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Ukraine war: Kyiv launches counter-attacks after Russian invasion stalled

Russia has lost more than 15,000 troops in Ukraine, the country’s generals claimed today, as they launched a series of counter-attacks across the country to push back Putin’s forces after a month of dogged defending.  

Ukraine’s General Staff said Wednesday that Russia has now lost 15,600 men in fighting, along with 517 tanks and 1,600 armoured vehicles amid reports that their troops have recaptured the city of Makariv, to the west of the Kyiv, as photos showed troops raising a Ukrainian flag from one of the buildings. 

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The move puts Russian forces bogged down fighting in Irpin, Bucha and Borodyanka at risk of being cut off. 

Meanwhile counter-attacks were also underway in the south, with the BBC reporting a Russian tank column was destroyed by Ukrainian troops and volunteers at Voznesensk – pushing Moscow’s forces back 60 miles from the strategically-important town that spans the Bug River. Attacks were also launched on the captured city of Kherson.

Russian troops have also been forced to reposition around Mykolaiv after coming under attack by Ukrainian forces, the Pentagon said last night, while also reporting heavy fighting in Izyum – hundreds of miles away to the northeast – as Ukraine tries to thwart attempts to surround its armies near the Donbass. 

A senior Pentagon source, briefing journalists on the situation on the ground in Ukraine, said the US is ‘starting to see indications’ that Kyiv’s generals are now ‘able and willing to take back territory’ – potentially marking a turning-point in the conflict as Russia’s advance grinds to a halt with supplies running low.  

Videos posted online late Tuesday appeared to show one of the counter-attacks, wit Ukrainian troops engaged in heavy fighting to the west of Kyiv, unleashing a hail of rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire.

Rob Lee, an expert on conflict from King’s University, said the troops appeared to be Chechens fighting in Ukraine’s Sheikh Mansur battalion – a Muslim-majority unit made up mostly of volunteers.

Amid the fighting, Russia continued to bombard civilian areas of the city with missiles – injuring four people in two districts that are about three miles from the frontlines. 

‘The enemy fired on Kyiv again – buildings in Sviatoshynskyi and Shevchenkivskyi districts were damaged,’ city officials said in a statement on Telegram.

‘Rescuers and medics are working on the spot. There are fires in several residences and in high-rise buildings. Four people were injured,’ the statement added.

Volodymyr Okhrimenko, a resident of one of the damaged buildings, told AFP he had narrowly escaped the attack.

‘It was a strike on the roof. I walked out of the house to smoke a cigarette, and when I went back inside it happened. The ceiling collapsed,’ he said, firefighters working around him to put out the blaze.

‘I lost consciousness for a few moments,’ the pensioner said, with a shocked look on his face and a scratch on his forehead.

Western experts and observers have been predicting for days that Putin’s army is now near ‘culmination’ – the point at which stockpiles of ammunition, food and fuel amassed ahead of the invasion will start to run out, forcing them to switch from attacking to defending and making their vulnerable to counter-attacks.

Ukraine’s generals estimated on Tuesday that Moscow’s troops had supplies left for ‘no more than three days’, though it appears resources in some areas have run out faster than that.

The task for Ukraine will now be to stop the war turning into a bloody stalemate fought on its territory, which will inevitably lead to widespread destruction and mounting casualties in a repeat of the situation playing out in the southern city of Mariupol.

Ukrainian troops fighting west of Kyiv

Ukrainian troops are shown fighting Russian forces to the west of Kyiv, where counter-attacks are currently underway around the suburban city of Makariv

Ukrainian troops fighting west of Kyiv

Ukrainian troops fighting west of Kyiv

Fighters believed to be from the Sheikh Mansur battalion, a Muslim-majority unit of Chechens fighting for Ukraine, are shown in battle – believed to be to the west of Kyiv

A soldier raises a Ukrainian flag in the city of Makariv, to the west of Kyiv, which has been recaptured - putting Russian forces in Bucha, Irpin and Borodyanka at risk of getting cut off

A soldier raises a Ukrainian flag in the city of Makariv, to the west of Kyiv, which has been recaptured – putting Russian forces in Bucha, Irpin and Borodyanka at risk of getting cut off

A Ukrainian soldier stands next to a Russian armoured vehicle that was captured during fighting near Makariv, which is now back under Kyiv's control

A Ukrainian soldier stands next to a Russian armoured vehicle that was captured during fighting near Makariv, which is now back under Kyiv’s control

Ukrainian troops inspect a Russian rocket artillery truck that was destroyed in fighting in Makariv, to the west of Kyiv

Ukrainian troops inspect a Russian rocket artillery truck that was destroyed in fighting in Makariv, to the west of Kyiv

A view of a destroyed Russian military vehicle located in fields to the north of Makariv, after it was recaptured by Ukraine

