Russia-Ukraine War: Russia struggling to make progress in Donbas

Russian air forces hit arms depot in Ukraine's Kharkiv region * Ukraine accuses Russia of forcibly deporting over 210,000 children

 An aerial view of the remains of what appears to be a makeshift bridge across the Siverskyi Donets River, eastern Ukraine, in this handout image uploaded on May 12, 2022.  (photo credit: UKRAINIAN AIRBORNE FORCES COMMAND/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
An aerial view of the remains of what appears to be a makeshift bridge across the Siverskyi Donets River, eastern Ukraine, in this handout image uploaded on May 12, 2022.
(photo credit: UKRAINIAN AIRBORNE FORCES COMMAND/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Russian forces in eastern Ukraine are pushing on to make a breakthrough in order to encircle Ukrainian forces in the area, a UK defense intelligence update noted Friday morning as the Russian invasion of Ukraine stretches into its 78th day.

Russia has been investing "significant effort" around the cities of Izium and Severdonetsk as Russian troops try to push for the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk

Doing this will allow Russian troops to envelop Ukrainian soldiers in the area, cutting them off from any support or reinforcement from Ukrainian forces in the West, the update noted.

But not all has been going well for Russian troops in the area as Ukrainian forces were able to stop Russian troops from crossing the Siverskyu Donets river, located west of Severdonetsk in the Donbas region, while Russian forces are focused on pulling its troops out of the Kharkiv region, CNN reported citing Ukrainian armed forces.

This resulted in multiple Russian armored vehicles being lost, as well as at least one Battalion Tactical Group and bridging equipment, the defense intelligence update noted.

River crossings in contested areas is a very difficult and risky maneuver to attempt. According to the UK defense intelligence update, this is indicative of the amount of pressure Russian commanders are under as they struggle to make significant progress in eastern Ukraine - especially since progress has been minimal in the area following Russia's withdrawal from the Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts to focus on the East.

The lack of progress made by Russian forces may indicate that they will actually abandon this effort to encircle Ukrainian forces in the area, according to a report released by the think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). 

In this report, the think tank argued that Russia will likely shift their goal to shallower encirclements of Severdonetsk and Lysychansk. The ISW predicted that Russian troops will likely launch a ground offensive on Severdonetsk in the coming days, and their forces in Popasna will likely advance toward Lysychansk.

But will this succeed? 

The ISW report is doubtful that Russian troops can even encircle Severdonetsk and Lysychansk, let alone capture them.

"Continued and expanding reports of demoralization and refusals to fight among Russian units suggest that the effective combat power of Russian troops in the east continues to be low and may drop further," the ISW noted, adding that abandoning the advance from Izium could also help Ukrainian troops focus on defending Lysychansk and Severdonetsk.

The ISW further noted that Ukraine's counteroffensive around Kharkiv, where Russian forces have had to pull out of in order to march towards Severdonetsk, has been starting to look more successful and made comparisons to the counteroffensive that drove the Russians from Kyiv.

However, Russia has also been working to defend what gains they have already made. Specifically, as noted by the ISW, Russia is working to reinforce their position in the Kherson Oblast in eastern Ukraine from counterattacks and are planning to launch an offensive on Mykolaiv, where Ukrainian forces recently claim to have shot down a Russian drone, as reported by Ukrinform, as well as firing on nearby Zaporizhzhia and Dnipropetrovsk. 

 A satellite image shows a Serna-class landing craft and possible missile contrail near Snake Island, Ukraine May 12, 2022. Picture taken May 12, 2022. (credit: Satellite image 2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS) A satellite image shows a Serna-class landing craft and possible missile contrail near Snake Island, Ukraine May 12, 2022. Picture taken May 12, 2022. (credit: Satellite image 2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS)

Russia has also been working on reinforcing its position on Snake Island, the small island in the Black Sea that Russia seized at the beginning of the invasion. This is with the goal of trying to hamper Ukrainian maritime communications in the area, especially around the major port city of Odesa.

Russian air forces have attacked an arms depot in Ukraine's Kharkiv region, state news agency RIA quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying on Friday.

Russian occupation forces have also taken residents of the captured city of Popasna in the Luhansk region to Russian-occupied Pervomaisk and Stakhanov at gunpoint, according to Ukrinform. 

Ukraine accuses Russia of forcibly deporting over 210,000 children

Ukraine said on Friday Russia had forcibly deported more than 210,000 children since its invasion began and accused Moscow of wanting to make them Russian citizens.

Human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said the children were among 1.2 million Ukrainians who Kyiv says have been deported against their will.

Reuters could not independently verify the figure given by Denisova or her allegations, for which she did not provide supporting evidence.

The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Denisova's allegations concerning the deportation of large numbers of children and other Ukrainian nationals.

