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Ukraine reports unrelenting Russian attacks on Bakhmut

A Ukrainian general says Russian forces are trying to encircle Ukrainian troops near Bakhmut.

A Ukrainian general says Russian forces are trying to encircle Ukrainian troops near Bakhmut. Photo: AAP

Russia’s military has pressed on with unrelenting attacks on the smashed eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and also shelled the southern city of Kherson, officials in Kyiv said.

The Kremlin sees Bakhmut as pivotal in its slow-moving advance through eastern Ukraine more than a year after it invaded its neighbour.

Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar, writing on Telegram, said heavy fighting gripped all parts of the eastern front. She said pro-Kyiv forces repelled attacks in most areas.

“Most of the enemy’s offensive efforts are occurring in the Bakhmut sector,” she wrote, adding that Russian commanders had redirected troops there from other areas.

“Every day, the enemy carries out in Bakhmut from 40 to 50 storming operations and 500 shelling episodes.”

The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group said this week that his forces held 80 percent of Bakhmut, but the Ukrainian military said that figure was exaggerated.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other senior officials are pressing allies for more weapons that Kyiv hopes will enable it to launch a major counter-offensive later this year.

“We are readying our boys,” Zelenskiy said in a video address late on Thursday. “We look forward to the delivery of weapons promised by our partners. We are bringing victory closer as much as possible.”

Officials said two people had died in Russian shelling of the southern city of Kherson.

Away from the battlefield, Ukrainian officials are focusing on the massive rebuilding effort that will be needed as well as pressure from allies to show progress in tackling corruption.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, holding talks in Washington, promised to account for every dollar of US aid and said reconstruction work should start this year.

He welcomed what he called the “continuous, ironclad and unprecedented support” of the United States.

Shmyhal, speaking alongside US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, said Kyiv had identified a priority funding gap of $14 billion needed this year.

He said Ukraine had implemented measures to account for all assistance received and undertaken more anti-corruption reforms in the past year than during many previous years combined.

Ukrainian officials are also pressing for membership in NATO – a move that Moscow has made clear it will not accept.

“There is no alternative to Ukraine’s accession to NATO,” Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov told a Black Sea security conference.

In other developments, Russia says there will be be no extension of the United Nations-brokered Black Sea grain deal beyond May 18 unless a series of obstacles to the export of Russian grain and fertiliser are removed.

The deal was reached in July last year to help alleviate a global food crisis worsened by the conflict disrupting exports from two of the world’s leading grain suppliers.

“We note that, despite all the high-sounding statements about global food security and assistance to countries in need, the Black Sea Initiative both served and continues to serve exclusively commercial exports of Kyiv in the interests of Western countries,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said Russia’s Agricultural Bank had to be reconnected to the SWIFT payment system, supplies of agricultural machinery and parts had to be resumed and that restrictions on insurance and reinsurance needed to be lifted, for the deal to be extended.

Other demands include access to ports, the resumption of the Togliatti-Odesa ammonia pipeline, and the unblocking of assets and the accounts of Russian companies involved in food and fertiliser exports.

Russia also said there had also been a failure of the inspection regime, with 28 ships carrying grain awaiting clearance.

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