Russian Invasion of Ukraine: What Happened on Day 106 of the War in Ukraine (Published 2022) (2024)

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Russian Invasion of Ukraine: What Happened on Day 106 of the War in Ukraine (Published 2022) (2)

Andrew E. Kramer and Ivor Prickett

Here’s the latest on the war in Ukraine.

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LYSYCHANSK, Ukraine — Just to move about town, Ukrainian soldiers accelerate to breakneck speeds in their S.U.V.s, screech around corners, zip into courtyards, then pile out and run for cover.

“They see us and they open fire,” Col. Yuriy Vashchuk said of the need to move quickly or become a vulnerable target for Russian artillery. “There’s no place in this town that is safe.”

He was careering around on the high ground of Lysychansk, across the river from Sievierodonetsk, the site of the fiercest fighting in Ukraine’s east. To be prepared, he placed a hand grenade in the cup holder between the front seats of his vehicle. A box of pistol ammunition slid back and forth on the dashboard as he drove.

Signs of Ukraine’s tenuous military positions are everywhere: On the hills overlooking Sievierodonetsk, smoke from a dozen or so fires testify to weeks of seesaw urban combat. The single supply route to the west is littered with burned vehicles, hit by Russian artillery.

The clanging, metallic explosions of incoming shells ring out every few minutes.

These two cities, separated by the Seversky Donets River, have become the focal point of the battle in the east, though weeks of bombardment have driven away most civilians, and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine recently referred to them as “dead cities.’’

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Russia’s goal is clear: It aims to capture the cities, even if that means flattening them, and continue its march westward.

Yet Ukraine’s strategy there remains unclear. Analysts say Sievierodonetsk, with its empty streets and hollowed-out buildings, is of limited military significance, and in recent days Mr. Zelensky has spoken both of the merits of pulling back and the longer-term risks of doing so.

On Wednesday night, he swung back toward emphasizing its importance, framing the fighting there as pivotal to the broader battle for the region. “In many ways, the fate of our Donbas is being decided there,” he said in his nightly speech to the nation.

“We defend our positions, inflict significant losses on the enemy,” Mr. Zelensky said. “This is a very fierce battle, very difficult. Probably one of the most difficult throughout this war.”

Still, the government’s mixed signals emerged again on Thursday when Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, made a desperate plea for more powerful weapons. “We have proved that, unlike many others, we do not fear the Kremlin,” he said. “But as a country we cannot afford to be losing our best sons and daughters.”

He warned that as many as 100 Ukrainian soldiers were being killed every day.

Indeed, the fighting on the plains in eastern Ukraine has become a race between Russia’s tactic of making slow, methodical advances that gain ground even as they reduce towns to rubble and kill untold numbers, and the delivery — far too slow, Ukrainians say — of powerful Western weapons needed to halt the invaders.

The Ukrainian military and government are now making no secret of the challenges they face in the east, three and a half months after Russia invaded. Their daily updates that highlight real setbacks are atypically honest by the standards of military press offices, a tactic perhaps intended to add a sense of urgency to their daily calls for heavy Western weaponry.

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Russia has also been moving swiftly to punish Ukrainian soldiers captured on the battlefield.

On Thursday, two Britons and a Moroccan who fought for the Ukrainian military were sentenced to death by a court in a Russian-occupied region of eastern Ukraine after they were accused of being mercenaries, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

The death sentences for the men — Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, of Britain and Brahim Saadoun of Morocco — alarmed human rights advocates and raised questions about the protections for thousands of foreign-born fighters serving in Ukraine, some of whom have been taken prisoner.

In Russia, investigators said on Thursday that they had opened 1,100 cases of potential “crimes against peace” committed by captured Ukrainian service members, possibly paving the way for a mass show trial.

The fighting in Sievierodonetsk has come down to block-by-block combat, though Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, suggested on Thursday that Russia may have partly withdrawn to clear the battlefield for further artillery bombardments.

Sievierodonetsk lies on the mostly flat, eastern bank of the river and the Ukrainian forces’ sole supply line is a partly obstructed bridge. Two other bridges were blown up earlier in the fighting. On the river floodplain below one of the ruined bridges lies the upside-down wreck of a truck that plunged when the span was destroyed.

Russian Invasion of Ukraine: What Happened on Day 106 of the War in Ukraine (Published 2022) (3)

BELARUS

RUSSIA

Siversky

Donets R.

Kyiv

Lviv

UKRAINE

Sievierodonetsk

Lysychansk

DONBAS

MOLDOVA

ROMANIA

Sea of

Azov

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On the high, western bank is the city of Lysychansk. The two cities form a single metropolitan area, separated only by the river. Lysychansk, on the high bank, is seen as a more defensible fallback position for the Ukrainians fighting in this area.

