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Russia pounds eastern Ukraine, strikes Kyiv with missiles

Russian President Vladimir Putin's brutal invasion of Ukraine has turned into a war of attrition as Russian forces turn to heavy bombing along the front lines to drive back Ukraine's army.

(CN) — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned into a grinding war of attrition with its artillery and air force pounding Ukrainian forces on the battlefield to make way for its infantry to slowly make advances in eastern and southern Ukraine. 

Friday marked the 65th day since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine that has cost thousands of lives and left villages, towns and cities in ruins. 

After more than two months of war, Putin’s forces are in control of large swaths of territory in southern and eastern Ukraine, but so far they have not been able to make major breaks through stiff Ukrainian defenses. 

But there is some evidence to suggest Ukrainian forces are suffering heavy losses and are at risk of ceding much more ground in the coming days and weeks as Russia pounds the front lines. 

Meanwhile, Russia continues to launch long-range missile strikes at targets far from the front lines. On Thursday night, Russian missiles hit Kyiv, the capital, damaging a residential area and killing a Radio Liberty journalist inside her apartment. Russia said its missiles struck a space rocket company’s facility in Kyiv. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksyy denounced the attack on Kyiv and said it showed the Kremlin has no respect for the United Nations. The missiles fell on Kyiv on the same day U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in the city. 

“Immediately after the end of our talks in Kyiv, Russian missiles flew into the city. Five missiles,” Zelenskyy said during a video message. “This says a lot about Russia's true attitude to global institutions. About the efforts of the Russian leadership to humiliate the U.N. and everything that the organization represents. Therefore, it requires a strong response.”    

Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces were accused of firing rockets overnight at areas held by Russian forces and wounding several civilians. Since fighting broke out in 2014 between Ukraine and armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian forces have been accused of repeatedly launching missiles against separatist-held areas that have killed and wounded scores of civilians. The shelling has continued since the Russian invasion started, but these attacks do not get much media attention in the West. There are few Western journalists covering the war from within Russian-held areas.       

Although Western and Ukrainian military officials say Russia’s army is failing, Russian forces have advanced in eastern and southern Ukraine this week. 

“Russian forces have been making slow but steady progress in the Donbas region in recent days (with some setbacks),” observed Franz-Stefan Gady, a military expert at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, on Twitter. 

In its Thursday update, the Institute for the Study of War, Washington-based military think tank, called the Russian advances “minor.”  

It remains difficult, however, to assess the true state of the battle; still, in recent days neither side has bragged about big successes, such as Russia did around the middle of April when it claimed the mass surrender of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol and then boasted that the port city was captured. 

The war is concentrated now in a part of eastern Ukraine known as Donbas and military experts say Russia is seeking to carry out a strategy where it slowly overwhelms its adversary with its artillery. This is more in keeping with traditional Russian war tactics, according to some analysts who say Russia is not known for its blitzkrieg-style offensive campaigns. In launching the invasion, Russia went for a blitzkrieg strategy by attacking Kyiv and other northern cities. But after suffering heavy losses around Kyiv, Russian forces retreated and focused on seizing Donbas. 

Some of the fiercest fighting is taking place around the city of Izyum, south of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in an effort to encircle Ukrainian forces. Russian forces are seeking to capture the city of Severodonetsk, which lies between Izyium and Luhansk, the capital of one of two self-declared independent republics. Russia is moving forces from Mariupol toward the Donbas front lines.  

On Friday, Russia continued to bomb Ukrainian forces that are holding out inside the massive Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, allegedly hitting a field hospital set up inside a bunker. Talks to evacuate civilians stuck inside an eight-story bunker complex under the steelworks were ongoing.    

The hope for Ukrainian and Western officials is that the Russian assault on the Donbas will fizzle out due to fatigue, supply problems, low morale and inadequate troop and equipment levels. Such a situation could allow for Ukraine to mount counteroffensives and retake territory it is giving up now under Russia’s artillery barrage.     

The U.N. human rights agency said on Friday that it has recorded 2,899 civilian deaths, including 210 children, since the invasion started. Additionally, 3,235 civilians have been wounded, it said.  

The Donbas region has been the bloodiest for civilians with 1,317 killed in Ukrainian-held areas and 94 killed in territory under the control of the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, the U.N. The civilian death toll is believed to be much higher.  

It remains unclear how many soldiers have been killed, though Ukraine claims that Russia has lost about 23,000 Russian troops. Earlier this month, Russia claimed more than 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed. It is impossible to independently verify these claims. 

There are reports of Western fighters among the dead. On Friday, media reported that a 22-year-old former U.S. Marine called Willy Joseph Cancel was killed on Monday, according to CNN.      

British media on Friday also reported the death of a former British soldier, Scott Sibley, and that another British man was missing. An unknown number of foreigners are in Ukraine fighting as volunteers and mercenaries on both sides.  

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union. 

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