Ukraine wages counter-offensive

MYKOLAIV, Ukraine: Intense fighting was raging on Tuesday across the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson occupied by Russia, Kyiv’s presidency said, as its troops pressed counter-offensives “in various directions”. Most of the region of Kherson bordering the Black Sea-and its provincial capital of the same name-were seized by Moscow’s military at the start of the invasion six months ago. With the war in the eastern Donbas region largely stalled, analysts have said for weeks that combat is likely to shift south to break the stalemate before winter comes.

Also on Tuesday, fresh Russian strikes in the northeast city of Kharkiv killed at least five people, prompting officials to urge people to stay indoors. But much of the attention remained on the counter-offensive in the south. In its morning update, the president’s office in Kyiv said “heavy fighting is taking place in almost the entire territory of the Kherson region”.

“Powerful explosions continued throughout the day and throughout the night” and “the Armed Forces of Ukraine launched offensive actions in various directions,” it added. In the town of Bereznehuvate-near the frontlines 70 kilometres (43 miles) north of Kherson city-AFP reporters saw soldiers resting by the roadside and heard artillery fire.

“We forced them well back,” said infantryman Victor, in his 60s, who declined to give a surname. But his commander Oleksandr-a veteran of the war in Afghanistan-predicted the fight to retake Kherson will be “long and complicated”. In his nightly address on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky was coy about Ukraine’s overarching strategy whilst striking a bullish tone. “You won’t hear the specifics from any person in charge because this is war.” “But the occupiers should know that we will push them to our borderline,” he added. “If they want to survive, it is time for the Russian military to flee. Go home.”

‘Stay inside’

Russia’s defence ministry claimed Ukraine suffered “large-scale losses” of more than 1,200 soldiers and dozens of pieces of equipment during the “defeat” of its southern attack. Britain’s defence ministry warned that since the start of August, Russia has made “significant efforts” to reinforce troops on the western bank of the Dnipro River which splits Kherson city.

But the Ukrainian presidency claimed its forces had destroyed “almost all large bridges” and that “only pedestrian crossings remain” in Kherson region. The British ministry said “most of the units around Kherson are likely under-manned and are reliant upon fragile supply lines by ferry and pontoon bridges across the Dnipro”.

But “it is not yet possible to confirm the extent of Ukrainian advances,” the ministry said on Tuesday. In Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv, at least five people were killed Tuesday as Russian shelling hit the centre of town, the mayor Igor Terekhov said.

Seven people were also wounded, and regional governor, Oleg Synegubov, gave a slightly lower death toll of four and said another four were injured. “The Russian occupiers shelled the central districts of Kharkiv,” Synegubov said on Telegram, as he warned residents to “stay inside the shelters”.

Grain reaches Djibouti

The war has contributed to a global food and energy price crisis. Russia blockaded Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea at the start of the war, choking off the major harvest exporter from world markets and punishing poorer nations. On Tuesday, the first UN-chartered vessel transporting grain to relieve the food crisis made port in Djibouti, after Turkey and the UN brokered a deal to relax the embargo last month. Some 23,000 tonnes of wheat aboard the MV Brave Commander is bound for Ethiopia, where millions are at risk of starvation.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the nation-which along with the EU bloc has pledged to wean itself off Russian gas-is well prepared for curbs on supply. Germany is set to meet an October target to replenish stocks early, Scholz said Tuesday, a day before Moscow is due to cut off gas supplies for three days. He said Germany is “in a much better position in terms of security of supply than was foreseeable a couple of months ago”.

Challenging offensive

Moscow’s troops seized Kherson, a town of 280,000 inhabitants, on March 3. It was the first major city to fall following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. In an update early Tuesday, Ukraine’s Southern Command said the situation remained “tense” in its area of operations.

“The enemy attacked our positions five times, but was unsuccessful,” it said. The city of Mykolaiv, just northwest of Kherson, had come under “massive bombardment” from Russian anti-aircraft missiles, with two civilians killed and 24 wounded, it said.

But a senior Pentagon official said Russia was struggling to find soldiers to fight in Ukraine and that many new recruits were older, in poor shape and lacking training. The fresh fighting came as students across Ukraine prepared to return to classrooms on Thursday after schools were shut by the Russian invasion, now in its seventh month.

Only those schools with air-raid bunkers will be permitted to reopen, with the rest reverting to online learning. “We just want to live our life fully,” 16-year-old student Polina told AFP in Kyiv. “We are not afraid, we have already lived enough. Our generation has decided to live in the present moment.” – AFP

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