Ukraine has pushed Putin’s army back from its second-largest city in a successful counter-attack as dead bodies of Russian soldiers were found arranged in a grisly Z pattern – the symbol of its invasion – in a recaptured village.
Kyiv’s men stormed east out of Kharkiv, in north-eastern Ukraine, on Monday and managed to recapture the town of Staryi Saltiv around 30 miles away, according to a Pentagon intelligence briefing.
The move relieves pressure on Kharkiv, which Putin’s men were intending to capture and which has been heavily shelled, while also threatening the main Russian supply route for forces currently fighting in nearby Donbas.
Journalists who ventured out of Kharkiv behind the advancing troops described the nearby countryside as an ‘open-air graveyard’, with the streets and fields littered with bodies lying unclaimed.
One of the most-gruesome sights was the discovery of what appeared to be Russian corpses arranged into a ‘Z’ pattern. The bodies of civilians were also found inside apartments and burned-out vehicles nearby. Both likely constitute war crimes.
The corpses of Russian soldiers lie arranged in a ‘Z’ pattern inside a village re-captured by Ukraine on Monday, on the outskirts of Kharkiv
Russia and Ukraine are fighting for control of the eastern Donbas region, with battles ongoing around Kharkiv, Izyum and Popansa. Russian troops have now been moved out of Mariupol to join the fight, despite some Ukrainians still holding out there
Ukrainian artillery strikes Russian armoured vehicles to the west of Izyum, where the bulk of Putin’s forces are concentrated, on an unknown date
Russia has made small gains in an effort to take Donbas, the US has said, but is moving slowly because commanders are trying to conserve troops
Putin ‘takes FULL control’ of Russian invasion
Russian President Vladimir Putin is believed to have taken full control over the war in Ukraine and is making ‘impossible demands’ as his forces continue to assault the eastern Donbas region.
Putin has assumed ‘day-to-day control’ over the conflict and has largely delegated the running of Russia to Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, according to a senior EU source cited by MD of the Eurasia Group, Mujaba Rahman.
The Russian President has wasted no time in making a series of major demands in an attempt to secure some success in Ukraine ahead of Russia’s May 9 Victory Day celebrations.
One such demand is for his troops to take Kryvyi Rih – the birthplace of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – according to a report from the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces.
But seizing a city of roughly one million represents a mammoth task for his forces, which are already engaged in bloody battles along the eastern front and are believed to have lost almost 25,000 men in just nine and a half weeks of fighting.
Meanwhile footage showed Ukrainian artillery destroying a column of Russian armoured vehicles further south, to the west of Izyum, as heavy fighting continues for control over Donbas.
The Ukrainian advance came on a day when little else changed along a frontline stretching hundreds of miles from Kharkiv in the north, to Mariupol in the south and further west towards the city of Mykolaiv.
American intelligence says Russia launched 30 missiles against targets inside Ukraine yesterday, while artillery continued to pound defensive positions in an attempt to soften them up for troops to attack.
Despite the heavy shelling, Russian gains have been ‘tepid’, the Pentagon said.
Moscow’s forces made only minor advances around Popansa and further north in the town of Lyman, as they attempt to surround Ukrainian troops defending the cities of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.
Both sides are said to be suffering heavy casualties in the region, though Russia’s losses are widely expected to be worse than Ukraine’s.
Russia’s slow advances are due to commanders trying to preserve troops after units were mauled in the failed effort to capture Kyiv, the US says.
Meanwhile Ukrainian forces holed up inside the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol continue to hold out against Russian bombardment, which resumed Sunday night after a 48-hour ceasefire allowed 100 civilian to evacuate.
Around 12 battalions that had been committed to taking the city have now moved out and been sent to the frontline further north, to aid in the fight for Donbas.
Further to the west, fighting continues over territory between Mykolaiv and Kherson – the latter of which is the only major Ukrainian city to have fallen into Russian hands.