In Lysychansk, asphalt chunks, sheared-off tree branches and other debris from shelling litter the city’s streets, which were otherwise mostly empty on a visit this week. Broken power lines droop from poles. At one spot, an unexploded Russian rocket juts out of a sidewalk.

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Across the river, the streets in Sievierodonetsk were at moments eerily quiet, at other times a cacophony of gunshots and explosions.

Rapid fire from the large-caliber guns on armored personnel carriers, sounding like a jackhammer at work, echoed around the area.

A few miles to the west, another battle is raging across a pastoral landscape of rolling steppe and small villages as Russian forces try to cut supply lines, surround the two cities and trap the Ukrainian fighters there. The two armies continually fire artillery at each other, with the Russians getting the upper hand for now.

A maze of rural back roads is now the only route in for the Ukrainians, and it is vulnerable to Russian artillery. In a field a few hundred yards off a road on Wednesday, a Ukrainian military vehicle burned and sent up a plume of black smoke.

“They are trying to make a circle, to trap all soldiers inside and destroy them,” said Mariana Bezugla, the deputy head of the Security, Defense and Intelligence Committee in Ukraine’s Parliament.

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The military does not disclose troop numbers, but Ms. Bezugla said several thousand Ukrainian soldiers were now deployed in the area at risk of being surrounded.

Ms. Bezugla wears a military uniform and gold-tinted aviator glasses while driving about in a van once used as an armored vehicle for a bank. She has been living in the potential encirclement zone for the past two weeks, she said, working to ensure that military aid to Ukraine is not misused. That issue is likely to rise in importance as billions of dollars in Western aid arrives.

That weaponry is flowing in, but not reaching the front quickly. Poland has promised tanks and armored vehicles, according to the Polish government. Norway has sent self-propelled howitzers, along with spare parts and ammunition. The United States and allies sent towed howitzers. And this month the United States and Britain promised advanced, mobile, multi-rocket launchers, which the Ukrainian military has said it needs to hit Russian targets far from the front.

But it is unclear how much of it has arrived in the places it is most needed, and whether it will be enough.

“I cannot say that I am satisfied with the tempo and quantity of weapon supplies. Absolutely not,” said Mr. Reznikov, the defense minister. “But at the same time, I am extremely ​grateful to the countries that support us.”

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Ms. Bezugla said she was also thankful. “But for me, it’s hard to understand why help is given in doses, just enough to survive but not enough to win,” she said. “It worries me. Our people are dying every day here.”

Out in a field of green wheat shoots, one sign of the need for additional American military aid was the blown-up debris of earlier assistance. An American M777 howitzer had lost an artillery duel; it was blasted into several blackened, charred pieces amid craters from Russian artillery.

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Reporting was contributed by Oleksandr Chubko from Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Marc Santora from Warsaw, Michael Levenson from New York, Dan Bilefsky from Montreal, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia and Valerie Hopkins from Chernihiv, Ukraine.

Russian Invasion of Ukraine: What Happened on Day 106 of the War in Ukraine (Published 2022) (4)

June 9, 2022, 9:03 p.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 9:03 p.m. ET

Ivan Nechepurenko

Reporting from Tbilisi, Georgia

Yandex, often described as Russia’s Google, said it had de-emphasized national borders in its maps, one of its most popular products. The move prompted many observers to speculate online that the company wanted to avoid being pressured to redraw borders as Russia captures more of Ukraine. As of Thursday night, lines designating many countries were barely visible on Yandex maps. The border between Ukraine and Russia, for instance, was denoted with the same line as the borders between different regions in Ukraine. In a statement, the company explained the move by saying that it wants its maps to be oriented around local use. “Yandex Maps is a universal service that helps people find organizations and places nearby, choose public transport and plan comfortable routes,” the company said.

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In his nightly speech, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said he and other officials had held a meeting about Ukraine's current and postwar economic policy. They discussed a grant program for small and medium-sized businesses, he said, as well as developing the country’s security sector, industrial recovery and attracting investment.

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Russian Invasion of Ukraine: What Happened on Day 106 of the War in Ukraine (Published 2022) (6)

June 9, 2022, 7:30 p.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 7:30 p.m. ET

Jesus Jimenez

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, said in an interview with the BBC on Thursday that Ukrainian military casualties are now between 100 and 200 per day. Zelensky said last week that the Ukrainian army was losing 60 to 100 soldiers a day.

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June 9, 2022, 4:00 p.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 4:00 p.m. ET

Dan Bilefsky and Valerie Hopkins

Three foreign fighters in Ukraine’s army are sentenced to death in Russia-occupied territory.

