Ukraine’s military has announced that it has breached Russia’s first line of defence in the south-eastern Zaporizhzhia region, as part of its counter-offensive against the Russian invasion that began in February 2022. The breakthrough came after months of intense fighting and mine-clearing operations that have cost hundreds of lives on both sides.
According to the commander of Ukraine’s land forces, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, Ukrainian troops have managed to operate armoured vehicles beyond Russian anti-tank defences in a key stretch of the front line near the villages of Robotyne and Verbove. This is an “important sign of progress” in the Ukrainian counter-offensive, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a US-based think tank.
The ISW said that Ukraine’s goal is to cut off Russia’s supply lines that connect the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don to Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014. If Ukraine can sever this main supply route, then Russia will find it all but impossible to maintain its huge garrison in Crimea, which has been under a de facto blockade by Ukraine and its allies.
Russia launches massive missile attacks across Ukraine
As Ukraine advances on the ground, Russia has intensified its aerial and naval bombardment of Ukrainian targets, launching more than 40 missiles and dozens of drones in the past 24 hours. The attacks have hit at least six cities across Ukraine, from east to west, killing and injuring civilians and damaging infrastructure.
The worst-hit city was Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, where at least seven people were wounded and several buildings were set on fire by Russian missiles. One of the missiles hit a hotel near the city centre, causing panic among the guests and staff. Another missile struck a residential area in the Darnytskyi district, shattering windows and leaving a large crater.
Other cities that were targeted by Russia include Kharkiv, Cherkasy, Kostyantynivka, Kherson and Mariupol. In Kostyantynivka, a street market was hit by a missile during daytime, killing at least 16 people and injuring dozens more. The attack was condemned by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “terrorist act” and a “war crime”.
Ukraine’s air defence forces have claimed to shoot down most of the Russian missiles and drones, but some have managed to evade their radar and interceptors. Russia has denied targeting civilians and said it only hit military installations with precision-guided weapons.
Zelenskyy seeks more support from US and EU
Amid the escalating violence, President Zelenskyy has travelled to Washington DC to seek more support from the US and its allies. He met with President Joe Biden at the White House and addressed the US Congress, where he received a standing ovation.
Zelenskyy thanked the US for its “unwavering” support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and urged Congress to approve a $24 billion aid package for his country, which includes military and humanitarian assistance. He also asked for more air defence systems and weapons to counter Russia’s aggression.
“Ukraine needs more than words. We need action,” he said. “We need a clear signal to Russia: if you cross this line, you will pay a high price.”
Biden assured Zelenskyy that the US stands with Ukraine and will continue to provide it with security assistance. He also announced a new military aid package worth $325 million, which includes air defence munitions, cluster bombs and artillery ammunition. He said the first US Abrams tanks will arrive in Ukraine next week.
Zelenskyy also met with other US officials and lawmakers, as well as representatives from NATO and the European Union. He called for more sanctions on Russia and its allies, as well as more diplomatic pressure to end the war.
However, Zelenskyy also faced some challenges during his visit, as some Republican senators threatened to block Biden’s aid request for Ukraine over domestic political issues. He also faced criticism from Poland, one of Ukraine’s closest allies in Europe, which announced that it will stop supplying weapons to Ukraine over a trade dispute involving agricultural products.
The war in numbers
The war between Ukraine and Russia has entered its 576th day, making it one of the longest conflicts in Europe since World War II. Here are some key numbers:
- More than 13,000 people have been killed since the war began, according to the UN.
- More than 1.5 million people have been displaced within Ukraine, and another 1 million have fled to neighbouring countries.
- More than 600 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since June 2023, when Ukraine launched its counter-offensive.
- More than 2,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since February 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, according to Ukrainian estimates.
- More than 100,000 Russian troops are deployed in and around Ukraine, including in Crimea and Donbas, according to NATO.
- More than 200,000 Ukrainian troops are mobilized to defend their country, according to Ukraine’s defence ministry.
- More than $50 billion has been spent by both sides on the war, according to various sources.