President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has promised there will be no respite in Ukraine’s campaign to regain territory lost to Russia.
Sunday’s engagement came as the UK said Russian forces were stepping up raids on civilian infrastructure and a senior US general warned it was unclear how Moscow would react to its setbacks on the battlefield in Ukraine.
Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces would keep pressure on Russia.
“Maybe it now seems to some of you that after a string of wins, we now have some sort of lull,” he said in his nightly video address. “But it’s not a lull. It’s the preparation for the next series… Because Ukraine has to be free – all that.
Ukraine’s military said its forces repelled attacks by Russian troops in areas of the Kharkiv region in the east and Kherson in the south where Ukraine launched counteroffensives this month, as well as in parts of neighboring Donetsk. He said Ukrainian troops advanced on the eastern bank of the Oskil River in the Kharkiv region.
“Since yesterday, Ukraine controls the eastern bank,” he said on Telegram.
Serhiy Haidai, the governor of neighboring Luhansk region, said that meant the “disoccupation” of his region was “not far off”.
As Russian shells hit towns and villages over the weekend, Britain’s Ministry of Defense warned that Moscow was likely to increase attacks on civilian targets as it suffered defeats on the field of battle.
“Over the past seven days, Russia has increased its targeting of civilian infrastructure even where it likely sees no immediate military effect,” the ministry said in an online press briefing. “As it faces setbacks on the front lines, Russia has likely expanded the locations it is prepared to strike in an effort to directly undermine the morale of the Ukrainian people and government.”
US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meanwhile called for vigilance after visiting a base in Poland supporting Ukraine’s war effort. His remarks were a reminder of the risks of escalation as the United States and its NATO allies help Ukraine from a distance.
“The war is not going too well for Russia at the moment. So it is incumbent on all of us to maintain a high state of readiness, alert,” he said after his trip to the base, which reporters traveling with him were asked not to identify.
Putin, Biden warnings
Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, brushed aside Ukraine’s swift counteroffensive and said Moscow would respond more forcefully if its troops came under additional pressure.
These repeated threats have raised fears that Putin might at some point turn to small nuclear weapons or chemical warfare.
US President Joe Biden asked what he would tell Putin if he considered using such weapons, and replied in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”: “No. Don’t. Don’t. It would change the face of warfare like never before since World War II.
Some military analysts have said Russia could also stage a nuclear incident at Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant owned by Russia but operated by Ukrainian personnel. Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of bombing the plant which damaged buildings and disrupted power lines needed to keep it cool and safe.
A senior Vatican envoy reportedly came under fire in the city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday while helping distribute humanitarian supplies. The incident forced Vatican Cardinal Konrad Krajewski and others to take shelter, the Vatican News Agency said on Sunday. He did not report any injuries.
“For the first time in my life, I didn’t know where to run. Because it’s not enough to run, you have to know where to go,” said the Polish-born cardinal, whose office makes charitable contributions on behalf of the pope.
Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, reported continued shelling across much of the country.
A Russian fire on Saturday killed four doctors trying to evacuate a psychiatric hospital in the Kharkiv region, Governor Oleh Synyehubov said. Two patients were injured in the Strelecha attack, he said.
Nighttime shelling also hit a hospital in Mykolaiv, a major Black Sea port, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said. And five civilians have been killed in Russian attacks in the eastern Donetsk region over the past day. In Nikopol, further west, several dozen residential buildings, gas pipelines and power lines were hit, according to regional governors.
Separately, pro-Russian separatist forces that control much of Donetsk accused Ukraine of shelling a POW colony in Olenivka and said one prisoner was killed and four injured in the attacks.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
In areas recaptured from Russian forces, returning Ukrainians searched for their deceased relatives.
In Izyum, where Ukrainian officials said they found 440 bodies at a forest burial site, Volodymyr Kolesnyk was trying to match numbers on wooden crosses with names on a carefully handwritten list to locate relatives he said were killed. were killed in an air raid early in the war. Kolesnyk told Reuters news agency he had obtained a list from a local funeral home that had dug the graves.
“They buried the bodies in bags, with no coffins, with nothing. I wasn’t allowed here at first. They [Russians] said he was mined and asked to wait,” he said.
Meanwhile, prosecutors in Kharkiv accuse Russia of torturing civilians in a recently liberated village. In an online statement, they said they found a basement where Russian forces allegedly tortured prisoners in Kozacha Lopan, near the border with Russia. In the footage they posted, they showed a Russian TA-57 military phone with extra wires and alligator clips attached. Ukrainian officials have accused Russian forces of using Soviet-era radiotelephones as a power source to shock prisoners during interrogations.
It was not immediately possible to verify the Ukrainians’ claims.
Elsewhere in the region, residents of towns recaptured after six months of Russian occupation returned with a mixture of joy and apprehension.
“I always kept this feeling that at any moment a shell could explode or a plane could fly overhead,” said Nataliia Yelistratova, who traveled with her husband and daughter 80 kilometers (50 miles) on a train from Kharkiv to his hometown of Balakliya to find his building intact, but bruised by the bombings.
“I’m still scared to be here,” she said after discovering shrapnel in a wall.