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Two Britons and a Moroccan who had fought for the Ukrainian armed forces were sentenced to death Thursday by a court in Russia-occupied eastern Ukraine after being accused of being mercenaries, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

The death sentences were the latest ominous step in a trial that has alarmed human rights advocates and Western governments, raising questions about the protections afforded to thousands of foreign-born fighters serving in Ukraine, some of whom have been taken prisoner on the battlefield.

Britain’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, wrote on Twitter that the court verdict was a “sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy.” One British member of Parliament called the proceedings a “Soviet-era-style show trial.”

Prosecutors had accused the three men — Aiden Aslin, 28, Shaun Pinner, 48, and Brahim Saadoun — of being mercenaries and terrorists who were seeking to violently overthrow the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, one of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine that Russia has recognized.

But defenders of the three men said all three had immigrated to Ukraine, had made homes there and were fighting for their adopted country’s army before they were ensnared in what appeared to be a trial in which the verdict was predetermined.

The harsh sentences received a swift and angry rebuke from the British government. A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said that “prisoners of war shouldn’t be exploited for political purposes,” according to the BBC.

Legal experts said the trial appeared calculated to discourage foreign volunteers, including Americans, from joining Ukraine’s military by warning them that they could be denied the protections granted to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

But on Thursday, judicial officials in the Donetsk People’s Republic, where Russian-allied forces have been fighting Ukrainian troops since 2014, doubled down on their contention that the men were violent mercenaries deserving of death.

Prosecutors claimed that the three men were guilty of “training for the purpose of carrying out terrorist activities” and that they undertook their activities “for a fee.”

Alexander Nikulin, the chairman of the board of the Appellate Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Donetsk People’s Republic, said the men had intended to overthrow the region’s de facto government, which is allied with Moscow and which Ukraine, along with much of the rest of the world, does not regard as legitimate.

Mr. Nikulin said that the court had convicted the men and sentenced them to death after they had pleaded guilty to the charges of being mercenaries.

“When handing down the sentence, the court used not only written regulations and rules, but also the main, unshakable principle of justice,” he told reporters, according to Interfax. The men have one month to appeal.

At a hearing on Wednesday, the three men stood in a glass cage in a courtroom in Donetsk, the capital of the region, according to video released by the Russian government. All three were asked if they would plead guilty to the charges, and each said yes.

Interfax said that Mr. Pinner and Mr. Aslin had surrendered in the southern port city of Mariupol in April, while Mr. Brahim had surrendered in the eastern town of Volnovakha in March.

The British prime minister’s office stressed that, under the Geneva Conventions, “prisoners of war are entitled to combatant immunity and they should not be prosecuted for participation in hostilities.”

Robert Jenrick, a Conservative member of Parliament in Newark, Mr. Aslin’s hometown in central England, wrote on Twitter that Mr. Aslin was not a mercenary, but had been living in Ukraine and had served in its armed forces before Russia’s invasion. Mr. Aslin is entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions, Mr. Jenrick said.

“This disgusting Soviet-era-style show trial is the latest reminder of the depravity of Putin’s regime,” he wrote, adding: “They cannot treat British citizens like this and get away with it.”

Under the Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war must be treated humanely and be protected from violence, intimidation, insults and public curiosity, as well as sheltered and provided with food, clothing and medical care.

Denis Krivosheev, an official with Amnesty International, said that the sentences were a “blatant violation of international humanitarian law.”

“The three were members of the Ukrainian regular forces,” he said, “and under the Geneva Conventions, as prisoners of war, they are protected from prosecution for taking part in hostilities.” The only exception, he said, is prosecutions on war crimes charges.

According to the BBC, Mr. Aslin moved to Ukraine in 2018 and joined its military. He is engaged to a Ukrainian woman, the broadcaster said. Mr. Pinner comes from Bedfordshire, had served in the British Army and married a Ukrainian, the BBC reported.

Mr. Saadoun arrived in Ukraine in 2019, learned Russian, and signed up for the Ukrainian army a year ago, a friend, Ilya Zub, said.

“Brahim is not a mercenary,” Mr. Zub said, adding that he had known Mr. Saadoun for more than a year. “He came to Ukraine in 2019 and decided he wanted to start a new life.”

Russian Invasion of Ukraine: What Happened on Day 106 of the War in Ukraine (Published 2022) (9)

June 9, 2022, 3:33 p.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 3:33 p.m. ET

Anushka Patil

At least 4.8 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe, the U.N.’s refugee agency reported on Thursday, citing new data from national authorities. The war has resulted in “one of the largest human displacement crises in the world today,” the agency said.

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June 9, 2022, 1:15 p.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 1:15 p.m. ET

Anton Troianovski

Putin the Great? The Russian president likens himself to a famous czar.

