While Ukrainian forces counterattack near Kyiv, Russia cuts its goals

Russia's invasion of Ukraine
Silhouette of a Kiev territorial defender with a Kalashnikov rifle in his hands as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 25, 2022. REUTERS/Mikhail Palinchak

March 26, 2022

By Gleb Garanich and Natalia Zinets

MARIUPOL/LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged further talks with Russia as Moscow signaled it would scale back its ambitions to focus on territory claimed by Russian-backed separatists in the east, after attacks stalled elsewhere.

In an announcement on Friday that seemed to point to more limited targets, the Russian Defense Ministry said a first phase of its operation has mostly been completed and will now focus on the Donbass region bordering Russia, where there are pro-Moscow separatist enclaves exist.

“The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been significantly reduced, which makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbass,” said Sergei Rudskoy, head of the Main Operations Directorate of the Russian General Staff.

Breakaway Russian-backed forces have been fighting Ukrainian forces in Donbass and the adjacent Luhansk region since 2014. Just before the February 24 invasion, they declared their independence with Moscow’s blessing – but not recognized by the West.

Restating Russia’s targets could make it easier for President Vladimir Putin to claim a face-saving victory, military analysts have said.

Moscow had said the goals of its so-called “special operation” were to demilitarize and “denazify” its neighbor. Western officials say the invasion is unjustified and illegal and aimed at toppling Zelenskyy’s pro-NATO government.

Weeks of intermittent peace talks have yielded no significant progress. In a video address late Friday, Zelenskyy said his troops’ resistance had dealt “mighty blows” to Russia.

“Our defenders are leading the Russian leadership to a simple and logical idea: we need to talk, meaningfully, urgently and fairly,” said Zelenskyy.

US President Joe Biden will “make comments on the united efforts of the free world to support the people of Ukraine, hold Russia accountable for its brutal war and defend a future rooted in democratic principles” on Saturday. the White House said in a statement.

The United Nations has confirmed 1,081 civilian deaths and 1,707 injured in Ukraine since the invasion but says the real number is likely higher.

About 136 children have been killed during the invasion so far, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office said on Saturday.

The Russian Defense Ministry said 1,351 Russian soldiers were killed and 3,825 injured, the Interfax news agency reported. Ukraine says 15,000 Russian soldiers have died. Reuters could not independently verify the claims.


Despite the carnage, Russian troops have failed to capture and hold a major city in the month since invading Ukraine. Instead, they have bombed cities, devastated urban areas and driven a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes.

More than 3.7 million of them have fled abroad, half to neighboring Poland to the west, where Biden on Friday encountered soldiers from the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division strengthening the NATO alliance’s eastern flank.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are being cut off from aid by Russian forces and under siege in places like Mariupol,” Biden said. “It’s like something out of a sci-fi movie.”

Footage from the south-eastern port, which was home to 400,000 people before the war, showed wrecked buildings, burned-out vehicles and shell-shocked survivors heading for water and provisions. Residents have buried victims in makeshift graves while the ground thaws.

Local officials, citing testimonies, said an estimated 300 people were killed in the March 16 bombing of a theater in Mariupol.

The city administration had not previously stated a toll and made it clear that it was not possible to determine an exact figure after the incident. Russia has denied bombing the theater or attacking civilians.


Battle lines near Kyiv have been frozen for weeks, with two main Russian tank columns stranded northwest and east of the capital. A British intelligence report described a Ukrainian counter-offensive that had pushed the Russians back east.

“Ukrainian counterattacks and Russian forces, resorting to stretched supply lines, have enabled Ukraine to reoccupy towns and defensive positions up to 35 km (22 miles) east of Kyiv,” the report said.

Volodymyr Borysenko, mayor of Boryspol, an eastern suburb where Kyiv’s main airport is located, said 20,000 civilians had evacuated the area and answered a call for evacuation so Ukrainian troops could counterattack.

On the other main front outside of Kyiv, in the north-west of the capital, Ukrainian forces have tried to encircle Russian troops in the suburbs of Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel, which have been left in ruins by heavy fighting.

The cities of Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy north and east of Kyiv have also suffered devastating bombardments. Chernihiv is effectively surrounded by Russian forces, its governor said.

Britain said it will fund £2million ($2.6million) worth of food for areas encircled by Russian forces, at the request of the Ukrainian government.

Thousands of miles from Ukraine, Russia was conducting military drills on islands claimed by Tokyo, Japanese media said on Saturday, days after Moscow halted peace talks with Japan over its sanctions over Ukraine’s invasion.

(Reporting by Reuters journalists in Mariupol, Gleb Garanich in Kyiv, Natalia Zinets and Maria Starkova in Lviv and Reuters offices worldwide; writing by Lincoln Feast; editing by William Mallard) While Ukrainian forces counterattack near Kyiv, Russia cuts its goals

Bobby Allyn

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