A view of a destroyed Russian military vehicle located in fields to the north of Makariv, after it was recaptured by Ukraine

Counter-attacks are now taking place to the west of Kyiv, around Mykolaiv and Kherson in the south, and towards Izyum in the east as the Pentagon says Ukrainian generals are 'able and willing to re-take territory'

Counter-attacks are now taking place to the west of Kyiv, around Mykolaiv and Kherson in the south, and towards Izyum in the east as the Pentagon says Ukrainian generals are ‘able and willing to re-take territory’

Putin’s men have Mariupol surrounded and have been trying to bomb it into submission for three weeks, but have failed to break the Ukrainian defenders and attempts to capture the city have so-far been repulsed. Humanitarian groups describe the situation on the ground as a hell-scape. 

As Kyiv tries to gain the upper hand in fighting, it has been reaching out to the US and its NATO allies to supply more weapons. Advisers to President Zelensky are now calling for offensive as well as defensive weapons in a clear sign of the shift on the battlefield.  

‘Our armed forces and citizens are holding out with superhuman courage, but we cannot win a war without offensive weapons, without medium-range missiles that can be a means of deterrence,’ adviser Andriy Yermak said during a panel discussion late Tuesday. ‘In our case, deterrence, not aggression,’ he added. 

Yermak said it was ‘impossible’ for Ukraine to effectively defend itself without a reliable ‘air defence system that shoots down enemy and ballistic missiles from a great distance.’

Biden and other NATO leaders have been stepping up military support for Ukraine including anti-tank weapons that have helped to stall Russian forces.

Ukraine’s appeal for greater military support from Western allies has been a key refrain in a spate for recent addresses by President Zelensky to European and Western lawmakers.

Zelensky was due to address Japanese and French lawmakers Wednesday, and a special NATO summit Thursday. The Ukraine leader recently conceded Kyiv was not likely to become a member of the bloc.

‘They don’t want to see us in NATO. This fear of escalation is understandable. But it will not save us,’ Yermak added in his address Tuesday.

With the future of Europe hanging in the balance, President Biden will huddle with key allies in Brussels and Warsaw to try and prevent the conflict from dragging the alliance into the fighting.

Biden embarks Wednesday on a four-day trip that will test his ability to navigate the continent’s worst crisis since World War II. There are fears that Russia could use chemical or nuclear weapons as its invasion becomes bogged down in the face of logistical problems and fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Humanitarian challenges are growing as well. Millions of refugees have fled the fighting, mostly by crossing the border into Poland, and the war has jeopardized Ukraine’s wheat and barley harvests, raising the possibility of rising hunger in impoverished areas around the globe.

Russian troops have been trying to surround Kyiv for weeks, but are now facing Ukrainian counter-attacks after their offensive ran out of steam - with the city of Makariv falling back into Ukrainian hands

Russian troops have been trying to surround Kyiv for weeks, but are now facing Ukrainian counter-attacks after their offensive ran out of steam – with the city of Makariv falling back into Ukrainian hands

Firefighters attempt to put out a blaze at a warehouse in the city of Mykolaiv, southern Ukraine, amid fighting with Russia

Firefighters attempt to put out a blaze at a warehouse in the city of Mykolaiv, southern Ukraine, amid fighting with Russia

Vehicles go up in flames after being set alight during fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces near Mykolaiv

Vehicles go up in flames after being set alight during fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces near Mykolaiv

A firefighter extinguishes a burning house hit by Russian Grad rockets in Kyiv's Shevchenkivsky district on Wednesday

A firefighter extinguishes a burning house hit by Russian Grad rockets in Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky district on Wednesday

Firefighters battle a blaze caused by Russian rocket artillery which landed on the outskirts of Kyiv on Wednesday morning

Firefighters battle a blaze caused by Russian rocket artillery which landed on the outskirts of Kyiv on Wednesday morning

Four people were injured in Russian shelling that hit western neighbourhoods of Kyiv on Wednesday, as fighting continues

Four people were injured in Russian shelling that hit western neighbourhoods of Kyiv on Wednesday, as fighting continues

Ukrainian firefighters assess the damage after Russian shelling on residential areas to the west of Kyiv on Wednesday

Ukrainian firefighters assess the damage after Russian shelling on residential areas to the west of Kyiv on Wednesday

A thick pall of smoke hangs over Kyiv amid heavy fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces on the outskirts of the city

A thick pall of smoke hangs over Kyiv amid heavy fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces on the outskirts of the city

Kyiv is blanketed in smoke early Wednesday amid heavy fighting to the north-west of the city with Russian forces

Kyiv is blanketed in smoke early Wednesday amid heavy fighting to the north-west of the city with Russian forces

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said the president would coordinate with allies on military assistance for Ukraine and new sanctions on Russia. He added that Biden is working on long-term efforts to boost defenses in Eastern Europe, where more countries fear Russian aggression. The president is also aiming to reduce the continent’s reliance on Russian energy.