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Among President Vladimir V. Putin’s motives for invading Ukraine, his view of himself as being on a historic mission to rebuild the Russian Empire has always loomed large. On Thursday, Mr. Putin went further, comparing himself directly to Peter the Great.

It was a new, if carefully staged, glimpse into Mr. Putin’s sense of his own grandeur.

Mr. Putin on Thursday marked the 350th anniversary of Peter’s birth by visiting a new multimedia exhibit about the czar in Moscow. He then held a town-hall-style meeting with young Russian entrepreneurs and opened it by reflecting on Peter’s conquest of the Baltic coast during his 18th-century war with Sweden.

Mr. Putin described the land Peter conquered as rightfully Russian.

“He was returning it and strengthening it,” Mr. Putin said, leaning back in his armchair, before hinting with a smile that he was now doing the same thing in his war in Ukraine. “Well, apparently, it has also fallen to us to return and to strengthen.”

Mr. Putin said that when Peter founded the city of St. Petersburg on the captured land, “none of the countries of Europe recognized it as Russian.” That remark seemed to be a clear reference to the present day, when no Western country has recognized Moscow’s claim to Crimea, much less to the parts of eastern and southern Ukraine Russia has seized in the last three months.

Mr. Putin seemed to suggest that the West, as it did centuries ago, would eventually come around and recognize those regions as Russian.

Peter, Russia’s first emperor, has always been an object of fascination for Mr. Putin, who himself comes from St. Petersburg. The Russian president keeps a bronze statue of the czar by his ceremonial desk.

But in recent days, Russian officials have been promoting the comparison between Mr. Putin and Peter with special energy; the governor of St. Petersburg on Thursday said that he felt the same pride for today’s Russian soldiers in Ukraine “as we take pride in the memory of Peter’s warriors.”

There is at least one historical problem with the official Putin-Peter comparisons.

The czar is known for opening Russia’s “window to Europe,” building St. Petersburg in a European mold and bringing Western technology and culture to Russia. Mr. Putin’s Ukraine invasion, many Russians fear, has slammed that window shut.

Last week a Russian journalist asked the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, whether the window to Europe was closing. He responded: “No one is planning to close anything.”

On Thursday, Mr. Putin repeated that message in his meeting with entrepreneurs, insisting that Russia would not close itself off from the rest of the world as the Soviet Union did. Even if the United States and the European Union do not want to do business with Russia, he said, countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa will.

“Our economy will be open — whoever isn’t interested will be robbing themselves,” Mr. Putin said. “It’s impossible to fence off a country like Russia, and we are not planning to put up a fence like that around us ourselves.”

June 9, 2022, 12:02 p.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 12:02 p.m. ET

Ivan Nechepurenko

Russia opens 1,100 cases against Ukrainian soldiers, raising fears of show trials.

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Russian investigators on Thursday said they had opened more than 1,100 cases into “crimes against peace” committed by the Ukrainian government, paving the way for what could turn into a mass show trial of hundreds of Ukrainian service members.

From the start, Russia has justified its invasion of Ukraine with a false claim that the government in Kyiv is controlled by far-right, pro-Nazi groups that have perpetrated “humiliation and genocide” against the Ukrainian people.

Announcing the invasion in February, President Vladimir V. Putin claimed the purpose of the offensive was to “demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians.”

Russian investigators are now moving forward with cases against Ukrainian soldiers, fulfilling Mr. Putin’s promise. The servicemen include members of the Azov regiment, whose roots in far-right movements have offered a veneer of credibility for Mr. Putin’s tenuous claims that Ukraine has been infected with Nazism.

Beyond holding trials to support its narrative of the war, the Kremlin might also turn the fate of these prisoners into a powerful bargaining chip in any future talks with Kyiv.

The Investigative Committee, the country’s top investigative body, said in a statement that hundreds of Ukrainian service members, including more than 200 officers, had already been interrogated. Among them were those captured at the sprawling Azovstal steel plant in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

On Tuesday, Sergei K. Shoigu, the country’s defense minister, said Russia currently is holding 6,489 Ukrainian prisoners of war. Around 2,500 servicemen were captured at the Azovstal plant, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday.

The investigators have interviewed more than 75,000 people described as victims. On Thursday, they reported about their progress to Aleksandr Bastrykin, the agency’s head, who came to Mariupol to preside over a meeting with them. Mr. Bastrykin ordered his subordinates to speed up the process.

“These are not simple street sweepers, drivers and cooks,” Mr. Bastrykin told those at the meeting, referring to the prisoners. “These are commanders.”

Together with forensic experts, investigators have formed 30 mobile groups that began to scour through the city of Mariupol “block by block” looking for evidence, the investigators said.

