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Russian shelling kills five civilians in eastern Ukraine

LA Times logo LA Times 1/31/2023 SUSIE BLANN
A woman carries her child during the evacuation of a residential building hit by a Russian rocket in the city center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Monday. (Andrii Marienko / Associated Press) © Provided by LA Times A woman carries her child during the evacuation of a residential building hit by a Russian rocket in the city center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Monday. (Andrii Marienko / Associated Press)

Fighting remained largely deadlocked Monday in eastern Ukraine, where Russian shelling killed five civilians over the last day, according to Ukrainian officials, as the warring sides sized up their needs for renewed military pushes expected in coming weeks.

The casualties included a woman who was killed and three other people who were wounded by Russian shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the country’s northeast, according to regional Gov. Oleh Sinegubov.

Moscow’s troops seized large areas of the Kharkiv region in the months following its invasion of Ukraine last February. But Ukrainian counteroffensives that began in August snatched back Russian-occupied territory, including in Kharkiv.

Those successes lent weight to Ukraine’s arguments that its troops could deliver more stinging defeats to Russia if its Western allies provided more weaponry.

Kyiv last week won promises of tanks from the U.S. and Germany to help its war effort.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Monday hinted at the prospect of more upcoming pledges, saying that “any activity aimed at strengthening Ukraine’s defense powers is under consultation with our NATO partners.”

Such a move could encounter some familiar political obstacles, however.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, after demurring for weeks over sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, looks set to dig in his heels over providing fighter jets. Germany would not have the key role in aircraft deliveries that it did with the Leopards, which are German-made and require German export approval.

Scholz, who is currently on a trip to South America, said he regretted the emergence of the fighter jet discussion.

He said in Chile on Sunday that a serious debate is necessary and not a “competition to outdo each other … in which perhaps domestic political motives are in the foreground rather than support for Ukraine.”

Military analysts say more aid for Ukraine is crucial if Kyiv is to block an expected Russian offensive in the spring and launch its own effort to push back Russian forces.

“The pattern of delivery of Western aid has powerfully shaped the pattern of this conflict,” the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank, said late Sunday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Sunday that keeping up the pace of allies’ support is crucial.

“The speed of supply has been and will be one of the key factors in this war. Russia hopes to drag out the war, to exhaust our forces. So we have to make time our weapon,” he said in his nightly video address. “We must speed up the events, speed up the supply and opening of new necessary weaponry options for Ukraine.”

With the war approaching its one-year mark and draining resources on both sides, the Western call for weapons for Kyiv is spreading beyond the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday called for South Korea to send direct military support to Ukraine too. South Korea is a growing arms exporter and has a well-equipped, U.S.-backed military.

France and Australia announced Monday plans to jointly produce and send several thousand 155-millimeter artillery shells to Ukraine. The first deliveries are expected in the first quarter of this year.

On the Russian side, indications are emerging that more manpower may be enlisted for the fight.

The British Ministry of Defense noted Monday that the Kremlin never formally rescinded last September’s order for a partial mobilization of reservists that boosted troop numbers for combat in Ukraine. It said Russia may be keeping the door open for further call-ups. The mobilization in the fall was reported to have amassed 300,000 more troops.

“The Russian leadership highly likely continues to search for ways to meet the high number of personnel required to resource any future major offensive in Ukraine, while minimizing domestic dissent,” it said in a tweet.

Russian officials have denied plans for additional troop mobilizations, while also tapping into a mercenary force.

With more talk of military aid from Ukraine’s allies, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that supplies of Western weapons wouldn’t stop Russia.

“Ukraine keeps demanding new weapons, and the West is encouraging those demands,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters Monday. “It’s a deadlock. It results in a significant escalation and makes NATO countries increasingly involved in the conflict.”

Ukraine’s presidential office said the eastern Donetsk region, which has been the scene of intense fighting for months, remains “invariably hard.”

Heavy fighting continued to rage around Bakhmut and Vuhledar, with regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko saying that 15 towns and villages in the region came under shelling Sunday. Russian authorities claimed advances in Vuhledar, contentions that could not be independently verified.

Russian forces have been trying for months to capture Bakhmut, with the effort being led by the Wagner Group, a private military company led by a rogue millionaire with longtime links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukrainian troops last week said they conducted an organized retreat from Soledar, near Bakhmut, amid pressure from Wagner, which is believed to have a large number of convicts in its ranks.

Ukrainian authorities said the southern city of Kherson also has come under Russian shelling. The bombardment damaged residential buildings, a hospital, a school, a bus station, a bank and a post office.

Two foreign vessels were damaged in the port of Kherson, the presidential office added without elaborating.

Zelensky, in a news conference Monday in Odesa, said Russian forces seem to be trying to take revenge on Ukraine because of battlefield successes, “to provide their society with some convincing positive result in the offensive.” He pledged to “stop them all little by little, defeat them and prepare our big counteroffensive.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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