson provinces.

Russian shelling of a grocery store in Berislav, Kherson province on Wednesday killed two people and wounded three others, according to an online statement from the local government.

On Tuesday, Russian shelling included 12 attacks on the regional capital, also called Kherson, damaging a maternity hospital, a school, a clinic, port buildings and residential buildings, the statement said.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr ZelenskyiA professional comedian and actor before the 2019 election, he became an internationally recognized wartime leader.He turned 45 on Wednesday, 11 months after Russia invaded his country.

While his wife, First Lady Olena Zelenska, is the same person he met at age 17, “something has changed: you smile much less now.”

“I wish you had more reasons to smile. You know what it takes. We all do,” she tweeted.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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