On its website, the Investigative Committee opened a special section, listing dozens of Ukrainian servicemen and government officials that it had accused of committing crimes.

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Russian Invasion of Ukraine: What Happened on Day 106 of the War in Ukraine (Published 2022) (12)

June 9, 2022, 10:39 a.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 10:39 a.m. ET

Anton Troianovski

President Vladimir V. Putin offered a glimpse into his sense of himself as carrying on the legacy of the Russian czars. Leaning back in an armchair, Mr. Putin started a televised meeting with young entrepreneurs in Moscow on Thursday by reflecting on Peter the Great’s 18th-century conquest of the Baltic coast, describing that land as rightfully Russian.

Russian Invasion of Ukraine: What Happened on Day 106 of the War in Ukraine (Published 2022) (13)

June 9, 2022, 10:39 a.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 10:39 a.m. ET

Anton Troianovski

“He wasn’t taking anything away — he was returning it,” Mr. Putin said of that territory, before hinting that he was doing the same thing in his war in Ukraine. “He was returning it and strengthening it. Well, apparently, it has also fallen to us to return and to strengthen.”

June 9, 2022, 10:13 a.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 10:13 a.m. ET

Marc Santora

Reporting from Warsaw

Ukraine’s defense chief says his nation ‘desperately needs heavy weapons.’

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With Ukrainian forces outgunned in battles across the east, the nation’s defense chief said on Thursday that he was not satisfied with the speed or the quantity of weapons coming into Ukraine, even as he praised the generosity of Western allies.

“We have already received, bought on the market, manufactured and handed over to the Armed Forces of Ukraine a significant number of weapons,” said Oleksiy Reznikov, the defense minister. “These numbers would have been enough for a victorious defense operation against any army in Europe,” he added. “But not against Russia.”

Russia has shown that it is willing to take heavy casualties and commit a large amount of its arsenal to the war, he said, adding that the sheer size of its destructive force was taking a toll on the Ukrainian Army.

“Ukraine desperately needs heavy weapons, and very fast,” he said. “We have proved that, unlike many others, we do not fear the Kremlin. But as a country we cannot afford to be losing our best sons and daughters.”

The fighting is now mostly taking place at a distance, with the armies lobbing artillery at each other from miles apart, a hail of metal and shrapnel raining down over soldiers hunkering in trenches. The Russians have far more weapons that can reach longer distances than the Ukrainians do.

“The situation at the front lines is difficult,” Mr. Reznikov said. “Every day, we have up to 100 of our soldiers killed and up to 500 wounded.”

Although the Ukrainian military has “a clear artillery supply plan until the end of July,” he said, the call from soldiers on the front lines for more powerful weapons has been growing as the fight has become more grueling.

“I cannot say that I am satisfied with the tempo and quantity of weapon supplies,” he said. “Absolutely not.”

In early March, the defense chief said, it was clear that the war could become a grinding conflict, and a decision was made to shift the country’s arsenal away from Soviet legacy weapons to the systems used by NATO member states.

Although he said that was the right decision, it created challenges, because soldiers needed to be trained on the new equipment. He said that training on some weapons systems began in March, even before foreign governments said they would provide them, although he did not offer details.

“More than 1,500 of our servicemen are currently undergoing training or will begin their training shortly,” Mr. Reznikov said.

He defended the Ukrainian military’s handling of weapons supplies, saying that the Defense Ministry had rushed to scale up its import capacity. And in an apparent reference to concerns about the speed with which Ukrainian soldiers could be trained on advanced weapons, he said: “We receive all kinds of signals, including criticism. We know our flaws and work hard to correct them.”

Since the start of the war, he said, Ukraine’s military has put into use 150 155-millimeter artillery platforms, including American-supplied howitzers. Poland on Thursday joined the United States, Britain and France in providing these types of heavy artillery systems, which are considered increasingly crucial in the long-distance war in Ukraine’s east.

Ukraine’s coastal defense is being strengthened by the Harpoon anti-ship missiles, he said, some of which have been supplied by Denmark. Along with Ukrainian-produced Neptune rockets, he said, the deployment of Harpoons has prompted Russian naval forces to pull farther back from Ukraine’s southern Black Sea coastline “to avoid the fate of the Russian Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva.”

Ukraine sank the Moskva in April.

June 9, 2022, 7:00 a.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 7:00 a.m. ET

Andrew E. Kramer and Marc Santora

Here are the latest developments in the war in Ukraine.

With smoke rising from Sievierodonetsk and the rattle of gunfire echoing from vicious street-by-street combat, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has described the battle for the eastern city as a crucial moment in the war as his outgunned forces struggle to deny Russian forces another city in the Donbas region.

