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Zelensky expects Russian offensive in northeast Ukraine to intensify

Published : Sunday, 19 May, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 91

KYIV, May 18: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told AFP in an exclusive interview he expects Russia to step up its offensive in the northeast and warned Kyiv only has a quarter of the air defences it needs to hold the front line.
Russian forces, which made only moderate advances in recent months, launched a surprise assault in Kharkiv region on May 10 that has resulted in their biggest territorial gains in a year-and-a-half.
Zelensky said Russian troops managed to advance between five to 10 kilometres (3-6 miles) along the northeastern border before being stopped by Ukrainian forces, but added that the region could be the "first wave" in a wider offensive.
"I won say its a great success (for Russia) but we have to be sober and understand that they are going deeper into our territory," he said, speaking from Kyiv on Friday in his first interview with foreign media since the offensive began.
Zelensky said the situation in the Kharkiv region has been "controlled" but "not stabilised".
He doubled down on pleas to allies to send more air defence and fighter jets to combat Russias air superiority as the war grinds through its third year.
"Today, we have about 25 percent of what we need to defend Ukraine. Im talking about air defence," he said.
Ukraine needs "120 to 130" F-16 fighter jets or other advanced aircraft to achieve air "parity" with Russia, Zelensky said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a trip to China this week the northeastern offensive was in retaliation for Ukraines shelling of border regions and that Moscow was trying to create a "security zone".
Russian forces have taken 278 square kilometres (107 square miles) between May 9 and 15, their biggest gains since the end of 2022, AFP calculated using data from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Russia said Saturday it had seized another village in the Kharkiv region.
"Units of the northern troop group liberated the village of Starytsya," the defence ministry said.
Ukraines defence forces said they "were focusing their main efforts on preventing the Russian occupants from advancing."
Ukraine has evacuated almost 10,000 people from the northeast border area since Russia launched the assault.
Ukrainian officials have accused Russian soldiers in the eastern town of Vovchansk of capturing dozens of civilians to use as "human shields" to defend their command headquarters -- a claim AFP was not able to immediately verify.    —AFP







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