Ukraine mounted a new counteroffensive Sunday to reclaim land around the southern port city of Kherson. Russian forces shelled targets in eastern Ukraine in an attempt to capture Sievierodonetsk, the last Ukrainian-controlled city in the Luhansk region.
Kherson has served as a staging ground for Russian forces in southern Ukraine, the first major city to fall to Moscow’s forces as they swept north out of Crimea more than three months ago.
But Sunday, the Ukrainian military said on Twitter, “Hold on Kherson, we’re coming.”
Meanwhile, Sievierodonetsk was a main focus of Moscow’s offensive, and is now under heavy assault. The governor of the Luhansk region, which along with Donetsk makes up the Donbas region, said Friday that Russian troops have entered Sievierodonetsk.
"If Russia did succeed in taking over these areas, it would highly likely be seen by the Kremlin as a substantive political achievement and be portrayed to the Russian people as justifying the invasion," the British Defense Ministry said Saturday.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a rare visit outside the capital, Kyiv on Sunday to meet Ukrainian forces in the eastern city of Kharkiv, a trip meant to highlight the success of Kyiv in driving Russia away from Ukraine’s second-largest city.
Zelenskyy was briefed on current operations in the city and presented state awards to the troops.
“I want to thank each of you for your service,” Zelenskyy said. “You are risking your life for all of us and our state. Thank you for defending Ukraine’s independence. Take care!"
Ukrainian regional military administrator Oleh Synyehubov said 31% of the Kharkiv region is still occupied by Russian forces.
Ukrainian officials have signaled for weeks they hoped to launch a new southern counteroffensive to retake control of Kherson to try to cut off Russia’s supply routes into the city on bridges over the Dnipro River. They said their attack would depend on the delivery of more Western artillery systems.
Zelenskyy, in his Saturday night address, said more weaponry was also crucial in the “indescribably difficult” defense of the eastern Donbas region.
“Every day we are bringing closer the time when our army will surpass the occupiers technologically and by firepower,” he said. But that, ultimately, he said, depended on continued and increased Western support. “We work every day to strengthen our defense. This is primarily a supply of weapons,” he said.
“Of course, a lot depends on the partners,” Zelenskyy said. “On their readiness to provide Ukraine with everything necessary to defend freedom.”
The New York Times reports that Ukraine is “newly armed with Harpoon anti-ship cruise missiles from Denmark,” as Ukraine struggles to keep Russia from taking complete control of the Donbas.
Russia’s military says it has taken the eastern Ukrainian town of Lyman, a key railway hub in the Donetsk region. The capture could signal a shift in the momentum of the war.
"Following the joint actions of the units of the militia of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Russian armed forces, the town of Krasny Liman has been entirely liberated from Ukrainian nationalists," the Defense Ministry said in a statement, using the Russian name for Lyman. The claim has not been confirmed.
On Saturday, Russia also said it had successfully tested hypersonic missiles. The Defense Ministry said the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile traveled 1,000 kilometers and "successfully hit" a target in the Arctic.
Taking control of Lyman would set the stage for Russia to begin the next phase of its offensive in the Donbas region. The town is located 40 kilometers west of Sievierodonetsk, the largest Donbas city still held by Ukrainian forces.
The eastern Donbas region is Ukraine's industrial heartland and Zelenskyy has accused Moscow of carrying out a "genocide" there.
Zelenskyy said that Ukraine will defend "as much as our current defense resources allow."
He sounded a defiant note against Russia’s offensive in Ukraine’s east, saying, “If the occupiers think that Lyman or Sievierodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbas will be Ukrainian."
Ukraine seeks advanced rockets
Ukraine has been pleading for weeks with the United States to get U.S.-made Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, or MLRS, which are more powerful and more maneuverable than the howitzers and other artillery systems Washington and the West have provided to date.
Those pleas have only become louder as Russian forces have pushed ahead in eastern Ukraine, making what senior U.S. defense officials have described as “incremental gains” in a fight that has largely featured artillery and other so-called long-range fire.
“We're mindful and aware of Ukrainian asks privately and publicly for what is known as a Multiple Launch Rocket System,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters. “But I won’t get ahead of a decision that hasn’t been made yet.”
“We’re in constant communication with them about their needs,” he added. “We're working every single day to get weapons and systems into Ukraine, and every single day there are weapons and systems getting into Ukraine that are helping them, literally, in the fight.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded by warning that supplying Ukraine with weapons that could reach Russian territory would be a "a serious step towards unacceptable escalation."
VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.