Mr. Zelensky said late Wednesday that his troops were continuing to inflict losses on Russian forces. But from across a river in the Ukrainian-held city of Lyschansk, the perils facing the Ukrainian side were clear as barrages of artillery from the better-armed Russian forces sent soldiers scrambling for cover.

The fighting in Sievierodonetsk has become a focal point in what is increasingly a war of attrition in Donbas.

Both sides are struggling for control of what Mr. Zelensky has called “dead cities” — once-vibrant metropolises that are now devastated and mostly empty of people after weeks of Russian bombardment.

The Russian goal now seems fairly clear: to establish unshakable control over a vast and resource-rich swath of eastern Ukraine that Moscow has long coveted.

Ukraine’s objectives seem less certain.

In recent days, Mr. Zelensky has spoken both of the merits of pulling back from some cities to prevent losing more troops and of the longer-term risks of doing so. On the ground, the signals have also been mixed. Last week, for example, Ukrainian forces appeared to withdraw from Sievierodonetsk, only to mount a counterattack that has drawn Russian forces into brutal, close-quarters urban combat.

Ukraine seems to be staking its hopes of turning back the Russian offensive on the arrival of more sophisticated, longer-range weapons from Western countries. Its officials have pleaded with the United States and its allies to send still more arms, and more quickly, to help dent Russia’s advantage in firepower.

“The fate of our Donbas is being decided,” Mr. Zelensky said.

In other developments:

  • President Vladimir V. Putin reflected on Peter the Great’s 18th-century conquest of the Baltic coast, describing that land as rightfully Russian. “He wasn’t taking anything away — he was returning it,” Mr. Putin said, hinting that he was doing the same thing in this war.

  • Russia opened prosecutions against more than a thousand captured Ukrainian fighters.

  • In Ukrainian areas under Russian control, guerrilla-style attacks on Kremlin loyalists and proxies hint at continuing challenges from Ukrainians against Russia’s rule.

  • Radiation detectors at the defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine are back online for the first time since the Russian invasion and are showing readings of normal radiation levels, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

  • The European Parliament recommended that Ukraine be granted candidate status for membership in the European Union, according to Ukraine’s prime minister. The E.U.’s decision on Ukraine’s candidacy is expected in late June.

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June 9, 2022, 6:11 a.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 6:11 a.m. ET

Andrew E. Kramer and Marc Santora

Street fighting and fires: The scene as fighting pummels Sievierodonetsk.

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LYSYCHANSK, Ukraine — From the high ground across the river from the contested city of Sievierodonetsk, the precariousness of the Ukrainian position is clear.

The city is burning. As smoke rises, the boom of artillery thunders unceasingly. The clatter of small-arms fire from urban street battles echoes in the distance. Ukrainian soldiers still in control of Lysychansk, the twin city of Sievierodonetsk, scramble from bunkers to basem*nts, seeking cover as mortars, artillery and rockets pound their position.

This is what a war of attrition looks like — both sides inflicting as much pain as they can while trying to hold their resolve. And in recent days Ukrainian officials have said that while there may be a need to withdraw from certain positions, the battle over the twin cities could prove pivotal in the war for the eastern region known as Donbas.

“In many ways, the fate of our Donbas is being decided there,” President Volodymyr Zelensky told Ukraine in his overnight address on Wednesday.

While fierce fighting has raged along basically the same front lines in eastern Ukraine for months — with Russia slowly making limited gains — both the Ukrainians and Russians in recent days have been placing an ever greater symbolic importance on a battle being waged for control over what Mr. Zelensky called “dead cities” that are mostly empty of people and ravaged by weeks of Russian bombardment.

In the current stage of the war, Russia has directed the bulk of its combat forces in Ukraine to the fight in the east, using its advantage in heavy artillery to obliterate towns and villages and drive out Ukrainians there before moving into the wreckage.

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BELARUS

RUSSIA

Kyiv

Lviv

UKRAINE

Sievierodonetsk

Lysychansk

Dnipro

MOLDOVA

ROMANIA

Sea of

Azov

CRIMEA

100 mileS

From Mr. Zelensky to the soldiers crouching in trenches and huddled in basem*nts, the refrain is the same: Long-range Western artillery is not arriving fast enough.

“There is no problem here that we have bad positions or we maneuver badly or choose a good position,” Petro Kuzyk, the commander of a Ukrainian battalion fighting in the east, said on national Ukrainian television. “The problem is that we are catastrophically short of artillery.”

In the fight for Sievierodonetsk, the Ukrainians threw a wrinkle into the plans by appearing to withdraw from the city last week, only to then launch a counterattack. In close urban combat, Ukrainian soldiers feel that they have the advantage and can inflict heavy losses on the Russians.