Kyiv believes that Russia is planning to stage a referendum in Kherson as a pre-text to declaring it independent of Ukraine, perhaps to coincide with a Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9 marking the surrender of Nazi Germany.
The US is also warning that Russia could soon move to annex areas of Luhansk and Donetsk which have been occupied by rebel groups it supports since 2014.
According to Moscow, the rebel-held territories are currently ‘independent republics’ separate from both Russia and Ukraine. The new move would seen them absorbed into the Russian mainland.
The body of a civilian lies covered in coats inside a house where they had been taking shelter – possibly for weeks – as fighting raged in the countryside, close to Kharkiv
A burned-out car which contained the remains of two civilians was uncovered by Ukrainian forces pushing east out of Kharkiv
Sunlight shines through a building that has been partially destroyed by Russian shelling on areas close to the city of Kharkiv
Finland ‘will formally announce bid to join NATO on May 12’
Finland will formally announce its bid to join NATO on May 12 with Sweden following suit days later, potentially sparking a huge escalation in the Russia-Ukraine war, government sources have said.
President Sauli Niinisto will announce his approval for the country to join the Western defence alliance a week on Thursday, insiders said.
On the same day, parliamentary groups will give their approval for the application which could be submitted at a NATO summit in June, Finnish newspaper Iltalehti reported.
Today, the Finnish and Swedish prime ministers Sanna Marin and Magdalena Andersson will meet with German chancellor Olaf Scholz to discuss a ‘joint leap’ at his retreat north of Berlin.
Talks have also taken place between the Finnish and Swedish foreign ministers Pekka Haavisto and Ann Linde.
Haavisto said: ‘It is Finland’s wish that Finland and Sweden can adhere to the same timetable in respect of applying to membership to NATO.’
‘Russia plans to engineer referenda upon joining sometime in mid-May,’ said Michael Carpenter, US envoy to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
He said Russia was considering a similar plan in a third region, Kherson, where Moscow has recently solidified control and imposed use of its ruble currency.
‘We think the reports are highly credible,’ Carpenter told reporters in Washington.
As with Crimea, he vowed that the international community would not support Russian-dictated changes to Ukraine’s borders.
‘Such sham referenda – fabricated votes – will not be considered legitimate, nor will any attempts to annex additional Ukrainian territory,’ Carpenter said.
‘But we have to act with a sense of urgency.’
American intelligence believes Russia is likely behind schedule in its efforts to seize Donbas, with Ukrainian counter-attacks slowing the advance down.
‘[The Russians] are clearly in the offensive mode, but they are not being as successful as they wanted to be,’ officials briefed journalists yesterday.
Russia and Ukraine are now locked into what is likely to be a bloody and prolonged struggle for control of the Donbas region – the outcome of which is likely to prove pivotal to the outcome of the war.
Moscow’s generals are aiming to capture the region and surround Ukrainian forces entrenched there in the process, in an effort to force their surrender.
If that happens, then it will mean a large chunk of the Ukrainian army being killed or captured, increasing the likelihood that Russia will renew attacks further to the west – on Mykolaiv, Odesa, and possibly Kyiv.
Ukraine aims to hold its current defensive positions while making limited counter-attacks to weaken or cut Russian supply lines to the front, in an effort to kill or capture as many troops as possible while also destroying equipment.
Ukrainian servicemen adjust a drone as they plot attacks on Russian forces gathered at Izyum, where some of the heaviest fighting in Donbas is taking place
Ukrainian servicemen rest in a shelter at their position near the city of Izyum, amid heavy fighting with Russian forces
A Ukrainian fighter checks his phone in a shelter near the frontline in Izyum, where the bulk of Russian forces trying to seize the Donbas is now based
The West must ‘defeat Russia in Ukraine’, Tony Blair says
Former Prime Minister Tony said the West must strive to ‘defeat Russian aggression in Ukraine’, in a streamed interview with the New York Times earlier today.
Blair, 68, spoke at length about the situation in Ukraine and the West’s relationship with Russia, postulating that Russian President Vladimir Putin is ‘detached from reality’ and insisting Russia had misunderstood NATO’s expansion in Europe.
