Ukrainian forces may soon force Russian troops out of artillery range of Kharkiv, according to an assessment that says the fight in the Donbass region is entering a decisive phase.
U.S. think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Friday that over the previous 24 hours, Ukrainian forces had captured several settlements north east of Ukraine’s second largest city in an operation which has developed into a “successful, broader counteroffensive.”
It said that Ukrainian forces are “notably retaking territory along a broad arc around Kharkiv rather than focusing on a narrow thrust” and this showed they were able to launch larger-scale offensive operations than they have been previously able to.
Ukraine’s forces “may successfully push Russian forces out of artillery range of Kharkiv in the coming days,” the ISW said, adding they may be able to “relieve Russian pressure on Kharkiv and possibly threaten to make further advances to the Russian border.”
It comes as the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said Russian forces have started to blow up bridges to slow a Ukrainian offensive in the the area of Tsyrkuny and Rusky Tyshky east of Kharkiv.
“Russian occupiers blew up three road bridges in order to slow down the counter-offensive actions of the Defense Forces of Ukraine,” Ukraine’s military said in its update on Facebook, although this has not been independently verified. Newsweek has contacted the Russian defense ministry for comment.
Meanwhile, in its daily update, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said that the war was “taking a heavy toll on some of Russia’s most capable units and most advanced capabilities.” It referred to the destruction this week by Kyiv’s forces of at least one T-90M, which is Russia’s most advanced tank.
“It will take considerable time and expense for Russia to reconstitute its armed forces following this conflict,” British defense officials said, referring to sanctions which will hamper Russia’s access to microelectronic components.
Meanwhile, rescuers were looking to evacuate more civilians from Mariupol’s Azovstal plant where dozens of people, including children, remain trapped underground.
Russian officials and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the evacuation efforts would continue into the weekend, the Associated Press reported. Several dozen people were handed over to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday.
The fate of hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers trapped at the steelworks is unknown. Russia has repeatedly said that they can only leave if they lay down their arms.
Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky described the Russian military’s conduct in Mariupol as “inhuman.”
In a live streamed address to the Chatham House think tank in London on Friday, he said that if Russia kills civilians that could be exchanged as prisoners of war, “I don’t think we can have any diplomatic talks with them after that.”