Fighting continued to rage in Sievierodonetsk on Thursday even as the Ukrainian military said Russia was looking for weaknesses in its defense.

While Russian forces have struggled to cross the river separating Lysychansk from Sievierodonetsk, they are sending in what the Ukrainians call “diversionary sabotage groups” of commandos to target Ukrainian supply lines. Russian forces are also looking for ways to flank the forces.

A highway leading to Lysychansk from the south — which until recently was a key lifeline for getting humanitarian aid into the two cities — is the scene of fierce fighting. The Ukrainians moving in and out of the area now use back roads.

Russian Invasion of Ukraine: What Happened on Day 106 of the War in Ukraine (Published 2022) (20)

June 9, 2022, 4:18 a.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 4:18 a.m. ET

Shashank Bengali

Reporting from London

The British Defense Ministry said on Thursday in its latest intelligence assessment that fighting continued around the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, whose capture could move Russian forces closer to seizing all of the Donbas region. It also said Moscow’s troops were trying to renew a push into Donbas from the occupied city of Izium to the west to “put further pressure on Sievierodonetsk.”

Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine - 9 June 2022

Find out more about the UK government's response: https://t.co/og2mqOHzJQ

🇺🇦 #StandWithUkraine 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/XGp8Uc97x9

— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) June 9, 2022

June 9, 2022, 1:34 a.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 1:34 a.m. ET

Carlotta Gall

For Ukraine’s frontline soldiers, frayed nerves and blank stares.

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The number of Ukrainian casualties remains a closely guarded secret.

The media-conscious government of President Volodymyr Zelensky has carefully controlled the flow of information in an apparent attempt to keep public morale high. Hospitals and military officials are forbidden from disclosing casualty numbers. Reporters are generally not permitted to visit the front line in Ukraine and photographs and videos showing wounded and dead soldiers are rare.

Yet with Russian artillery pounding its forces in the east, Ukraine is seeing casualties mount at such a rate that last week Mr. Zelensky said the army was losing 60 to 100 soldiers a day, and for the first time visited troops on the front lines.

For the men at the front, the strain is visible: in the dead-tired eyes of a police chief after another day leading his men in a bombarded city; in the blank stare of a commander who had just lost one of his best soldiers; and in the tense look of a group of soldiers heading for the first time to ground zero, as they call the frontline trenches.

Those soldiers are facing perhaps the most grueling weeks and months of the war as they try to stem, and survive, the Russian onslaught.

Here is our report from the front line.

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June 9, 2022, 1:34 a.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 1:34 a.m. ET

Valerie Hopkins

Reporting from Rusaniv, Ukraine

At 82, a Ukrainian artist with memories of World War II tries to capture the current disaster on canvas.

Volodymyr Titulenko has long been haunted by his early childhood memories of World War II. Now, at 82 years old, the artist is expressing his pain about the current war through his painting.

Mr. Titulenko’s home in the village of Rusaniv, an hour east of Kyiv, was on the front line between the Ukrainian military and the forces invading from Russia. With his wife and granddaughter in Kyiv making sure his work in a gallery there was safe, he spent two weeks sheltering in his village home alone.

Mr. Titulenko, who can see well out of only one eye, has been glued to television reports about the war, and that is reflected in his art.

After he returned to his studio in his flower-filled backyard, one of his first paintings was “Spring in Rusaniv,” which shows blossoming wildflowers in the foreground and flaming Russian tanks in the background. On the road near the tanks, the bodies of two Russian soldiers are splayed.

During a visit on Tuesday, Mr. Titulenko was painting fine brushstrokes on his latest work: “Mariupol ’22,” a large canvas depicting the destruction of the city and a Madonna-like figure cradling a child. He said he decided to paint it when he couldn’t get an image out of his head from the steel plant in the city where Ukrainian fighters held out for weeks. It was an image of Anna Zaitseva, who had been sheltering in the bowels of the steel plant since Feb. 25 with her infant son, Svyatoslav.

“I saw an image of a woman emerging from the Azovstal steel plant holding a child,” he said.

The mother figure had a halo around her head, a nod to another of his passions: icon painting.

Behind him, his granddaughter Eva was painting at a small easel. One of her paintings was going to be auctioned off to raise money for the Ukrainian army. Her mother was in Ukraine’s east volunteering to help the military.

Mr. Titulenko, who also carves wooden sculptures, has long painted political work along with his icons and bucolic landscapes. Some paintings hanging in his studio gallery satirize leaders like former President Viktor Yanukovych, who used his political position to become the richest man in Ukraine, and another businessman who became president, Petro Poroshenko. The two men are shown in one work roping off the country’s natural resources with a sign saying “New Tariffs.”