‘I think our ambition has got to be to defeat Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and to secure a Russian retreat for what they’ve done,’ the former Labour leader said.
‘It’s obviously in the interest of the West to make sure [Putin] is disinclined to do this ever again. Because it’s been an extraordinary act of unprovoked aggression, right here on the doorstep of the European Union.’
Blair claimed he told Putin the West had no hostile intent towards Russia, insisting while he was in Downing Street that he encouraged the Russian leader to ‘use the vast resources of the country to build a strong country’.
But Putin by 2005 had become ‘absolutely obsessed’ with the idea the West was against him, according to the former PM.
The US and UK estimate that Russia has so-far lost about a quarter of its invasion force. If Ukraine can keep inflicting casualties while preserving its own forces, then it will cause the Russian advance to stall.
If Russian losses are particularly severe, then it may make it difficult for Putin’s men to hold the territory they have gained and could spark a retreat – as happened in Kyiv.
Ultimately, Ukraine aims to push Russia’s troops out of the entire country – including parts of Donbas and Crimea it occupied before the February invasion.
Liz Truss, the UK foreign secretary, has said that London shares this goal, with the US says its aim is to weaken Russia to the point where it cannot attack again.
To that end, President Joe Biden has pledged $33billion in military aid for the country while Britain will today commit to sending an extra £300million of kit.
Supplies include long-range and heavy weapons such as tanks, artillery and helicopters, along with specialist equipment such as night vision goggles and vehicles that can be used to evacuate civilians.
Boris Johnson is set to announce the extra package of spending today, echoing his own hero Winston Churchill in an address to Ukraine’s parliament by describing the fight to defeat Russia as their ‘finest hour’.
His appearance comes after his surprise visit to the Ukrainian capital last month.
Mr Johnson is expected to say the UK is ‘proud to be among Ukraine’s friends’ after reopening the British embassy in Kyiv last week.
Mr Johnson is expected to say: ‘When my country faced the threat of invasion during the Second World War, our Parliament, like yours, continued to meet throughout the conflict, and the British people showed such unity and resolve that we remember our time of greatest peril as our finest hour.
‘This is Ukraine’s finest hour, an epic chapter in your national story that will be remembered and recounted for generations to come.
‘Your children and grandchildren will say that Ukrainians taught the world that the brute force of an aggressor counts for nothing against the moral force of a people determined to be free.’
Ukrainian civilians huddle together as they are evacuated from a village that had been re-taken by Kyiv’s forces, on the outskirts of Kharkiv
Volunteers carry an elderly woman after they evacuated residents from a village retaken by Ukrainian forces, close to Kharkiv
Civilians from the eastern Ukraine city of Lyman, which has come under attack by Russian troops in recent days, are evacuated further to the west into territory under Ukrainian control
Western powers have levelled unprecedented sanctions against Russia over the war while delivering money and weapons to Ukraine, including a $33 billion (31 billion euro) arms and support package announced by US President Joe Biden last week.
The European Commission will on Tuesday propose a new package, including an embargo on Russian oil, officials said.
It will also involve ‘more Russian banks’ being pushed out of the global SWIFT payment network, the bloc’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said Monday.
After talks on Monday, the European Union warned member states to prepare for a possible complete breakdown in gas supplies from Russia, insisting it would not cede to Moscow’s demand that imports be paid for in rubles.
Germany, Europe’s largest economy, was heavily dependent on Russian gas prior to the war, but European views quickly hardened after the invasion.
EU and French officials said the 27-member bloc was united with Poland and Bulgaria, whose gas supplies were cut last week after they refused to pay in rubles.
Western nations have been trying to show support by reopening embassies in Kyiv that were closed due to the invasion, with Denmark the latest to make the move Monday.
Kristina Kvien, the US charge d’affaires, announced in the western city of Lviv that Washington hopes to have diplomats back in Kyiv by the end of May.