Russia on Thursday withdrew its troops from a strategically located Black Sea island where they had suffered relentless Ukrainian attacks, but continued to encircle the last stronghold of the Ukrainian resistance in the eastern province of Luhansk.
The Russian defense ministry said it has withdrawn its troops from the island of Zmiyinyy (Slang) off Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa, in what it described as a “goodwill gesture”. The Ukrainian army said the Russians fled the island in two speedboats after a barrage of Ukrainian artillery and missile strikes.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov insisted the withdrawal was intended to demonstrate that “the Russian Federation did not impede the efforts of the United Nations to establish a humanitarian corridor for the taking of agricultural products from the territory of Ukraine”.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of blocking Ukrainian ports to prevent grain exports, contributing to the global food crisis. Russia has denied the allegations, denouncing that Ukraine needs to remove naval mines from the Black Sea to allow safe navigation.
Turkey has tried to strike a deal on unblocking grain exports from Ukraine, but talks dragged on without any sign of rapid progress, with Kiev expressing concern that Russia could use the deal to launch an attack on Odessa .
Response from Andriy Yermak, Presidential Adviser to Ukraine:
Russia took control of the island, which lies on a busy shipping route in the early days of the war, in the apparent hopes of using it to control the area and use it as a launching pad for an attack on Odessa.
The island came to embody Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion, when Ukrainian troops there received a request from a Russian warship to surrender or be bombed. ‘Russian warship,’ came the reply, ‘take flight yourself.’
The Ukrainian defenders of the island were captured by the Russians, but later released as part of a prisoner swap.
Since the island was taken, the Ukrainian army has relentlessly bombed a small Russian garrison and air defenses stationed there.
Russia targeting Lysychansk
In eastern Ukraine, Moscow continued to push on Thursday to take control of the entire Donbas region. It is centered on the city of Lysychansk, the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in Luhansk province. Russian forces and their separatist allies control 95 percent of Luhansk and about half of Donetsk, the two provinces that make up largely Russian-speaking Donbas.
The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces fired on Lysychansk and clashed with Ukrainian defenders around an oil refinery on the outskirts of the city.
VIEW | Putin critics continue to push for change outside of Russia:
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said Russian reconnaissance units tried to enter Lysychansk on Wednesday but were repelled by Ukrainian forces. He said the Russians were trying to block a highway used to deliver supplies and completely surround the city.
“The Russians have practically deployed all their troops to capture the city,” Haidai said.
During a visit to Turkmenistan early Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his goals in Ukraine have not changed since the start of the war. He said they were “the liberation of the Donbas, the protection of these people and the creation of conditions that would guarantee the security of Russia itself.”
He denied that Russia had changed its strategy after failing to take Kiev early in the conflict.
“As you can see, the troops are moving and reaching the points set for them for a certain phase of this combat work. Everything is going according to plan,” Putin said at a news conference in Turkmenistan.
Funerals begin for victims of rocket attacks in shopping center
Funerals are set to be held in central Ukraine on Thursday for some of the 18 people killed by Monday’s Russian rocket attack on a busy shopping center in Kremenchuk. Crews continued to search the rubble for another 20 people who are still missing.
Ukrainian emergency services press officer Svitlana Rybalko told The Associated Press that, in addition to the 18 bodies, investigators also found fragments of eight more bodies. Whether that meant more casualties was not immediately clear. A number of survivors suffered severed limbs.
The current17:41Eyewitness account of Russian attack on crowded Ukrainian shopping center
In southern Ukraine, the death toll from Wednesday’s Russian rocket attack on an apartment building in Mykolaiv has risen to six, according to Governor Vitaliy Kim. Another six people were injured. Mykolaiv is an important port and capturing it – as well as Odessa further west – would be key to Russia’s goal of sealing Ukraine off the Black Sea coast.
After the attack on the mall, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of becoming a “terrorist” state. On Wednesday, he blamed NATO for not equipping his embattled country more fully with modern artillery systems and other weapons, and warned NATO leaders to either provide Ukraine with the aid it needed to defeat Russia or to “delay a war.” between Russia and you.” †
In an interview with CBC News earlier this week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledged that the level of Western military aid was “not sufficient”.
President Emmanuel Macron told the NATO summit in Spain on Thursday that France would soon provide six more CESAR howitzers to aid Ukraine, while US President Joe Biden said Washington will announce $800 million in additional arms aid to Ukraine in the coming days.
“We will support Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Biden said.
Canada is finalizing a deal to supply Ukraine with 39 armored combat support vehicles (ACSVs), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in Madrid on Thursday.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, along with a group of other world leaders invited to the summit, reaffirmed the country’s support for NATO, but argued on Wednesday that “we will not allow the legacy of the war in Ukraine to arms race”.