Ukraine’s armed forces have launched a counter-offensive on the Russian-held city of Izyum in what could prove to be a major turning point in the battle for the country’s east.
Izyum is one of the largest cities in the Kharkiv oblast and sits less than 15 miles from the regional border with Donetsk – part of the infamous Donbas region which Russian President Vladimir Putin is hell bent on seizing.
Liberating the city from Russian occupation would provide Ukrainian forces with a key strategic position on the Donets river from which to launch further counter-offensives to drive Putin’s forces back into the Donbas.
The counter-attack in Izyum comes just one day after the general staff of the armed forces of Ukraine announced they had successfully repelled Russian forces from the second city Kharkiv, a mere 40 miles from the Russian border.
But a Ukrainian military spokesperson admitted that Russian units had advanced elsewhere, gaining ground in a number of smaller cities and towns along the eastern front.
‘Despite losses, Russian forces continue to advance in the Lyman, Sievierodonetsk, Avdiivka and Kurakhiv areas in the broader Donbas region,’ the Sunday morning update read.
It comes as a top NATO official declared Russia’s military offensive in the Donbas was ‘faltering’ and the British Ministry of Defence suggested that roughly a third of Putin’s ground forces had been lost in bloody fighting.
Ukraine’s armed forces have launched a counter-offensive on the Russian-held city of Izyum in what could prove to be a major turning point in the battle for the country’s east (Ukrainian soldiers stand in front of a damaged armoured vehicle between Kharkiv and Izyum)
Destroyed houses are pictured in Vilhivka village, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, near Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 11, 2022
The counter-attack in Izyum comes just one day after the general staff of the armed forces of Ukraine announced they had successfully repelled Russian forces from the second city Kharkiv, a mere 25 miles from the Russian border (Russian tank destroyed in a village on the outskirts of Kharkiv)
A Ukrainian military spokesperson admitted that Russian units had advanced elsewhere, gaining ground in a number of smaller cities and towns along the eastern front (Tetyana Pochivalova reacts outside her destroyed house in Vilhivka village, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, near Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 11, 2022)
Kharkiv oblast region governor Oleg Synegubov confirmed the reports on his Telegram channel, writing: ‘The hottest spot remains in the direction of Izyum.
‘Our armed forces have switched to a counteroffensive there. The enemy is retreating on some fronts and this is the result of the character of our armed forces.’
Ukraine’s military reported destroying eight Russian tanks, five artillery systems, along with other armoured vehicles, and drones in fighting across the Donbas over the previous day.
Russian’s defence ministry meanwhile reported its forces had destroyed six command posts of Ukrainian troops and 13 artillery batteries during yesterday’s conflict, killing up to 150 Ukrainian fighters.
Neither set of figures could be verified.
Meanwhile, a senior NATO official said Russia’s military advance in Ukraine appears to be faltering and expressed hope that Kyiv can win the war.
‘The brutal invasion (by) Russia is losing momentum,’ NATO Deputy-Secretary General Mircea Geoana told reporters ahead of a meeting of diplomats in Berlin on Sunday to discuss providing further support to Ukraine and moves by Finland, Sweden and others to join the security bloc.
‘We know that with the bravery of the Ukrainian people and army, and with our help, Ukraine can win this war,’ he said.
Geoana, who was preparing to chair the meeting while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recovers from a Covid-19 infection, said Ukraine’s supporters were ‘united, we are strong, will continue to help Ukraine in winning this war.’
The official’s assessment of Russia’s struggle in the east of Ukraine supported a statement given by the MoD this morning which said intelligence suggested Russia had lost up to a third of its ground forces since the invasion began on February 24.
‘Despite small-scale initial advances, Russia has failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the past month whilst sustaining consistently high levels of attrition,’ the MoD said in an intelligence update.
‘Russia has now likely suffered losses of one third of the ground combat force it committed in February.’
It also said Russia was unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days, pointing to ‘continued low morale and reduced combat effectiveness’ as two of the key problems hamstringing Putin’s push for the Donbas.
A Ukrainian serviceman patrols during a reconnaissance mission in a recently retaken village on the outskirts of Kharkiv, east Ukraine, Saturday, May 14, 2022
‘The brutal invasion (by) Russia is losing momentum,’ NATO Deputy-Secretary General Mircea Geoana told reporters this morning as he arrived for an informal meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Foreign Ministers’ session in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, May 15, 2022
‘Despite small-scale initial advances, Russia has failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the past month whilst sustaining consistently high levels of attrition,’ the MoD said in an intelligence update this morning
Elsewhere, the Ukrainian military said there was no let-up on Sunday in Russia’s bombardment of the steel works in the southern port of Mariupol, where a few hundred Ukrainian fighters are holding out weeks after the city fell into Russian hands.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said talks seeking a way to evacuate wounded soldiers from Mariupol in return for the release of Russian prisoners of war were underway.
A large convoy of cars and vans carrying refugees from the ruins of Mariupol arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia after nightfall on Saturday after waiting days for Russian troops to allow them to leave.
Such convoys have continued to evacuate the city this weekend, despite the continuous Russian bombardment of Azovstal.
But Ukraine this morning accused Russian forces of dropping phosphorus bombs on the Azovstal steel plant, as the families of the fighters trapped in the sprawling complex said they fear their fight is coming to an end.
An aerial video posted to social media on Sunday showed the attack on the plant, where Ukrainian soldiers have been making a final stand against the Russian onslaught on the port city that has been all-but reduced to rubble.
The footage begins with an aerial view of the vast Azovstal plant, when suddenly a Russian missile detonates in mid-air – releasing a fiery burst over the already heavily damaged factory buildings below.
Sparks – which are actually a grouping of incendiary munitions – fall to the ground and ignite. From a distance, the explosions look almost like fire crackers, but in reality are a series of countless detonations.
Pictured: Russian Incendiary munitions fall over the vast Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, in a terrifying video posted to social media on Sunday showing the scale of the damage that has been done to the vast coastal complex
Pictured: A view of Russia army shelling to storm the territory of the besieged Azovstal plant in Southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on May 14, 2022
A view of a large convoy of vehicles carrying evacuees, which was allowed to leave the port city of Mariupol besieged by Russian forces in Ukraine on May 15, 2022
Large civilian convoys have continued to evacuate the city this weekend, despite the continuous Russian bombardment of Azovstal
As the camera pans out, more bursts of munitions are seen erupting over the plant, raining flaming explosives down from above.
The attack is unrelenting, with hundreds of the sparks landing on the roofs and grounds of the steel works and setting them alight.
Ukrainians claimed the video showed Vladimir Putin’s forces dropping 9M22S incendiary and phosphorus bombs on Azovstal, that an official said burn at temperatures of over 2,000 degrees Celsius.
‘The Russian military themselves claim that 9M22S incendiary shells with thermite layers were used,’ said the Ukrainians.
‘The combustion temperature is about 2,000 to 2,500 degrees Celsius. It is almost impossible to stop the burning,’ Petr Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, said on Sunday.
The early hours of the morning also saw a rare attack on the western Ukrainian city of Lviv just 40 miles from the Polish border.
A Russian missile strike targeted a Ukrainian military facility in the Yavoriv region of Lviv, the region’s Governor Maxim Kozitsky said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.
‘Four enemy missiles hit one of the military infrastructures in the Lviv region,’ Kozitsky said.
‘The object was completely destroyed. According to preliminary information, there are no casualties. No one sought medical help.’
The regional ‘West’ Air Command of Ukraine’s Air Force also said in a social media post that several missiles were fired from the Black Sea at the Lviv region, but did not provide any updates as to their impact.