Russia attacked positions in eastern Ukraine as it attempted to encircle Ukrainian forces in Donbass and repel a counteroffensive around the town of Izium.
ATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia’s Donbass offensive had stalled and Ukraine could win the war, an outcome few military analysts predicted at the start of the conflict.
“Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going as Moscow planned,” Stoltenberg told reporters on Sunday.
In a strategic blow to Russia, which has long opposed NATO expansion, Finland confirmed on Sunday that it would submit an application to join the Atlantic military alliance.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats also backed NATO membership on Sunday, paving the way for a proposal and abandoning decades of military non-alignment.
NATO and the United States said they were confident both countries would be accepted into the alliance and that reservations by Turkey, which wants the Nordic countries to end support for Kurdish militant groups on its territory, could be overcome.
Ukraine has had a string of victories since Russia invaded on February 24, reversing an advance on the capital Kyiv and driving Russian forces out of Kharkiv to the east.
Since mid-April, Russian forces have focused much of their firepower in an attempt to capture two eastern provinces known as Donbass.
Moscow has recognized the independence of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic in Donbass days before the start of its invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers patrol a recently recaptured village north of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine Sunday, May 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)
British military intelligence said Russia lost about a third of the ground combat troops deployed in February and its Donbass offensive was “significantly behind schedule”.
Along with the loss of large numbers of men and much military equipment, Russia has been hit by economic sanctions while western states have been providing military aid to Ukraine.
Ukraine has deployed many of its new US M-777 howitzers to the front lines, and Washington has supplied all but one of the 90 artillery pieces they were supposed to send, the US embassy in Kyiv said.
US lawmakers this week will ramp up efforts to send more aid.
Moscow is calling its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to rid the country of fascists, a claim that Kyiv and its Western say are an unfounded pretext for an unprovoked war.
A local resident looks at a flooded area after Ukrainian forces opened a dam to flood a residential area to stop the advance of Russian forces in the capital Kyiv in Demydiv, Ukraine May 15, 2022. REUTERS/ Carlo Barria
Ukrainian troops received a morale boost from the country’s victory in the weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest, which some said was a sign of impending victories on the battlefield.
“We showed that we can not only fight but also sing very well,” said Vitaliy, a soldier bunkered north of Kyiv.
The most intense fighting appeared to be taking place around the east Russian-held town of Izium, where Russia said it had launched missile attacks at Ukrainian positions.
A local resident stands next to a flooded area after Ukrainian forces opened a dam to flood a residential area to halt the advance of Russian forces in the capital Kyiv in Demydiv, Ukraine May 15, 2022. REUTERS /Carlos Barria
Ukraine’s Joint Forces Task Force said its troops repelled 17 attacks on Sunday and destroyed 11 pieces of Russian equipment. The command of the Ukrainian Air Force said Ukrainian forces shot down two helicopters, two cruise missiles and seven drones. .
Russia continued to target civilian areas along the entire frontline in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions and fired on 23 villages and towns, the task force added.
Reuters could not independently confirm the reports. Russia denies attacks on civilians.
Ukrainian soldier Shaba stays at a trench used as an observation point at a frontline area in Ruska Lozova, a village recaptured by Ukrainian forces amid the Russian attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, May 15, 2022. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
If Ukraine can withstand the pressure on Izium and Russian supply lines, Moscow will have a harder time encircling Ukrainian troops in Donbass.
The Ukrainian military also acknowledged setbacks, saying Russian forces “continued to advance” in several areas of the Donbass region.
In western Ukraine near Poland, rockets destroyed military infrastructure overnight on Saturday and were fired from the Black Sea toward the Lviv region, Ukrainian officials said.
Another 10 civilians were injured in the southern region of Mykolaiv, the regional council said, without giving details.
The Russian bombardment of the steel plant in the southern port of Mariupol, where several hundred Ukrainian fighters have been holding out for weeks after the city fell into Russian hands, also continued on Sunday, the Ukrainian military said.
A video posted by a pro-Russian separatist commander showed brightly burning munitions falling on the steelworks. Read the full story
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that “very difficult and delicate negotiations” are underway to save Ukrainians in Mariupol and Azovstal.
In the port city, some residents ate and chatted in front of their burned-out apartment building, which was shelled and caught fire in early April.
“I was in the kitchen when the smoke came out,” said a resident named Natalya. “I started carrying my belongings and salvaging what I could.”
She said three neighbors died in the fighting.
“We couldn’t bury her because of the shelling. Every day we put a person in a grave, but we couldn’t cover it with earth because of the shelling.”