Ukrainian, Russian Forces Locked In Fierce Combat In The East As Zelenskiy Confers With Military Commanders

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Ukrainian T-72 tank

Heavy fighting continued unabated for the past 24 hours in the eastern Donetsk region, the Ukrainian military said on March 27, with the Russians keeping up pressure on the ruined city of Bakhmut, the focal point of Moscow’s offensive in the east, and also increasingly targeting Avdiyivka, another city in Donetsk.

Ukrainian forces repelled more than 60 Russian attacks in Bakhmut and its surroundings, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily report, as the invading forces continued to indiscriminately bombard both military and infrastructure targets, causing damage and casualties among civilians.

Two civilians were killed over the past 24 hours — one in the Kharkiv region in the explosion of an unidentified device and one as a result of Russian shelling in the Donetsk region, officials said on March 27.

“The probability of missile and air strikes on the entire territory of Ukraine remains high, as the enemy uses terror tactics,” the General Staff said, adding that Russian attacks mainly targeted Avdiyivka, Lyman, Kupyansk, and Maryinka.

Ukraine’s top military commander, Valeriy Zaluzhniy, said last week that the situation in and around Bakhmut, where Russian mercenaries from the private Wagner group were leading the assault on the city, has “stabilized” amid heavy losses sustained by Moscow’s forces.

However, Ukrainian military officials say Russian forces appear to be shifting their focus on Advdiyivka, less than 100 kilometers southwest of Bakhmut, where incessant Russian shelling has shut down all public services, and municipal workers have been evacuated from the city, where only about 2,000 civilians have been left out of a prewar population of some 30,000.

Avdiyivka is only some 20 kilometers northeast of Donetsk, the city that has been under the occupation of Russia-backed forces since 2014.

Vitaliy Barabash, head of the city’s military administration, said on Telegram on March 26 that Avdiyivka has been turned into “a place from postapocalyptic movies” by intensive Russian shelling.

Amid the fighting, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on March 26 held a meeting with Ukraine’s top military and intelligence officials to discuss the frontline situation and ways to strengthen Ukraine’s defense, the presidency said.

“Constantly, invariably, maximum attention is being given to the situation on the front line,” Zelenskiy said in its nightly video address on March 26.

The latest fighting comes amid international fallout over the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he had reached agreement to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, a close ally that borders both Russia and Ukraine.

Putin likened his move to Washington’s policy of placing such weapons on the territory of NATO allies and claimed that it did not violate the terms of the decades-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Kyiv condemned the plan and called for an urgent UN Security Council session and urged the international community to “take decisive measures” to prevent Moscow’s possible use of nuclear weapons.

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The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said that fellow post-Soviet republic Belarus was falling “hostage” to Moscow by allowing the stationing of nuclear weapons on its soil.

NATO assailed Putin for “dangerous and irresponsible” nuclear rhetoric.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted: “Belarus hosting Russian nuclear weapons would mean an irresponsible escalation & threat to European security. Belarus can still stop it, it is their choice. The EU stands ready to respond with further sanctions.”

Despite Putin’s comments, the White House said it did not see any indications that Russia was preparing to use nuclear weapons. It said, though, that “Russia’s reference to NATO’s nuclear sharing is totally misleading. NATO allies act with full respect of their international commitments,” including the NPT.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

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