Nearby hung a painting of two small children standing before a heap of destroyed military hardware. The work was finished several years ago and was inspired by Mr. Titulenko’s childhood in postwar Berlin, where his father, a Soviet soldier, was stationed. During the war, he was with his grandparents in Ukraine, separated for several years from his mother, who was studying art in Moscow and had been evacuated to the Ural Mountains, and from his father, who had also been an art student in Moscow before being deployed to the front.

His mother eventually left Russia, posing as a nurse to pick up Mr. Titulenko in Ukraine before going to Berlin to reunite with his father, and he spent several years after the war in Germany. He did not expect to see childhood memories repeated in his old age, and he especially did not expect Russians to invade his home.

“My mother was from Russia,” Mr. Titulenko, who himself was born in the Russian capital while his parents were studying, said. “Who could expect someone would come from Russia to kill us?”

His wife, Ludmila, said she had a hard time understanding why Russia would invade.

“We always lived here peacefully, calmly,” she said. “No one had any problems with language or nationality; no one ever talked about it.”

Mr. Titulenko has one final major project in mind. “I will paint a mural to celebrate the Ukrainian victory,” he said.

June 9, 2022, 1:34 a.m. ET

June 9, 2022, 1:34 a.m. ET

Victoria Kim

Zelensky cites a ‘very fierce battle’ over the city of Sievierodonetsk.

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President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine says his troops are continuing to inflict losses on Russian forces in a “very fierce battle” over the city of Sievierodonetsk, a center of the fight for the country’s eastern Donbas region and a sign of what has turned into a war of attrition as both sides mete out as much pain as they can.

“In many ways, the fate of our Donbas is being decided there,” the Ukrainian leader said in his nightly address on Wednesday.

The remarks underscored in perhaps his starkest terms the importance of what had been one of his military’s last major eastern strongholds, where the two sides have been locked in vicious street battles for days.

“We defend our positions, inflict significant losses on the enemy,” Mr. Zelensky said, calling the battle for the city “one of the most difficult throughout this war. I am grateful to everyone who defends this direction.”

The British Defense Ministry said on Thursday in its latest intelligence assessment that fighting continued around Sievierodonetsk, whose capture could move Russian forces closer to their objective of seizing all of Donbas. But the assessment also said that Moscow’s troops were trying to renew a push into Donbas from the occupied city of Izium to the west, and warned that progress there could “put further pressure on Sievierodonetsk.”

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June 8, 2022, 10:57 p.m. ET

June 8, 2022, 10:57 p.m. ET

Alex Traub

The Treasury Department bars Americans from buying Russian stocks.

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American citizens, permanent residents and companies are prohibited from buying Russian stocks and bonds, the Treasury Department said in guidance published on Monday.

New investments are forbidden, but Americans are not required to divest from Russian debt or securities, and they can sell their holdings to foreigners, according to the guidance, which is the latest addition to a raft of financial sanctions that the U.S. government has placed on Russia since its invasion of Ukraine.

On Feb. 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, Russia’s main stock index lost a third of its value, a trend celebrated by the Biden administration, which has sought to impose what it described at the time as “severe and immediate economic costs on Russia” in response to the war. Russia closed its stock market on Feb. 28 and reopened it under limited circ*mstances almost a month later.

The Treasury Department guidance suggests that some Americans have been betting that the market has overreacted to the war in Ukraine, said Paolo Pasquariello, a professor of finance at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, who is studying the economic fallout of the war. He pointed out that the Russian ruble collapsed soon after the onset of the war but has since rebounded, meaning some investors could have earned a significant return by betting on the ruble.

He described these investors as likely subscribers to the Latin expression of amoral financial motivation, “pecunia non olet” — money does not stink.

The measure is likely to affect only the wealthiest Russians, Professor Pasquariello said. The stock market in Russia is underdeveloped, and is most relevant to members of the elite who invest in a small number of companies, many of them in oil and gas, he said. Average Russians tend not to invest their savings there, he added.

Some U.S. sanctions, like banning the importation of Russian oil, coal and natural gas, are aimed at hurting Russia’s ability to fund its war, he said, while others, like seizing the yachts of oligarchs and making it harder for them to sell stocks and bonds, are intended to punish and put pressure on the country’s elite.

Russian oligarchs know that their assets are losing value and would like to sell them, but sanctions are limiting their options, Professor Pasquariello said. “Yachts are becoming very illiquid, because they cannot retrieve them and sell them.”

“Something similar is happening with Russian stocks and bonds,” he added. “They will not find buyers.”

Russian Invasion of Ukraine: What Happened on Day 106 of the War in Ukraine (Published 2022) (2024)
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