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Republicans meet Zelenskyy as senior Ukrainian official warns of 'extremely difficult weeks' ahead

Patrick J. McDonnell and Jaweed Kaleem, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Western analysts and intelligence groups said Ukraine’s mounting response to Russian assaults was showing signs of success in Kharkiv, the northeastern city that had been under near-constant bombardment since February, and in the Donbas, the Ukrainian industrial heartland where Moscow has fomented unrest through its support of pro-Russia separatists.

In its daily intelligence update, the British Ministry of Defense said that Moscow’s attempts to hold a pro-Russia referendum in Kherson, a southeastern district that was the first to fall, “highlights the failure of Russia’s invasion to make progress towards its political objectives in Ukraine.”

“A central part of Russia’s original invasion plan was highly likely to use rigged referendums to place the majority of Ukraine’s regions under long-term pro-Russian authority,” the ministry said. “The fact that Russia has only succeeded in imposing a pro-Russian local leadership in Kherson highlights the failure of Russia’s invasion to make progress towards its political objectives in Ukraine.”

Russian state media on Saturday reported that a high-ranking Russian lawmaker, Anna Kuznetsova, recently visited Kherson, where she promised to “provide all kinds of assistance” to locals. It is unclear when Kuznetsova was in the region. The area has also seen anti-Russia protests in recent weeks.

In another analysis released Friday, the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank, said Ukraine has “likely won the battle of Kharkiv.

“Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city, as they did to Russian forces attempting to seize Kyiv” several weeks ago, the institute said.

 

Despite Ukrainian gains, the fighting has continued across the nation, including in the southern city of Mariupol, Zelenskyy said in an overnight address. Hundreds of Ukrainian civilians have been evacuated from the bunkers and tunnels of a sprawling steel plant complex — Azovstal — that is Kyiv’s last holdout in the shattered southern port city on the Sea of Azov.

“We do not stop trying to save all our people from Mariupol and Azovstal. Currently, very difficult negotiations are underway on the next stage of the evacuation mission,” Zelenskyy said. The president said “a large” amount of individuals remained trapped in the complex, though he did not give a number.

Zelenskyy’s speech came amid new diplomatic responses in Europe to the war that Russia launched Feb. 24.

On Saturday, the foreign minsters of Sweden and Finland were scheduled to meet with North Atlantic Treaty Organization representatives in Germany after leaders of both nations expressed strong interest in joining the defense alliance.

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