At least four civilians were killed and several were wounded in Russian shelling of the city of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine on Thursday, the regional governor said.
"The occupiers are shelling the regional center again," Kharkiv region Governor Oleh Synehubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app. He urged residents to go to shelters.
Russian forces were on the offensive Wednesday night on the western edge of Ukraine's Donetsk region, according to a report by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The Ukrainian military also reported Russian shelling of Maryinka, Mykilske, Poltavka and Orikhiv — all in the country's southwest near the city of Mariupol.
"The occupiers shelled more than 40 towns in Donetsk and Luhansk region, destroying or damaging 47 civilian sites, including 38 homes and a school. As a result of this shelling five civilians died and 12 were wounded."Joint Task Force of Ukraines armed forces on Facebook
The statement added that it repelled 10 Russian attacks and destroyed four tanks and four drones. According to the report, 62 Russian soldiers were killed.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russian troops "heavily outnumber us" in some parts of the east. Reuters was unable to independently confirm the battlefield reports.
Ukrainian Channel 24 News reported on Wednesday evening that a new batch of Kalibr missiles was being loaded into Russian submarines off the coast of Sevastopol in the Black Sea.
Zelensky has been trying to arrange a prisoner swap with Moscow. He has been unsuccessful so far.
Ukrainian prisoners of war held in the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics number about 8,000, Luhansk official Rodion Miroshnik was quoted by TASS news agency as saying.
"There are a lot of prisoners," Miroshnik said. "Now the total number is somewhere in the region of 8,000. That's a lot, and literally, hundreds are being added every day."
Putin moves to tighten his grip, Zelensky responds
As Moscow seeks to solidify its grip on the territory it has seized, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree simplifying the process for residents of newly captured districts to acquire Russian citizenship and passports.
The Russian parliament scrapped the upper age limit for contractual service in the military on Wednesday, highlighting the need to replace lost troops.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a "special operation" to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.
In a late-night video address, Zelensky, commenting on the new Russian enlistment rules, said: "(They) no longer have enough young men, but they still have the will to fight. It will still take time to crush this will."
Zelensky said this week the conflict could only be ended with direct talks between him and Putin.
Kremlin's expectations for peace talks
The Kremlin said on Thursday that Moscow expected Kyiv to meet its demands, adding that Ukraine needed to have an awareness of the situation for peace talks to take place.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was reacting to comments by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who this week suggested at the World Economic Forum in Davos that Ukraine should let Russia keep Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.
Moscow is demanding that Ukraine acknowledge Crimea as Russian territory, and recognize breakaway Russian-backed parts of eastern Ukraine as independent states, among other demands. Ukraine categorically disagrees with Russia's claims.
The appeal of Russian money is making some countries tolerant of its aggression, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday as he rejected calls to accept territorial concessions to appease Moscow.
"Today we hear that allegedly Russia should be given what it wants, supposedly it is necessary to agree that some peoples may be deprived of some of their foreign policy rights," Zelensky said in a video address to the Latvian parliament.
"We must fight for the principle that nationhood is important."President Volodymyr Zelensky
Attempts to take Donbas
After failing to seize Ukraine's capital Kyiv or its second city Kharkiv, Russia is trying to take full control of the Donbas, comprised of two eastern provinces Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.
Russia has poured thousands of troops into the region, attacking from three sides in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces holding out in the city of Sievierodonetsk and its twin Lysychansk. Their fall would leave the whole of Luhansk province under Russian control, a key Kremlin war aim.
"Everything now is focused on the Donbas," Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Vadym Denisenko told a briefing.
He said the situation was very tense as 25 Russian battalion tactical groups attempted to surround the Ukrainian forces.
Russia's airforce is failing - UK
The UK Ministry of Defence tweeted on Thursday, saying:
"Russia's airborne forces - the VDV - have been heavily involved in several notable tactical failures since the start of Russia's invasion. This includes the attempted advance on Kyiv via Hostomel Airfield in March, the stalled progress on the Izium axis since April, and the recent failed and costly crossings of the Siversky Donets River.
"Russian doctrine anticipates assigning the VDV to some of the most demanding operations. The 45,000-strong VDV is mostly comprised of professional contract soldiers. its members enjoy elite status and attract additional pay.
The VDV has been employed on missions better suited to heaver armoured infantry and has sustained heavy casualties during the campaign. Its mixed performance likely reflects and strategic mismanagement of this capability and Russia's failure to secure air superiority."
Pro-Russian sentiment in Donbas
The leader of Russian-backed separatists in the breakaway Donetsk region called on Thursday for the military operation in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine to be accelerated, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Denis Pushilin, head of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), said Kyiv had blocked water supplies to key cities in the north of the region and called for military action to be stepped up.
Police in Lysychansk are collecting bodies of people killed in order to bury them in mass graves, Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. Some 150 people have been buried in a mass grave in one Lysychansk district, he added.
Families of people buried in mass graves will be able to carry out a reburial after the war, and police are issuing documents enabling Ukrainians to secure death certificates for loved ones, Gaidai said.
A missile blasted a crater in a railway track and damaged nearby buildings in Pokrovsk, a Ukrainian-held Donbas city that has become a major hub for supplies and evacuations.
In Kramatorsk, nearer the front line, streets were largely deserted, while in Sloviansk further west, many residents took advantage of what Ukraine said was a break in the Russian assault to leave.
"My house was bombed, I have nothing," said Vera Safronova, seated in a train carriage among the evacuees.
Further north, two people were killed and seven wounded by Russian artillery shelling of the town of Balakliya in the Kharkiv region, an aide to its governor said on Facebook.
Russia is also targeting southern Ukraine, where officials said shelling had killed civilians and damaged scores of houses in Zaporizhzhia and missiles had destroyed an industrial facility in Kryviy Rih.
Moscow has blockaded ships from southern Ukraine that would normally export Ukrainian grain and sunflower oil through the Black Sea, pushing up prices globally. The African Union urged the two countries on Wednesday to unblock exports of grains and fertilizer to avoid widespread famine.
Russia has blamed Western sanctions for the food crisis. It said on Wednesday it was ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine but wanted sanctions to be lifted in return.
Western nations have imposed severe sanctions on Russia.
The United States pushed Russia closer to the brink of a historic debt default on Wednesday by not extending its license to pay bondholders. That waiver has allowed Moscow to keep up government debt payments till now.
The European Commission proposed on Wednesday to make breaking EU sanctions against Russia a crime.
The EU also said it hoped to agree on sanctions on Russian oil before the next meeting of EU leaders.
But Russia, for now at least, is not short of money. Oil and gas revenues stood at $28 billion in April alone thanks to high energy prices.