Ukraine’s situation at the front is getting tougher, Zelenskyy says
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday (4 February) that the situation on the front lines in the east of the country was getting tougher and Russia was throwing more and more troops into battle.
The Kremlin has been pushing for a significant battlefield victory after months of setbacks, with Russian forces trying to close grip on the town of Bakhmut and fighting for control of a nearby major supply route for Ukrainian forces.
Russian troops are also trying to capture the coal mining city of Vuhledar, some 120 kilometres southwest of Bakhmut, also in the eastern region of Donetsk.
“I’ve often had to say the situation at the front is tough, and is getting tougher, and it’s that time again. … The invader is putting more and more of his forces into breaking down our defences,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.
“It is very difficult now in Bakhmut, Vuhledar, Lyman and other directions,” he continued.
Earlier in the day, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar wrote on Telegram that Russian efforts to break the defences in Bakhmut and Lyman had failed.
Lyman, which lies just to the north of Bakhmut, was liberated by Ukrainian forces in October.
On Friday, Zelenskyy vowed that his forces will fight for Bakhmut “for as long as we can,” but the situation there is becoming increasingly dire for Ukrainian forces.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces has been reporting daily numerous combat clashes in the area and Moscow military bloggers have claimed a number of unverified Russian successes along the frontline.
The fighting around Bakhmut has been costly for Russia in terms of soldiers’ lives, the Kremlin admitted.
Russia’s independent news outlet Meduza reported in late January that some 40,000 of the 50,000 recruits by the powerful Wagner private military group involved in the campaign there were either dead or missing.
Reuters was not able to independently verify the reports.
Ukrainian military analyst Petro Chernyk said that the high Russian casualty count means Moscow cannot take a break to stop an offensive there to recover as it would ease combat pressure.
“And this would be an excellent condition for our counteroffensive actions,” Chernyk told the 24 Kanal Ukrainian television.
France, Italy and the United States on Friday all promised fresh deliveries of weapons to Ukraine.
Canada on Saturday shipped the first of four promised Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Defence Minister Anita Anand said on Twitter.
Germany’s leader said in an interview there was agreement that weapons supplied by the West would not be used to attack Russian territory.
“There is a consensus on this point,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the weekly Bild am Sonntag.
Kyiv, while expressing its gratitude for the pledged weapons, is already pressing for more, including fighter jets.
Officials in Kyiv said Saturday that the bodies of the two Britons killed while trying to help people evacuate from the eastern warzone had been recovered in a prisoner swap.
Chris Parry, 28, and Andrew Bagshaw, 47, were undertaking voluntary work in Soledar, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, when their vehicle was reportedly hit by a shell.
Their bodies were returned to Ukraine authorities as part of a wider exchange, in which Kyiv got 116 prisoners and Russia 63.
“We managed to return the bodies of the dead foreign volunteers,” said Zelenskyy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak, naming them as the two British men.
Concern had grown about their fates after the head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, which helped capture Soledar from Ukrainian forces, said on 11 January that one of the missing men’s bodies had been found there.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin had also published online photographs of passports that appeared to belong to Parry and Bagshaw, which he claimed were found with the corpses.
On Friday, news emerged of the death of an American medic killed in Bakhmut when his evacuation vehicle was hit by a missile.
Global Outreach Doctors, with whom he was working, said 33-year-old Pete Reed was a former US Marine Corps rifleman who also worked as a paramedic.
The Odesa power cut hit hundreds of thousands of people.
“As of today, almost 500,000 customers have no electricity supply,” said Maksym Marchenko, of the Odesa regional administration. Energy Minister Herman Galushchenko said that came to “about a third of consumers” there.
“The situation is complex, the scale of the accident is significant,” Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said on messaging app Telegram.
Ukrenergo, the country’s energy operator, reported an accident at a substation supplying both the city and the region of Odesa.
The power network there had been gradually degraded by repeated Russian bombardment in recent months, it added: “As a result, the reliability of power supply in the region has decreased.”
On Sunday, Russia faces a fresh turn of the sanctions screw, with an embargo on ship deliveries of its refined oil products.
The European Union, the Group of Seven industrialised nations and Australia will cap the price of Moscow’s refined oil products.
Already in December, the EU imposed an embargo on Russian crude oil coming into the bloc by sea and — with its G7 partners — imposed a $60-per-barrel cap on Russian crude exports to other parts of the world.
The new embargo and price caps starting Sunday will target Russian refined oil products such as petrol, diesel and heating fuel arriving on ships.
The Kremlin has warned that the measures will destabilise world markets.