KYIV/MARIUPOL: Ukrainian forces were pulling back from some settlements to regroup as an intensifying barrage pounded all cities in Luhansk region, its governor said on Saturday, with Russia pressing its offensive in the east.
The pullback to new defensive lines was to preserve units, the governor, Serhiy Gaidai, added in televised remarks.
“It’s unpleasant they’re leaving our settlements, but it is no catastrophe,” he added.
Ukraine’s military said in updates on Friday and early Saturday that Russia was trying to establish full control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and secure a land connection to Crimea, and was partially blockading the northeastern city of Kharkiv.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and before its Feb. 24 invasion, Russian-backed separatists controlled parts of Donetsk and Luhansk, which make up the Donbas. A Russian general said on Friday that Moscow wanted full control of Donbas and also southern Ukraine, suggesting wider Russian aims than previously acknowledged.
Russian forces capture Kreminna in east Ukraine: Kyiv
Russia has said it is conducting a “special military operation” to demilitarise Ukraine and liberate its population from dangerous nationalists. Ukraine and its Western allies call the invasion an unjustified war of aggression.
Russia said on Saturday it had shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet and destroyed three Ukrainian helicopters at an airfield in Kharkiv, a heavily bombarded city northwest of Donbas.
There was no immediate reaction from Ukraine regarding the Russian claims but the Ukrainian military said on Saturday it had destroyed 177 Russian aircraft and 154 helicopters since the start of the war.
Reuters could not independently verify the claims.
Russian forces made no major gains in the last 24 hours, British military intelligence said on Saturday.
Declaring victory in the biggest battle of the conflict so far, Russia said this week it had captured the southern port city of Mariupol and “securely blockaded” remaining Ukrainian troops who have been holed up in a huge steel works there.