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Russia keeps up frontline pressure before Ukraine receives Western aid boost

(Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)
(Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

Relentless Russian attacks on Ukrainian positions defending the strategically important eastern city of Chasiv Yar are disrupting troop rotations and the delivery of some supplies, soldiers in the area have said.

The Kremlin’s army is seeking to press its advantages in troop numbers and weaponry before Ukrainian forces are bulked up by promised new Western military aid that is already trickling in to the front line, analysts said.

It has been hitting civilian targets just as hard, using powerful glide bombs that obliterate buildings and leave huge craters. Its months-long campaign to cripple Ukraine’s electricity supply aims to sap public morale and deny energy to Ukraine’s burgeoning arms industry.

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Russian soldiers fire the 152mm howitzer ‘Msta-B’ in an undisclosed location in Ukraine (Russian Defence Ministry Press Service/AP)

Attacks on such civilian targets brought arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court on Tuesday for former Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu and military Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov for alleged war crimes.

Judges said there is evidence they “intentionally caused great suffering or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health” of Ukrainian civilians.

For Ukrainian soldiers defending the eastern Donetsk region, the Russian ground assaults and aerial barrages allow little respite after more than two years of war.

“We work, you could say, without rest,” said a platoon commander who, in line with his brigade’s rules, identified himself only by his first name, Oleksandr.

“So no two days are alike. You always need to be ready to work day and night,” he told the Associated Press on Monday.

His platoon is part of Ukraine’s 43rd Artillery Brigade. It rushes to positions and without delay fires a Soviet-era Pion self-propelled howitzer at Russian positions before it can be targeted itself.

Holding Chasiv Yar is crucial. The town, highly sought-after due to its strategic location and elevated position but now largely in ruins, lies to the west of neighbouring Bakhmut, which was captured by Russia last year after a 10-month battle.

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Ukrainian soldiers from the 43rd artillery brigade ride on a 2s7 self-propelled howitzer before firing towards Russian positions at the front line in the Donetsk region (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

Ukraine is racing to stabilise parts of the 620-mile (1,000km) front line after badly needed military assistance was approved by the United States in April. A six-month delay in US aid threw Ukraine’s military on to the defensive.

Members of the artillery brigade in Chasiv Yar reported that supplies of American ammunition have now started to arrive.

The US is expected to announce on Tuesday that it is sending an additional 150 million dollars (£118.4 million) in critically needed munitions to Ukraine, and Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said the first shipment of ammunition under a Czech initiative has been delivered to Ukraine.

The Czechs are looking to acquire from countries outside the European Union at least 800,000 artillery shells that Ukraine badly needs. The war has drained stockpiles in Europe, the United States and Russia.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said it will take time for the effects of the new Western weaponry to be felt on the front line.

Meanwhile, it said, “Russian forces are attempting to make tactically and operationally significant gains” before it arrives.

Elsewhere, the Kremlin’s forces kept up their barrages of civilian infrastructure with three aerial strikes in the north-eastern Kharkiv region on Tuesday, local officials said. Nobody was injured.

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An apartment building in Kharkiv damaged by a Russian air strike on Saturday which killed at least three people and injured 23 others (Ukrainian Emergency Service/AP)

Russia has pounded Kharkiv in recent months, apparently to draw some Ukrainian forces away from the defence of Donetsk while trying to create a buffer zone to prevent cross-border Ukrainian attacks.

Russian launched 42 glide bombs against the Kharkiv region in the previous 24 hours, authorities said on Tuesday.

In other developments, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Moscow has responded to the EU’s decision to suspend the broadcasting activities of Russia’s Voice of Europe, RIA Novosti, Izvestia and Rossiyskaya Gazeta by banning the broadcasts of 81 European media outlets.

“The Russian side has repeatedly warned that politically motivated repressions against Russian journalists and unfounded bans of the Russian media in the EU won’t go unanswered,” the ministry said in a statement.

Late on Tuesday, the Russian Defence Ministry and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that each side had released 90 war prisoners to the other.

The exchange was mediated by the United Arab Emirates, they said.

Separately, US defence secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by phone on Tuesday with Russian minister of defence Andrei Belousov.

Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder said Mr Austin emphasised the importance of maintaining lines of communication amid Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine.

The last time Mr Austin, who initiated the call, spoke to his Russian counterpart was with then-minister Sergei Shoigu on March 15 2023.