Sunday, 12 March 2023 06:04

What to know after Day 381 of Russia-Ukraine war

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Russian shelling kills Kherson residents, Zelenskiy denounces 'terrorist attacks'

Russian shelling killed three civilians in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson on Saturday, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, denouncing what he called "brutal terrorist attacks" by pro-Moscow units.

Ukraine recaptured Kherson in November after nearly eight months of occupation by Russian forces who seized it soon after the start of the large-scale invasion. The area is now under almost constant bombardment from Russian forces on the opposite side of the Dnipro River.

One more person died in the eastern Donetsk region, regional officials said.

Zelenskiy said the three people killed in Kherson had gone to a store to buy groceries.

"I would like to support all our cities and communities that are subjected to brutal terrorist attacks," he said in a regular evening video address.

"The evil state uses a variety of weapons ... to destroy life and leave nothing human behind. Ruins, debris, shell holes in the ground are a self-portrait of Russia."

Kherson regional governor Oleksandr Prokudin said three people, including an elderly woman, were also wounded during the artillery shelling of the city.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, Donetsk regional governor, said one person was killed and at least three civilians were injured in the city of Kostyantynivka following several rounds of Russian shelling during the day.

Donetsk region has seen some of the heaviest fighting since Russia sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year.

** Ukraine, Russia say hundreds of enemy troops killed in battle for Bakhmut

Ukraine and Russia claimed on Saturday that hundreds of enemy troops were killed over the previous 24 hours in the fight for Bakhmut, with Kyiv fending off unabating attacks and a small river that bisects the town now marking the new front line.

Serhiy Cherevatyi, a Ukrainian military spokesperson, said that 221 pro-Moscow troops were killed and more than 300 wounded in Bakhmut. Russia's defence ministry said that up to 210 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the broader Donetsk part of the frontline.

While Moscow did not specify Bakhmut casualties, the eastern Donetsk town, now nearly deserted, has been the site of one of the bloodiest and longest battles of the year-long war.

Both sides have admitted to suffering and inflicting significant losses in Bakhmut, while the exact number of casualties is difficult to independently verify.

British military intelligence said on Saturday that Russia's Wagner mercenary group has taken control of most of the eastern part of Bakhmut - an advance that the group's founder Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed on Wednesday.

"In the city centre, the Bakhmutka River now marks the front line," the British Defence Ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin.

Ukraine insisted that it was holding on in Bakhmut and was giving a "decent rebuff" to Russian forces, with the commander in charge of defending Bakhmut saying its protection was key for a Ukrainian counter-strike.

"It is necessary to gain time to accumulate reserves and start a counter-offensive, which is not far off," the military cited Colonel general Oleksandr Syrskyi as saying on Saturday.

Moscow says capturing Bakhmut would punch a hole in Ukrainian defences and be a step towards seizing all of the Donbas industrial region, a major target. Kyiv says the battle is grinding down Russia's best units.

Prigozhin said on Saturday that he is now 1.2 km (0.75 mile) away from the administrative centre of the city. The centre is on the west side of the Bakhmutka River.

British intelligence said that with the river running through some open ground, "this area has become a killing zone, likely making it highly challenging for Wagner forces attempting to continue their frontal assault westward."

But the situation remained dangerous for Ukrainian forces.

"The Ukrainian force and their supply lines to the west remain vulnerable to the continued Russian attempts to outflank the defenders from the north and south," it said.


Russian Patriarch issues plea over Ukrainian plan to seize historic Orthodox monastery

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), on Saturday urged Christian leaders of various denominations and international organizations, including the UN, to pressure Kiev over its plan to evict monks from Ukraine’s largest Orthodox monastery, the Kiev Pechersk Lavra.

The controversial plan was put in motion on Friday, when the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) was informed that its monks and clergy must vacate the monastery by March 29. The notice was given after a government commission decided the country’s largest religious organization was somehow in violation of the terms of its lease from the state. The church, however, has already stated that it refuses to move out, insisting there are no legal grounds for the eviction.

In his address, carried by the ROC press service, Patriarch Kirill condemned the continuous persecution of Orthodox Christians by the Ukrainian authorities, likening their conduct to the anti-clerical  of the Soviet era.

“Throughout the thousand-year history of the monastery, it has repeatedly suffered from raids, foreign conquests and outright persecution of Christians. But only during the reign of militant atheists in the 20th century were the monks of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra expelled from the monastery,” the Patriarch said.

The monks of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra have been the victims of numerous hostile actions from Ukraine’s authorities, the Patriarch noted, including “humiliating”searches and raids by the country’s domestic security agency, the SBU. 

The Patriarch expressed his concerns over the Lavra standoff in letters to several Christian leaders and international organizations, urging them to “make every possible effort to prevent the forced closure of the monastery, which will lead to a violation of the rights of millions of Ukrainian Orthodox faithful.” The letters were sent to the heads of all Orthodox Churches, Pope Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria,  UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and others, according to the ROC press service.

Ukraine has long experienced religious tensions, with multiple schismatic entities claiming to be the true Orthodox church of the country and challenging the authority of the UOC, which has been formally subordinate to Moscow’s Patriarchate. The tensions deteriorated back in 2018, when the schismatics established the brand-new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). This was done with active participation of then-President Pyotr Poroshenko, who managed to secure recognition of the new entity by the Turkish-headquartered Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The OCU remains favored by Ukraine’s incumbent leadership as well.

Following the beginning of the hostilities between Moscow and Kiev in February 2022, the UOC formally proclaimed independence from Moscow. The move, however, has not spared it from accusations of covertly supporting Russia in the ongoing conflict or from the crackdown by Ukraine’s authorities.