Russian Federation (RF) ground and artillery units have intensified efforts to wrest the Donbas bastion town of Popasna from deeply dug-in defenders, as Ukraine Armed Forces (UAF) formations edged closer to the southern city of Kherson, official and news reports said on April 26.
Mayor Mykola Khatanov said in a statement that RF units were pounding Popasna with air strikes and artillery, and that fierce battles with street fighting were in progress. Ukrainian forces had held the town practically without losing ground for almost two months, but on April 24 Kyiv admitted that RF infantry had fought its way into the suburbs of Popasna.
Firefights within the town were continuous and intense, and civilians were sheltering in cellars, Khatanov said.
Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional defense command, said in a statement that 17 separate RF artillery and rocket artillery bombardments struck in Popasna over the past 24 hours, four of which he called “massive”.
Civilian casualties were likely but due to the ongoing fighting it was not possible for ambulances and rescue teams to get medical help to victims, Haidai said.
A morning situation report from Ukraine Army General Staff (AGS) said that the RF command has prioritized the capturing of Popasna because it is one of the most eastern localities still held in strength by the UAF and because the town blocks a westward advance to the major Donbas city of Kramatorsk.
Heavy RF assaults were also reported against UAF positions in the town of Rubizhne, north of the Donbas city of Severodonetsk, and against the town of Balakliya to the south of the city of Izyum in Kharkiv Region.
Oleh Sinehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional defense command, said the RF attack against Balakliya used artillery against civilian buildings. UAF forces held their positions and RF attack columns retired at both locations, Sinehubov and the AGS statement said, respectively.
According to the AGS, in the previous 24 hours UAF forces operating in Donbas had in total claimed the destruction of three tanks, five infantry fighting vehicles, 12 trucks, two artillery systems and one anti-aircraft system.
In late March the Kremlin announced it was pulling troops back from the Kyiv, Chernihiv and Kharkiv sectors so as to prepare for a major offensive to conquer the Donbas entirely. RF forces have since then managed to gain limited ground in Donbas’ Izyum and Severodonetsk sectors, but with reportedly heavy losses.
Presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych, speaking in television comments on the evening of April 25, said that RF assaults are taking place at five or six widely-separated locations every day because the Kremlin lacks sufficient troops and equipment to launch a real, wide-reaching offensive along the Donbas’ estimated 500+ kilometer fighting front.
Moscow’s continued use of scattered attacks is a military error possibly linked to as yet unconfirmed reports, first put forward by the OSINT group Bellingcat, that Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken personal control over RF forces fighting in Ukraine, Arestovych said.
In the southern Kherson sector, Ukraine’s regional Joint Forces South (JFS) reported that UAF forces attacked an RF ammunition dump near the town of Velyka Oleksandrivka, destroying “a great number of munitions” and inflicting casualties running into dozens. Elsewhere in the southern sector, UAF units destroyed two tanks, three infantry fighting vehicles, six engineering vehicles, and two trucks, the JGS statement said.
Ukrainian social media seemed to confirm that the Velyka Oleksandrivka engagement took place but the Kyiv Post could not confirm the specific JFS claims about damage and RF casualties.
According to Ukrainian social media and news reports, UAF units advancing south-east from Mykolaiv had reached Kherson’s outlying Chornobayivka District, and were firing on RF troops holding the nearby Mykolaiv airport. Occupied on the fourth day of the war, Kherson is the largest Ukrainian city fully captured by RF forces since the Kremlin’s invasion on Feb 24.
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