‘This war will not end easily or rapidly,’ Sullivan told reporters at a White House briefing on Tuesday. ‘For the past few months, the West has been united. The president is traveling to Europe to make sure we stay united.’

Sullivan said Vladimir Putin’s references to nuclear weapons at the beginning of the conflict are ‘something that we do have to be concerned about,’ adding that Biden would be talking with allies about ‘potential responses’ if the Russian leader takes that step.

Sullivan’s description of Biden’s trip was another sign that the crisis is entering a new and uncertain phase.

After the initial invasion failed to topple Ukraine’s government, the war has become a grinding endeavor for Putin, who is relying on airstrikes and artillery that are devastating civilian communities. Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia have not produced a cease-fire or a path to ending the conflict, and the U.S. continues to rush weapons like anti-tank missiles to Ukrainian forces.

The war’s ripple effects are also spreading. Biden warned that Russia could be planning cyberattacks that would affect U.S. companies, and he spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday to warn him against backing Russia with military or financial assistance. Meanwhile, a top State Department official visited India this week shortly after that country decided to purchase more Russian oil.

‘This is one of those decisive moments for an American leader that defines their legacy internationally,’ said Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University.

Biden’s first stop is Brussels, where he’ll attend back-to-back-to-back meetings.

NATO is holding a hastily arranged emergency summit, where Biden is expected to reiterate his support for Article 5 of the alliance’s charter, which commits all members to collective defense if any are attacked.

‘I think the meeting of all heads of state and government in NATO will provide us with yet another platform to demonstrate our unity, our support to Ukraine, but also our readiness to protect and defend all NATO allies,’ NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ on Sunday. ‘And by sending that message, we are preventing an escalation of the conflict to a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia.’

A damaged building is seen in village of Kamiyanske, 18 miles from the city of Zaporizhzhia, after bombing by Russian forces

A damaged building is seen in village of Kamiyanske, 18 miles from the city of Zaporizhzhia, after bombing by Russian forces 

Heavily damaged buildings are seen in Kamiyanske, near Zaporizhzhia, amid fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces

Heavily damaged buildings are seen in Kamiyanske, near Zaporizhzhia, amid fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces

A Ukrainian soldier inspects damage to buildings in Kamiyanske, near Zaporizhzhia, after fighting with Russian troops

A Ukrainian soldier inspects damage to buildings in Kamiyanske, near Zaporizhzhia, after fighting with Russian troops

A woman clasps her hands in pain after seeing the damage fighting has caused to her home in Kamiyanske, near Zaporizhzhia

A woman clasps her hands in pain after seeing the damage fighting has caused to her home in Kamiyanske, near Zaporizhzhia

Biden will also participate in meetings of the European Union and the Group of Seven, which includes the world’s richest democracies.

He’ll then travel to Warsaw on Friday to meet Polish officials to discuss the enormous humanitarian strain caused by the Ukrainian refugee crisis. Biden is scheduled to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda on Saturday.

Duda, whose country suffered a brutal Nazi occupation during World War II, compared Russian actions in Ukraine to Adolf Hitler’s infamous SS forces. Visiting Bulgaria on Tuesday, Duda said Putin’s army ‘is behaving in exactly the same way.’ He said he hoped that those responsible for attacks on civilians would be brought before international courts.

Polish leaders have pressed for a Western peacekeeping mission to intervene in Ukraine, a step that the U.S. and other Western allies worry could lead to a broadening of the war. The Polish leadership also wants an increased military presence along NATO’s eastern flank.

Sullivan said Biden’s trip to Poland is an important opportunity to ‘meet with a frontline and very vulnerable ally.’ Poland is also host to a growing number of U.S. troops, and Sullivan suggested Biden may visit them as well.

Last week, at NATO’s Brussels headquarters, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his counterparts weighed what defenses to set up on the organization’s eastern flank, from Estonia in the north through Latvia, Lithuania and Poland down to Bulgaria and Romania on the Black Sea.

The aim is to deter Putin from ordering an invasion of any of the 30 allies, not just for the duration of the war in Ukraine but into the future.

Putin has demanded that NATO withdraw its forces on its eastern flank and stop expanding.

Sullivan said that Biden, during his talks in Europe, ‘will work with allies on longer-term adjustments to NATO force posture.’

Biden’s visit to Poland follows on Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Warsaw and Bucharest earlier this month. While Harris was in Poland, Duda called on the Biden administration to expedite visa procedures for Ukrainians who have family living in the United States so that they could resettle in the U.S. at least temporarily. 

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