Russia’s Defense Ministry announced early Monday that its forces had thwarted a major Ukrainian attack in the eastern province of Donetsk, though it is unclear whether this was the start of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
The ministry, in a rare morning video, said its forces repelled a “large-scale” Ukrainian assault on Sunday at five points in southern Donetsk, one of four Ukrainian regions Russia illegally annexed last fall.
“The enemy’s goal was to break through our defenses in the most vulnerable, in their opinion, sector of the front,” ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said. “The enemy did not achieve his tasks. He did not succeed ”.
Konashenkov said that 250 Ukrainian personnel were killed and 16 Ukrainian tanks, three infantry fighting vehicles and 21 armored fighting vehicles were destroyed.
Ukraine had no comment and often waits until the completion of its military operations to confirm its actions, imposing news blackouts in the meantime. It was not clear why the Russian Defense Ministry waited until Monday morning to announce the attack, which it said began on Sunday morning.
For months, Ukrainian officials have talked about plans to launch a spring counteroffensive to retake territory Russia has held since it invaded on February 24, 2022, as well as the Crimean peninsula it seized in 2014. But they have signaled Confused about what would constitute a counteroffensive: limited preliminary strikes to weaken Russian forces and military installations or a full-blown simultaneous assault along the entire 1,100-kilometre (684-mile) front line. At least two factors have been at play at the time of the counter-offensive: waiting for the improvement of ground conditions for the movement of troops and equipment after the winter, and the deployment of more advanced Western weapons and the training of Ukrainian troops to use them.
The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said Ukraine used six mechanized and two tank battalions in the attack, posting a video claiming to show the destruction of some of the equipment in a field.
In a rare specific mention of the presence of Russia’s top military leaders in battlefield operations, the spokesman said that the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, General Valery Gerasimov, “was in one of the forward command posts.
Announcing Gerasimov’s direct involvement could be a response to criticism from some Russian military bloggers and the head of a mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, that Russia’s top military commanders have not been sufficiently visible on the front lines and taken sufficient control or responsibility for your country’s military operations in Ukraine.
Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukrainian authorities said Sunday that a Ukrainian man ran home on the outskirts of the central city of Dnipro in hopes of rescuing his family, only to find his 2-year-old daughter dead. and his wife badly injured while helping to get them out. the rubble of his apartment destroyed in one of the last air raids of the Russian war.
Writing on Telegram after the body of the girl, Liza, was recovered, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that at least 500 Ukrainian children have been killed in the war. The United Nations says around 1,000 Ukrainian children have been injured and thousands more have been forcibly deported to Russia.
Zelenskyy said: “Russian weapons and hatred continue to take and destroy the lives of Ukrainian children every day,” adding that “many of them could have become famous scholars, artists and sports champions, contributing to Ukrainian history.” “.
“We must endure and win this war!” he said. “All of Ukraine, all of our people, all of our children, must be free from Russian terror!”
Liza was killed when a Russian missile struck a courtyard next to her apartment building Saturday night while she was at home with her mother, said Serhiy Lysak, the Dnipropetrovsk regional governor. The girl’s father ran home from work.
“The father was on duty and, I was told, he personally cleared up the debris and got his wife and daughter out. Imagine the magnitude of this tragedy,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, reporting on the rescue that lasted until early Sunday morning. The girl’s mother was hospitalized in intensive care.
Zelenskyy said five children were among the 25 people injured in Saturday’s attack, which damaged two residential buildings.
The mother of one of the children sat among broken concrete, twisted metal, toys and children’s clothing near her apartment building and described what happened.
“I was running from the power station through traffic,” recalled Alyona Serednyak. “I was running home. My son was home alone. We tried to get my son out from under the cage at the window.”
He said they managed to free him and he was hospitalized.
Russian cruise missile and drone strikes on Sunday targeted multiple areas of the country, including the capital kyiv.
The Ukrainian air force updated earlier figures and said air defenses shot down six of eight Shahed self-exploding drones and fired four of six cruise missiles.
Ukrainian air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said two missiles hit a military airbase at Kropyvnytskyi in Kyrovohrad province in central Ukraine. Reported no damage.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the military destroyed Ukrainian warplanes and ammunition depots in attacks on Ukrainian airfields, but gave no further details.
The Russian military has reported attacks in recent days against air defense batteries, air bases, troop and ammunition depots, military production factories and battlefield positions in Ukraine. While Ukrainian officials are refraining from announcing the launch of their long-awaited counter-offensive to retake more Russian-occupied territory, the pace of military activity suggests the operation may be underway.
Ukrainian forces kept up the pressure on Russian forces in the eastern city of Bakhmut, which Moscow reclaimed control of last month after the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.
Elsewhere, Russians fighting alongside Ukrainian forces said they had launched new attacks in Russia’s Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine. One of the groups, the Russian Volunteer Corps, posted videos on Sunday showing an alleged raid and offering to exchange prisoners with Russian authorities. The Associated Press was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the videos.
Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov responded to the prisoner exchange offer in a video of his own, saying he was skeptical that the captives were still alive, but was open to a meeting to discuss an exchange. The Russian Volunteer Corps said in a video released later that no meeting had taken place and that the Russian prisoners would be handed over to Ukrainian forces, which have regularly exchanged prisoners with Russia in one of the few areas of cooperation.
Gladkov also reported more Ukrainian shelling on the border district of Shebekino and neighboring areas on Sunday. He said at least two people were killed and several people injured on Saturday. Russia’s Defense Ministry said Russian forces repelled an attempted raid on the town of Novaya Tavolzhanka.
Some observers see the attacks in Belgorod, which prompted Russian authorities to evacuate thousands of residents, as part of Ukraine’s efforts to distract Moscow and stretch its forces to help the counteroffensive succeed.
In Crimea, regional leader Sergei Aksenov reported an attack by Ukrainian drones on the town of Dzhankoi early Sunday. He claimed that five of the attacking drones were shot down and another four stuck and forced to land, adding that there were no casualties.
Andrew Katell contributed to this report from New York.
Follow AP coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine