Ukraine says it’s under Russian pressure in Donbas

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Ukraine says it’s under Russian pressure in Donbas

After five months of fighting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy described the pressure that his armed forces were under in the eastern Donbas region as hell Moscow is seeking to control the largely Russian-speaking Donbas, consisting of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, where pro-Moscow separatists gained control of territory after the Kremlin annexed Crimea to the south in 2014.

Zelenskiy spoke of fierce fighting around the city of Avdiivka and the fortified village of Pisky, where Ukraine acknowledged its Russian foe's partial success in recent days.

Russian forces had mounted at least two attacks on Pisky but had been repelled, the Ukrainian military said on Thursday.

Ukraine has spent the last eight years fortifying defensive positions in Pisky, seeing it as a buffer zone against Russian backed forces who control the city of Donetsk about 10 km to the southeast.

Ukrainian General Oleksiy Hromov told a news conference that his forces had recaptured two villages around the eastern city of Sloviansk but had been pushed back to the town of Avdiivka after having to abandon a coal mine regarded as an important defensive position.

Reuters could not verify either side's assertions.

The Ukraine war has displaced millions of people, killed thousands of civilians and left cities, towns and villages in rubble. Russia rejects Russia's accusations that Russian forces have accused Russian forces of targeting civilians and war crimes.

On Friday, Ukraine's General Staff said Russian shelling of scores of towns targeted civilian settlements as well as military infrastructure.

Human rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday that Ukraine was endangering civilians by basing troops in residential areas.

Zelenskiy said the group was trying to shift responsibility from the aggressor to the victim. The White House said it was expecting Russian officials to try and frame Ukrainian forces for an attack on the front-line town of Olenivka last week, which killed prisoners held by Moscow-backed separatists.

Russia's deputy UN ambassador responded in a tweet, saying the United States-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems were used in the attack.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday he would launch a fact-finding mission after both sides requested an investigation.

Putin said he launched a special military operation in Ukraine to ensure Russian security and protect Russian speakers in Ukraine.

Ukraine and the West describe Russia's actions as an unprovoked imperial-style war of aggression.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday that the war was the most dangerous moment for Europe since World War II and Russia must not be allowed to win.

Stoltenberg warned Putin that the response would be overwhelming, despite fears among some politicians in the West that Russia's ambitions may extend beyond Ukraine.

If President Putin thinks of doing something similar to NATO, as he has done in Georgia, Moldova or Ukraine, all of NATO will immediately be involved, Stoltenberg said.

The request has been ratified by 23 of the 30 member states, including the US, because of the war that has previously led non-aligned Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.