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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Russian troops advance in Ukraine as Kyiv runs low on air defenses

Ukrainian explosive technicians examine the site of the explosion after a missile strike in Kharkiv on April 6 amid the Russian invasion in Ukraine. A Russian night-time attack on Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv killed six people and wounded at least 11, the local prosecutor’s office said on social media.  (Sergey Bobok/AFP)
By Isabelle Khurshudyan and Serhii Korolchuk Washington Post

KYIV – As Ukrainian officials plead for more Western arms and a U.S. aid package remains stalled in Congress, Russia is advancing on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine, seizing new territory and intensifying attacks to capture the town of Chasiv Yar and others in the Donetsk region.

Away from the front line, Ukraine’s dwindling air defense capabilities are showing vulnerabilities, as more Russian missiles and drones are able to hit targets such as critical infrastructure facilities.

Outside Kyiv – considered Ukraine’s best-protected city – the largest power plant serving the capital was destroyed Thursday, stoking concerns that Ukraine might be running out of surface-to-air missiles to counter the Russian airstrikes.

“We need air defense systems and other defense assistance, not just turning a blind eye and having lengthy discussions,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a post on X.

For months, Ukrainian military personnel have described the battlefield situation as dire due to a shortage of weapons and soldiers amid a renewed Russian offensive. They have reported increased Russian bombardment using guided air bombs, dropped from their planes onto Ukrainian military positions.

With resources running low, this assault in eastern Ukraine could threaten larger towns and cities such as Kostiantynivka, just west of Chasiv Yar – potentially advancing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal of seizing the entire Donetsk region, which he has already declared, illegally, to be annexed by Russia.

Chasiv Yar – west of the city of Bakhmut, which Russia’s Wagner mercenaries captured and occupied nearly a year ago – is now the new focus of Moscow’s forces, commanders fighting in the area said.

“They systematically try to advance,” said a deputy battalion commander in the 24th Separate Assault Battalion, better known as Aidar.

The Washington Post agreed to identify the commander by his call sign, Chichen, in keeping with Ukrainian military protocol.

“We now see, due to their assaults, a large number of (Russian) armored vehicles knocked out on the outskirts,” Chichen said, adding that on Friday morning, some 20 units of heavy equipment were part of the Russian assault.

“Literally six months ago, this did not happen here,” he said. “Now there is a lot of burned-out equipment.”

Ukraine’s worsening battlefield situation has coincided with Republicans in Congress blocking, for more than six months, $60 billion in security aid for Ukraine proposed by President Biden. During that time, Russia has regained the offensive initiative, initially by overtaking the town of Avdiivka in February.

Moscow’s forces have continued to advance past Avdiivka in the southern part of the Donetsk region. And on a separate axis, they are now encroaching on Chasiv Yar – a two-pronged attack.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials are concerned that Russia is preparing to mobilize hundreds of thousands more soldiers for another potential offensive in the northeast, toward Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Kharkiv in recent weeks has been pummeled repeatedly by missiles, and strikes on energy infrastructure have disrupted electrical service.

Elsewhere in the southeast, Ukrainian forces have been fighting to maintain the few gains they made during a counteroffensive last summer, towns such as Robotyne, south of the city of Zaporizhzhia.

Ukrainian and Western officials have warned that without the U.S. support – particularly in providing air defense and artillery ammunition – Ukraine’s defense along the front line could crumble

Gen. Christopher Cavoli, the top U.S. general overseeing military operations in Europe, warned U.S. lawmakers this week that Russia is expected to hold a 10-1 advantage on artillery shells “within weeks.”

Oleksander, a Ukrainian battalion commander fighting on the left flank of Chasiv Yar, said Russians are now assaulting the town directly as well as other villages at its edges. He spoke on the condition that only his first name be used because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

In recent days, the Russians had reached the outskirts of the town, he said, and he predicted that if Ukraine does not withdraw from Chasiv Yar the end of the month, fighting will probably already be taking place in the town’s center.

Chichen, the Aidar deputy battalion commander, said that Chasiv Yar could be strategic for Russian soldiers because it has high ground that is convenient for launching drone attacks. Defending a canal that runs through the eastern edge of the town will be key for Ukraine, he said.

“Now the canal is one of the main boundaries that everyone is trying to hold on to,” Chichen said. “If they have to advance, then there are restrictions on the places in which they will cross it. It will be possible to pass there by infantry, but it will be more difficult for them to cross with vehicles. Therefore, the canal is quite an important thing.”