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UKR | Jun 18, 2023

Russia reports fierce fighting as African peace mission leaves empty-handed

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Ukrainian service members are seen on their position at a front line, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine June 18, 2023. (Photo: REUTERS/Anna Kudriavtseva)


Russia reported fierce fighting on Sunday (June 18) on three sections of the front line in Ukraine, a day after hosting an African peace mission that failed to spark enthusiasm from either Moscow or Kyiv.

A Russian-installed official said Ukraine had recaptured Piatykhatky, a village in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, and were entrenching themselves there while coming under fire from Russian artillery.

“The enemy’s ‘wave-like’ offensives yielded results, despite enormous losses,” the official, Vladimir Rogov, said on the Telegram messaging app.

Russia’s defence ministry made no mention of Piatykhatky in its daily update, in which it said its forces had repelled Ukrainian attacks in three sections of the 1,000-kilometre (600-mile) front line. A separate statement from Russia’s Vostok group of forces said Ukraine had failed to take the settlement.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.

There was no comment from Ukraine, which last week said it had recaptured another nearby settlement, Lobkove, and a string of villages further east, in Donetsk region, at the start of its long-awaited counteroffensive.

Ukrainian officials have imposed an information blackout to help operational security, but say that Russia has suffered much greater losses than Ukraine has during its new assault.

A regional official said Ukrainian forces had destroyed a major Russian ammunition dump in occupied Kherson region, part of a weeks-long effort by Kyiv to wreak havoc with Russian supply lines.

British defence intelligence said heavy fighting in recent days had been focused on Zaporizhzhia, western Donetsk and around Bakhmut, which Russian mercenaries captured last month after the longest battle of the war.

“In all these areas, Ukraine continues to pursue offensive operations and has made small advances,” it said on Twitter.

A Ukrainian national flag is seen installed on a house of culture in the newly liberated village of Blahodatne, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, near the front line in Donetsk Region, Ukraine June 17, 2023. (Photo: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Serhii Nuzhnenko via REUTERS)
Ukrainian service members check a destroyed Russian a BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, near the front line in the newly liberated village Storozheve in Donetsk region, Ukraine June 14, 2023. (Photo: REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak)

Russian defence operations had been “relatively effective in the south”, with both sides suffering heavy casualties, the assessment said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who rarely comments on the course of the war, made two unusually detailed interventions last week in which he derided the Ukrainian push and said Kyiv’s forces had “no chance” despite being newly equipped with Western tanks.

His comments appeared intended to reassure Russians at a crucial juncture, nearly 16 months into the conflict, as Ukraine seeks to break months of virtual stalemate and take back the 18 per cent of its territory that remains under Russian control.

Peace mission

At talks in St Petersburg on Saturday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa presented Putin with a 10-point peace initiative from seven African countries and told him the time had come for Russia and Ukraine to start negotiations to end the war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa attend a meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 17, 2023. (Photo: Ramil Sitdikov/Host photo agency RIA Novosti via REUTERS)

Putin responded by rattling off a string of familiar accusations denied by Ukraine and the West and saying it was Kyiv, not Moscow, that was refusing to talk. He thanked Ramaphosa for his “noble mission”.

Russian news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying Putin had shown interest in the plan but it would be “difficult to realise”.

In Kyiv the previous day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had told the African delegation – the first since the start of the war to hold separate face-to-face talks with both leaders on their peace initiative – that allowing negotiations now would just “freeze the war” and the suffering of the Ukrainian people.

The vast gulf between the two sides was further underlined when Putin used a flagship economic forum on Friday to slur Zelenskiy personally and to restate the objectives of “demilitarising” and “denazifying” Ukraine that he set out on day one of the war, and which Kyiv and the West reject as a false pretext for invasion.

However, Ramaphosa sought to cast the trip to Ukraine and Russia in a positive light, tweeting on Sunday that the “Africa Peace Initiative has been impactful and its ultimate success will be measured on the objective, which is stopping the war”.

He said the Africans would keep talking to both Putin and Zelenskiy and would brief UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on their efforts so far.

Months of destruction

The war has destroyed Ukrainian towns and cities, forced millions of people to flee their homes and taken heavy but undisclosed casualties among both armies, as well as killing thousands of Ukrainian civilians.

Aerial view shows destroyed buildings as a result of intense fighting, amid the Russian invasion, in Bakhmut, Ukraine in this still image from handout video released June 15, 2023. (Photo: 93rd Kholodnyi Yar Brigade/Handout via REUTERS)

Each side accused the other of blowing up a huge Ukrainian dam on June 6 and flooding large tracts of the war zone.

In the Russian-controlled town of Hola Prystan, Reuters filmed volunteers pumping out water from flooded homes on Saturday and distributing bread and drinking water.

“Not one person in the world will be punished for this torture we’re going through, for this terrible catastrophe,” said Tamara, a 78-year-old retired nurse.

“That’s what frustrates me. That no one will be punished for that. And I’d like it if at least one person was put (on trial) and punished for everything. So the whole world could see.”


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