KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces suffered heavy casualties in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross a river to the east, Ukrainian and British officials said in another sign of Moscow’s struggle to salvage a crooked war.
Ukrainian authorities, meanwhile, opened the conflict’s first war crimes trial on Friday. The defendant, a captured Russian soldier, is accused of shooting dead a 62-year-old civilian early in the war.
The trial began as the Russian offensive in Donbass, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine, seemed to be turning more and more into a bitter war of attrition.
Ukrainian Airborne Command released photos and video of what it said was a damaged Russian pontoon bridge over the Siversky Donets River in Bilohorivka and several destroyed or damaged Russian military vehicles nearby – the Ukrainians said they destroyed at least 73 tanks and other military equipment during the two-day battle earlier this week. The command said its troops “drowned the Russian occupiers”.
The UK Ministry of Defense said Russia lost “significant armored maneuver elements” of at least one battalion tactical group in the attack. A Russian battalion tactical group consists of approximately 1,000 soldiers.
“Conducting river crossings in a contested environment is a very risky maneuver and speaks to the pressure on Russian commanders to advance their operations in eastern Ukraine,” the ministry said in its daily update. information.
In other developments, a decision by Finland and, potentially, Sweden to join NATO was called into question when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not of a favorable opinion” to the idea. He accused Sweden and other Scandinavian countries of supporting Kurdish militants and others whom Turkey considers terrorists.
Erdogan did not say outright that he would prevent the two nations from joining NATO. But the military alliance makes decisions by consensus, meaning each of its 30 member countries has a veto over who can join.
A NATO expansion would be a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who went to war in what he said was an attempt to thwart the alliance’s eastward advance. But in the wake of Ukraine’s invasion, other countries on Russia’s flank fear they may be next.
As Ukraine demands more weapons to repel invasion, European Union foreign chief announces plans to give kyiv another 500 million euros ($520 million) to buy arms heavy.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov hailed the heavy weapons heading for the front lines, but admitted there was no quick end to the war in sight.
“We are entering a new long-term phase of the war,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Extremely difficult weeks lie ahead. How many will there be? No one can say for sure.
The battle for Donbass has turned into a back-and-forth village by village with no major breakthrough on either side and little ground gained. In his late night address Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said no one can predict how long the war will last, but his country’s forces have made progress, including retaking six Ukrainian towns or villages in the last daytime.
Heavy fighting took place on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst. The Ukrainian army launched counterattacks but failed to halt Russia’s advance, he said.
“The fate of a large part of the Ukrainian army is being decided – there are around 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers,” he said.
The Ukrainian military chief of the Luhansk region in the Donbass said on Friday that Russian forces opened fire 31 times on residential areas the day before, destroying dozens of houses, including in the villages of Hirske and Popasnyanska. He said Russian troops had taken almost complete control of Rubizhne, a town that had a population of about 55,000 before the war.
In the crumbling southern port of Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters locked in a steel mill have faced continuous Russian attacks on the last stronghold of resistance in the city. Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment, said his troops will hold out “as long as they can” despite shortages of ammunition, food, water and medicine.
Justin Crump, a former British tank commander turned security consultant, said Moscow’s losses forced him to scale back his targets in Ukraine. He said the Russians had to use hastily patched units that did not train together.
“It’s not going to be quick. So we’re set up for at least one summer of fighting. I think the Russian side is very clear that it’s going to take a long time,” he said.
In the first war crimes case brought to trial, Russian Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, 21, could face life in prison if convicted of shooting a Ukrainian man in the head through an open car window in a village in the northeast region of Sumy on February 28, four days after the start of the invasion.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said she was preparing war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses including bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, raping and looting. It was not immediately clear how many suspects are in Ukrainian hands and how many will be tried in absentia.
In a small Kyiv courtroom, dozens of journalists watched the start of the wartime proceedings, which will be closely monitored by international monitors to ensure the trial is fair.
The defendant, dressed in a blue and gray hoodie and gray sweatpants, sat in a small glass cage during the proceedings, which lasted around 15 minutes and will resume on Wednesday.
Shyshimarin was asked a series of questions, including whether he understood his rights and whether he wanted a jury trial. He refused the latter.
His court-appointed lawyer in Ukraine, Victor Ovsyanikov, acknowledged that the case against Shyshimarin is solid and did not say what the soldier’s defense will be.
Shyshimarin, a member of a tank unit that was captured by Ukrainian forces, admitted shooting the civilian in a video released by Ukraine’s Security Service, saying he was ordered to do so.
As the war continues, teachers are trying to restore some sense of normalcy after fighting closed Ukrainian schools and upended the lives of millions of children.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, classes are held in a metro station that is home to many families. The children joined their teacher Valeriy Leiko around a table to learn about history and art, with children’s drawings lining the walls.
“It helps support them mentally. Because now there is a war, and many have lost their homes. … Some people’s parents are fighting now,” Leiko said. Partly because of the lessons, he said, “they feel someone loves them.”
An older student, Anna Fedoryaka, was monitoring a professor’s online lessons on Ukrainian literature, admitting: “It’s hard to concentrate when you have to do your homework with explosions next to your window.”
Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Jari Tanner in Helsinki, Elena Becatoros in Odessa and other AP staff from around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Oleksandr Stashevskyi and David Keyton, The Associated Press