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Russia reports fierce fighting as African peace mission leaves empty-handed

Reuters

Russia reported fierce fighting on Sunday on three sections of the front line in Ukraine, a day after hosting an African peace mission that failed to spark enthusiasm from either Moscow or Kyiv.

Putin meets African leaders

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with African leaders. PICTURE: Pavel Bednyakov/RIA Novosti via Reuters

A Russian-installed official said Ukraine had recaptured Piatykhatky, a village in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, and were entrenching themselves there while coming under fire from Russian artillery.

“The enemy’s ‘wave-like’ offensives yielded results, despite enormous losses,” the official, Vladimir Rogov, said on the Telegram messaging app.

UN SAYS RUSSIA REFUSES TO ALLOW HELP IN FOR FLOODED AREAS AFTER UKRAINE DAM BURST

The United Nations said on Sunday that Moscow had declined requests to help residents of Russian-controlled areas of southern Ukraine affected by the breach of the Kakhkova dam and vowed to press on with humanitarian efforts. 

The bursting of the dam on a hydroelectric station has flooded vast areas and created difficult conditions for thousands made homeless or without vital services.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko, writing on Facebook, put at 17 the death toll from the dam’s destruction, with 31 still missing. He said nearly 900 homes remained under water and more than 3,600 people had been evacuated.

The UN statement, issued by its humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, Denise Brown, said the world body “will continue to engage to seek the necessary access.”

“We urge the Russian authorities to act in accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law. Aid cannot be denied to people who need it.”

Ukraine and Russia blame each other for the breach.

Parts of Ukraine’s Kherson region, seized by Russian troops in the first days of the February, 2022, invasion, remain under Russian control.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly accused Russia of failing to evacuate or provide for the elementary needs of those in Moscow-controlled areas.

Kyiv reported at least one incident of Russian shelling of residents being evacuated in which three people were killed.

Andrei Alekseyenko, chairman of the Russian-installed administration in the Moscow-occupied parts of Kherson region, said on the Telegram messaging app the death toll had risen to 29 people.

A team of international legal experts assisting Ukraine’s prosecutors in their investigation said in preliminary findings on Friday it was “highly likely” the destruction of the dam was caused by explosives planted by Russians.

The Kremlin accuses Kyiv of sabotaging the hydroelectric dam, which held a reservoir the size of the US Great Salt Lake, to cut off a key source of water for Crimea and distract attention from a “faltering” counter-offensive against Russian forces.

– LIDIA KELLY, Melbourne, Australia/Reuters

Russia’s defence ministry made no mention of Piatykhatky in its daily update, in which it said its forces had repelled Ukrainian attacks in three sections of the 1,000 kilometre front line. A separate statement from Russia’s Vostok group of forces said Ukraine had failed to take the settlement.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports. 

There was no comment from Ukraine, which last week said it had recaptured another nearby settlement, Lobkove, and a string of villages further east, in Donetsk region, at the start of its long-awaited counteroffensive.

Ukrainian officials have imposed an information blackout to help operational security, but say that Russia has suffered much greater losses than Ukraine has during its new assault. 

A regional official said Ukrainian forces had destroyed a major Russian ammunition dump in occupied Kherson region, part of a weeks-long effort by Kyiv to wreak havoc with Russian supply lines. 

British defence intelligence said heavy fighting in recent days had been focused on Zaporizhzhia, western Donetsk and around Bakhmut, which Russian mercenaries captured last month after the longest battle of the war.

“In all these areas, Ukraine continues to pursue offensive operations and has made small advances,” it said on Twitter.

Russian defence operations had been “relatively effective in the south”, with both sides suffering heavy casualties, the assessment said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who rarely comments on the course of the war, made two unusually detailed interventions last week in which he derided the Ukrainian push and said Kyiv’s forces had “no chance” despite being newly equipped with Western tanks.

His comments appeared intended to reassure Russians at a crucial juncture, nearly 16 months into the conflict, as Ukraine seeks to break months of virtual stalemate and take back the 18 per cent of its territory that remains under Russian control. 

Peace mission
At talks in St Petersburg on Saturday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa presented Putin with a 10-point peace initiative from seven African countries and told him the time had come for Russia and Ukraine to start negotiations to end the war.

Putin responded by rattling off a string of familiar accusations denied by Ukraine and the West and saying it was Kyiv, not Moscow, that was refusing to talk. He thanked Ramaphosa for his “noble mission”.

Russian news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying Putin had shown interest in the plan but it would be “difficult to realise”. 

In Kyiv the previous day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had told the African delegation – the first since the start of the war to hold separate face-to-face talks with both leaders on their peace initiative – that allowing negotiations now would just “freeze the war” and the suffering of the Ukrainian people.



The vast gulf between the two sides was further underlined when Putin used a flagship economic forum on Friday to slur Zelenskiy personally and to restate the objectives of “demilitarising” and “denazifying” Ukraine that he set out on day one of the war, and which Kyiv and the West reject as a false pretext for invasion.

However, Ramaphosa sought to cast the trip to Ukraine and Russia in a positive light, tweeting on Sunday that the “Africa Peace Initiative has been impactful and its ultimate success will be measured on the objective, which is stopping the war”.

He said the Africans would keep talking to both Putin and Zelenskiy and would brief UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on their efforts so far. 

Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, said on Sunday they had not been expecting immediate results.

“But it is a beginning that we hope will bear fruit in the end.” 

Months of destruction
The war has destroyed Ukrainian towns and cities, forced millions of people to flee their homes and taken heavy but undisclosed casualties among both armies, as well as killing thousands of Ukrainian civilians.

Each side accused the other of blowing up a huge Ukrainian dam on 6th June and flooding large tracts of the war zone.

In the Russian-controlled town of Hola Prystan, Reuters filmed volunteers pumping out water from flooded homes on Saturday and distributing bread and drinking water.

“Not one person in the world will be punished for this torture we’re going through, for this terrible catastrophe,” said Tamara, a 78-year-old retired nurse.

“That’s what frustrates me. That no one will be punished for that. And I’d like it if at least one person was put [on trial] and punished for everything. So the whole world could see.”

– Additional reporting by DAN PELESCHUK, TOM BALMFORTH and WENDELL ROELF

 

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