Moscow has denied intentionally targeting civilians since launching what it calls a special military operation in Ukraine and says it is offering humanitarian aid to those who want to leave Russia.

"When our children are taken out, they destroy the national identity, deprive our country of the future," Denisova said on national television.

"They teach our children there, in Russian, the history that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has told everyone."

Russia has referred to "refugees" coming to Russia to escape the fighting, particularly from the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which is in Russian hands after weeks of siege and bombardment.

The 1949 Geneva Conventions, which define international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in conflict, prohibit mass forcible transfers of civilians during a conflict to the territory of the occupying power, classifying it as a war crime.

Zaporizhzhia Oblast governor Oleksandr Starukh said on Telegram that 271 residents were abducted by Russian forces.

Russian strikes in the East

Russia's Defense Ministry said on Friday that its forces struck the Kremenchug oil refinery in central Ukraine, destroying its production capacity and fuel tanks.

The ministry also said its forces shot down a Ukrainian Su-27 aircraft in the Kharkiv Oblast.

Reuters could not independently verify the report.

Russia further claimed it struck a missile warehouse in the Kharkiv Oblast, according to RIA.

Ukraine said the Russian artillery strike in this area resulted in three people killed and five injured, as well as a fire that lasted several hours, Pravda reported.

The Russian Defense Ministry also claimed that their troops hit 15 Ukrainian command posts, six artillery positions and 520 other concentration of manpower and equipment, according to RIA.

Humanitarian aid in Derhachi in the Kharkiv Oblast will not be issued on Friday following a Russian missile strike destroying the Derhachi House of Culture, which was serving as the humanitarian headquarters, the city council said on Facebook.

The attack, which occurred on Thursday, resulted in the death of two civilians and saw four others injured, including two medics, Mayor Vyacheslav Zdorenko said, according to Interfax.

Early Friday morning, Russian forces also fired missiles at the border checkpoint in the Sumy Oblast in northeastern Ukraine, Ukraine's Northern Operational Command reported.

Azovstal steel plant conflict continues

Fighting continues at the Azovstal steel plant, the last holdout of Ukrainian forces in the Sea of Azov port city of Mariupol, as noted by the Ukrainian military.

Throughout the night, Russian forces continued artillery barrages and airstrikes in the area, and Russian troops are engaging in a ground assault on the plant itself with tanks and armored vehicles, Pravda reported, citing a commander of the Azov Battalion.

Forces of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), the pro-Russian separatist-controlled breakaway in eastern Ukraine, are currently working to resolve the issue in Azovstal to complete their control of the city, TASS reported.

The DPR forces "are taking all the appropriate steps so that the situation with Azovstal is finally completed and the city of Mariupol can already fully engage in its restoration," DPR head Denis Pushilin told Russia's Channel One.

Ukraine's president reiterates readiness to talk to Putin

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has reiterated an offer to hold direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and said Russia's withdrawal from Ukraine should be the starting point for any discussions.

"As president, I am ready to talk to Putin, but only to him. Without any of his intermediaries. And in the framework of dialog, not ultimatums," he told Italy's RAI 1 television in an interview shown in Ukraine on Friday.

More weapons and aid for Ukraine

The European Union will provide $521 million in military aid to Ukraine, CNN reported on Friday. 

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Friday that it was vital to keep up the pressure on Russia by supplying more weapons to Ukraine and imposing further sanctions.

"It is very important at this time that we keep up the pressure on Vladimir Putin by supplying more weapons to Ukraine and by increasing the sanctions," she told reporters on arrival at a G7 foreign ministers meeting in northern Germany.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Friday that the bloc would provide another 500 millions euros worth of military support to Ukraine and that he was confident a deal could be reached in the coming days to agree an embargo on Russian oil.

Casualties

Russia has continued to lose manpower and equipment in the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, with the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces noting that they have successfully taken out 200 Russian aircraft since the invasion began.

This is in addition to the other casualties, which Ukraine claims stands at 26,900 soldiers, 2,900 armored vehicles, 88 anti-aircraft systems, 542 artillery units, 193 MLRSs, 162 helicopters, 1,205 tanks, 13 ships, 41 special equipment, 95 cruise missiles, 405 drones and 2,042 other vehicles.

According to Russia, though, Ukraine has also suffered greatly in the ongoing conflict.

As noted by Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov, Ukraine has so far lost 842 drones, 165 aircraft, 125 helicopters, 304 anti-aircraft systems, 3,032 tanks and other armored vehicles, 368 MLRs, 1,491 artillery units and 2,869 special military vehicles, RIA reported.

The exact figures on both sides has proven difficult to verify and the factual totals are still unclear.

So far, 226 children in Ukraine were killed and 646 were injured since Russia's invasion began, Pravda reported, citing the Prosecutor-General's Office, though these figures are still just an estimate