Donetsk battles are ‘hell’, says Ukrainian Zelenskiy as Kherson catches up

(Reuters) – Russian forces destroyed key infrastructure in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson before fleeing, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, as his Russian and Iranian counterparts pledged to deepen economic, political and commercial ties.

Zelenskiy described hellish battles in the eastern region of Donetsk, where pro-Moscow forces were fighting a much tougher fight after Russia on Friday abandoned the only regional capital it had captured since the war began in february.

Jubilant residents of Kherson greeted the arriving troops as Zelenskiy said authorities, in their effort to stabilize the region, had dealt with nearly 2,000 mines, tripwires and unexploded shells left behind by the Russians at the start.

Russians “everywhere have the same goal: to humiliate people as much as possible. But we will restore everything, believe me,” Zelenskiy said in a video address on Saturday.

“Before fleeing Kherson, the occupants destroyed all critical infrastructure: communications, water, heating, electricity.

Political cartoons about world leaders

Ukraine’s success in Kherson, where its troops now control more than 60 regional settlements, as well as in other places, benefited in part from resistance in the Donetsk region, despite repeated Russian attacks, Zelenskiy added. .

“It’s just hell out there – there are extremely fierce battles going on there every day,” he said. “But our units defend themselves courageously – they resist the terrible pressure of the invaders, preserving our lines of defense.”

In a phone call, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi stressed “strengthening cooperation in the political, trade and economic spheres, including the transport and logistics sector”, said on Saturday. the Kremlin.

Russia has stepped up efforts to forge ties with Iran and other non-Western countries during the war, with a senior Russian security official meeting Iranian leaders in Tehran on Wednesday.

The visit follows accusations from Ukraine and the West that Russia used Iranian drones to target Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

Iran says it sent Russia a small number of drones before the war started. Last month, two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats told Reuters that Iran had promised to supply Russia with surface-to-surface missiles.

But Ukraine will decide the timing and content of any framework for negotiations with Russia, according to the minutes of a meeting on Saturday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Phnom Penh.

The Washington Post reported a week ago that the Biden administration was privately encouraging Ukrainian leaders to signal an openness to negotiate with Russia and drop their public refusal to engage in peace talks unless Putin does. be removed from power.

Moscow describes its action in Ukraine as a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing and “denazifying” its small neighbor. Kyiv and its allies say Russia’s invasion, which has killed tens of thousands and uprooted millions, was unprovoked and illegal.

On the road to Kherson, villagers holding flowers waited Saturday to greet and embrace Ukrainian soldiers as they streamed in to secure control of the right bank of the Dnipro after the stunning Russian retreat.

“We have looked 20 years younger in the last two days,” Valentyna Buhailova, 61, said just before a Ukrainian soldier jumped out of a small truck and hugged her and her partner Nataliya Porkhunuk, 66. , in a hamlet near the center of Kherson.

But volleys of artillery fire surrounded the international airport and police said they were setting up checkpoints in and around the city and searching for mines left behind.

The mayor said the humanitarian situation was “serious” due to lack of water, medicine and bread, as residents celebrated their release on what Zelenskiy called a “historic day”.

“The city is suffering from a critical shortage, mainly of water,” Mayor Roman Holovnia said on television. “There are currently not enough medicines, not enough bread because we cannot bake it: there is no electricity.”

Famous graffiti artist Banksy unveiled on Instagram a mural of a gymnast doing a handstand on a small pile of concrete rubble in the Ukrainian town of Borodyanka, which had been occupied by Russia until April and heavily damaged in the early fights.

“It’s such a historic moment for our country that people like Banksy and other famous people come here and show the world what Russia has done to us,” said Alina Mazur, 31, who has driven 60 km (40 miles) from Kyiv, the capital, for an overview.

But the road to Kherson from Mykolaiv was lined with fields marked by miles of abandoned Russian trenches. A destroyed T72 tank lay with its turret overturned.

The abandoned trenches were littered with rubbish, blankets and camouflage netting. An irrigation ditch was filled with discarded Russian equipment and several anti-tank mines were visible on the side of the road.

Residents of the village of Kiselivka said the Russians left on Wednesday evening.

“They didn’t fire any shots,” said Hyhory Kulyaka, 54, who arrived on a scooter. “They were just gone.”

(Reporting by David Ljjungren, Jonathan Landay and Gleb Garanich; Writing by Clarence Fernandez; Editing by William Mallard)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

Comments are closed.