A remote island off Ukraine occupied by Russia on the first day of its invasion has, as Kyiv steps up efforts to retake it, become the focal point of what some defence officials believe may become a battle for control of the western Black Sea coast.
- Ukraine’s gas operator said it would redirect gas from one transit point under Russian control to another held by Ukraine
- Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian successes were gradually pushing Russian forces out of Kharkiv
- Fighters at the Mariupol steelworks released photos of their wounded comrades inside the plant
Both countries have reported renewed fighting around Snake Island, which achieved worldwide fame in the conflict’s first hours when Ukrainian border guards stationed there rejected a Russian warship’s demand for their surrender.
“Russian warship, go f**k yourself,” one soldier was recorded as saying.
On Wednesday Britain’s defence ministry said fighting continues there, with Russia “repeatedly trying to reinforce its exposed garrison”.
The fightback by Ukraine for the island, located near its sea border with Romania and covering just 0.17 square kilometres, could decide if Russia is able to establish a defensive base there and thereby exercise dominance over the north-western Black Sea, the ministry said.
Border guard Roman Hrybov’s declaration of defiance to the Russian cruiser Moskva became a symbol across the world of Ukraine’s resistance to the invasion that Russia calls a “special military operation”.
It was reproduced on posters, T-shirts and stamps throughout Ukraine.
Initially reported dead, Mr Hrybov and his fellow guards were later freed in a prisoner exchange. He was decorated for bravery on his release while the Moskva subsequently sank.
Ukraine suspends Russian gas flow to Europe
The shutdown of a gas pipeline in eastern Ukraine sent a fresh wave of energy jitters through Europe as the price of gas jumped, then fell.
Ukraine had remained a major route for Russian gas to Europe, even after President Vladimir Putin ordered what he called a “special military operation” on February 24.
Mounting Western sanctions are seeking to ban or phase out the use of Russian energy, a major source of funds for Mr Putin’s war effort and a vulnerability for Europe, especially Germany.
Blaming the interference of Russian occupying forces for the suspension, Ukraine’s gas operator said it would redirect gas from the Sokhranivka transit point, which is in an area occupied by Russian forces, to another in a Ukraine-controlled area.
Since Russia was forced to abandon an assault on the capital Kyiv at the end of March, its main force has been trying to encircle Ukrainian troops in the eastern Donbas region, using the city of Izyum near Kharkiv, in the north-east, as a base.
Ukrainian troops have mostly held out against assaults from three directions, and top US intelligence officials say the war is now at a stalemate.
Mr Putin appeared to be preparing for a long conflict, and a Russian victory in the Donbas region might not end the war, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said in Washington on Tuesday.
But the counterattack near Kharkiv could signal a new phase, with Ukraine going on the offensive and supply lines into Russia now potentially vulnerable.
Zelenskyy cautions against ‘excessive moral pressure’
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian successes were gradually pushing Russian forces out of Kharkiv, which has been under bombardment since the war began.
“But I also want to urge all our people … not to spread excessive emotions. We should not create an atmosphere of excessive moral pressure, where victories are expected weekly and even daily,” Mr Zelenskyy said in a video address.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba voiced what appeared to be increasing confidence — and expanded goals, suggesting Ukraine could go beyond just forcing Russia back to areas it held before the invasion began 11 weeks ago.
Mr Kuleba told the Financial Times that Ukraine initially believed victory would be the withdrawal of Russian troops to positions they occupied before the February 24 invasion.
But the focus shifted to the eastern industrial heartland of the Donbas after Russian forces failed to take Kyiv early in the war.
In the villages of Staryi Saltiv and Vilkhivka near Kharkiv, Ukrainian servicemen gathered the bodies of Russian soldiers who were killed in the fighting, according to Reuters witnesses.
Russian forces were trying to prevent Ukrainian troops from moving further towards the border in the Kharkiv region and were trying to fully take over the town of Rubizhne, Ukraine’s general staff said early on Wednesday.
Ukrainian border guards reported Russian forces were shelling Sumy and Chernihiv regions close to the border.
“Enemy aircraft twice launched non-guided missiles on border areas of Sumy. There were also two instances of mortar shelling in Chernihiv region,” they said on their Telegram channel.
In the south, Ukrainian armed forces said they struck nine enemy targets, with enemy losses of 79 servicemen and 12 pieces of equipment, including armoured vehicles and howitzers.
Russian fire was concentrated on the Mykolaiv region where private homes were damaged as well as farms and power lines to one town.
Mariupol steel works fighters plead for wounded comrades to be evacuated
Russian forces continued to pummel the Azovstal steel works in the southern port of Mariupol with artillery, tanks and aircraft bombing, Ukraine’s general staff said, trying to capture the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the ruined city.
Fighters with the Azov regiment released photos of their wounded comrades inside the plant, including some with amputated limbs.
They said the wounded were living in unsanitary conditions “with open wounds bandaged with non-sterile remnants of bandages, without the necessary medication and even food”.
In its statement on Telegram, the regiment appealed to the UN and Red Cross to evacuate the wounded servicemen to Ukrainian-controlled territories.
The photos could not be independently verified.
Ukraine says tens of thousands of people have been killed in the city under two months of Russian siege.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the reports of fighting.
Scores of civilians have been evacuated from the steelworks in recent days, but an aide to Mariupol’s mayor, Petro Andryushchenko, said at least 100 remained inside.
The number of Ukrainians who have fled their country is approaching 6 million, according to the United Nations, which says the refugee crisis is the fastest growing since World War II.
Russia denies targeting civilians and rejects Ukrainian and Western allegations of war crimes.
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