Russian troops control eastern Ukraine; UN official cites possible war crimes

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May 12 (UPI) — Russian forces assaulted a number of targets in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, including the last bastion of resistance at a steel plant in the port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said as the war approaches the start of its fourth month.

Russian troops have stepped up attacks this week in Ukraine’s east — notably the mostly separatist Donbas — and have continued to try and shell Ukrainian resistance into submission at the Mariupol plant. Ukrainian officials said Thursday that Moscow has had some success in these attacks.

One Ukrainian military official told CNN that Russian forces “completely destroyed” captured settlements in Luhansk and said that Russian shelling intensified along the “entire Luhansk front.”

Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk region military administration, said that there was heavy fighting Thursday around Severodonetsk and that the situation “has significantly deteriorated.”

Hayday also said, however, that Ukrainian units in Belohorivka are “holding back the Russian invasion.”

“Our defenders have twice destroyed pontoon crossings, and based on the actions of the Russians, the third time will be the same,” he said according to CNN.

A Ukrainian woman picks up a purple teddy bear in a room of her destroyed home in Irpin, Ukraine, on Monday, after Russians shelled the neighborhood. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
Britain’s Defense Ministry noted that some of the Russian fighting has stalled and Moscow has lost ground in parts of the Donbas and around Kharkiv in the northeast. On Wednesday, Ukrainian officials reported significant gains in the Kharkiv area, which has been under constant assault since the war began in February.

Ukrainian forces recaptured several towns along the Russian border, Kyiv said, in what’s been part of a Ukrainian counterattack that’s shown to be effective against slower Moscow troops.

“The withdrawal of Russian forces from Kharkiv is a tacit recognition of Russia’s inability to capture key Ukrainian cities where they expected limited resistance from the population,” the British Defense Ministry said in a tweet.

Also Thursday, the president and prime minister of Finland publicly backed a move to NATO in a bid to shore up European security. It’s been noted for weeks that Helsinki was eyeing a possible move to the defensive alliance as a result of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Scandinavian neighbor Sweden is also thought to be mulling a move to NATO.

United Nations human rights chief Michele Bachelet said at a briefing on Thursday that she saw evidence of likely Russian war crimes when she visited areas near Kyiv recently.

“The scale of unlawful killings, including indicia of summary executions in areas to the north of Kyiv, is shocking,” Bachelet said according to The Guardian.