Russian forces increased mortar and artillery attacks on the city of Kherson more than six weeks after it was retaken by Ukrainian troops, while also exerting pressure along front lines in the east, Ukraine’s military said on Wednesday.
Russia had shelled more than 25 settlements around Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, causing civilian casualties and damaging civilian infrastructure in Kherson city and region, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in a statement. It said a number of Russian forces were leaving their posts around Zaporizhzhia.
Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his nightly video address, urged Ukrainians to hug loved ones, tell friends they appreciate them, support colleagues, thank their parents and rejoice with their children more often.
“We have not lost our humanity, although we have endured terrible months,” he said. “And we will not lose it, although there is a difficult year ahead.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to invade Ukraine in late February, calling it a “special military operation” to demilitarize his neighbour, which he said posed a threat to Russia. Ukraine and its Western allies have denounced Russia as making an imperialist-style land grab.
The 10-month-long war has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and service personnel on both sides, the devastation of Ukrainian cities and towns, and the flight of millions from their homes. It has also disrupted the global economy, driving up energy and food prices.
Heavy fighting also persisted around the Ukrainian-held city of Bakhmut, now largely in ruins, in the eastern province of Donetsk, and to its north, around the cities of Svatove and Kreminna in Luhansk province, where Ukrainian forces are trying to break Russian defensive lines.
Britain’s defence ministry said Russia had likely reinforced the Kreminna section of the front line as it is logistically important to Moscow and has become relatively vulnerable following Ukrainian advances further west.
There is still no prospect of talks to end the war.
Zelensky is pushing a 10-point peace plan that envisages Russia fully respecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and pulling out all its troops.
But the Kremlin rejected the plan, repeating its stance that the Kyiv government must accept Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions: Luhansk and Donetsk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south. That has been dismissed by Ukraine and most other nations.
“There can be no peace plan for Ukraine that does not take into account today’s realities regarding Russian territory, with the entry of four regions into Russia,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Zelensky told parliament to remain united and praised Ukrainians for helping the West “find itself again.”
“Our national colours are today an international symbol of courage and indomitability of the whole world,” he said in a 45-minute behind-closed-doors speech.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia wanted the situation in Ukraine resolved as quickly as possible, with a priority on defending civilians and saving soldiers’ lives, TASS news agency said.
It quoted Lavrov as saying Russia would beef up its troops and technological capabilities in Ukraine. He said that Moscow’s mobilized troops had undergone “serious training” and while many of them were now on the ground, the majority were not yet at the front.
Russian forces abandoned Kherson city around Nov. 11 in one of Ukraine’s most significant gains of the war. The Kherson region, at the mouth of the Dnipro River, serves as a gateway to Russian-annexed Crimea.
The joy of Kherson residents over the city’s liberation has quickly given way to fear amid relentless Russian shelling from the east bank of the Dnipro, and many have since fled.
Russian forces shelled the maternity wing of a hospital in Kherson, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff, said on the Telegram messaging app. No one was hurt and the staff and patients had been moved to a shelter, he added.
TV footage showed workmen replacing shattered windows with sheets of board amid the rubble of damaged brick walls. A baby’s picture hung in an empty room and beds and hospital equipment stood empty and unused.
Russia denies targeting civilians.