Ukraine is making gains in the Northeast as the senior official warns of “extremely difficult weeks” to come

As fighting continued to rage in Ukraine on Saturday, with Kiev gaining on an offensive to the northeast and Russia advancing between fierce defenses in villages in the eastern Donbas region, senior Ukrainian officials predicted a “new phase for a long time. term “fighting to last for much of the summer.

Now in its 80th day, the war hit new outbreaks with the opening of the first war crimes trial of a Russian soldier in Kiev and a Russian allegation that Ukrainian bombings killed a civilian in a Russian village near the Ukrainian border.

“We are entering a new long-term phase of the war,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov posted on Facebook. While welcoming a growing supply of Western weapons flowing into his nation, he said he expected “extremely difficult weeks” in the future, adding, “How many will there be? Nobody can say for sure.”

In an interview with Sky News on Saturday, Ukrainian military intelligence leader Kyrylo Budanov said he expected the battles to last all summer and predicted, perhaps prematurely, a Ukrainian victory.

“The breaking point will be in the second half of August. Most of the active combat actions will be finished by the end of this year, “he said.

Meanwhile, Western analysts and intelligence groups have said Ukraine’s growing response to Russian assaults is showing signs of success. Kharkivthe northeastern city that had been bombed almost constantly since February, and in Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland where Moscow has stirred up unrest thanks to its support for pro-Russian separatists.

In its daily intelligence update, the British Defense Ministry said that Moscow’s attempts to hold a pro-Russia referendum in Kherson, a southeastern district that was the first to fall, “highlights the failure of Russia. Russian invasion in making progress towards its political goals in Ukraine. “

“It is very likely that a central part of Russia’s original invasion plan will use rigged referendums to place most regions of Ukraine under long-term pro-Russian authority,” the ministry said. “The fact that Russia has only succeeded in imposing a pro-Russian local leadership in Kherson highlights the failure of the Russian invasion to make progress towards its political goals in Ukraine.”

Russian state media reported Saturday that a high-ranking Russian lawmaker, Anna Kuznetsova, recently visited Kherson, where she promised to “provide all kinds of assistance” to the locals. It is not clear when Kuznetsova was in the region. The area has also seen anti-Russia protests in recent weeks.

In another analysis released on Friday, the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, said Ukraine “probably won the battle for Kharkiv.”

“Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from all over the city, as they did with Russian forces attempting to take over Kiev” several weeks ago, the l ‘institute.

Despite Ukrainian conquests, fighting continued across the nation, including the southern city of Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a night speech. Hundreds of Ukrainian civilians have been evacuated from the bunkers and tunnels of a vast steelworks complex – Azovstal – which is Kiev’s last stand in the shattered southern port city on the Sea of ​​Azov.

“Let’s not stop trying to save all our people from Mariupol and Azovstal. Very difficult negotiations are currently underway on the next phase of the evacuation mission, “Zelensky said. The president said that” a large “amount of individuals remained trapped in the complex, even though he did not provide a number.

Zelensky’s speech came among new diplomatic responses in Europe to the war that Russia launched on February 24.

On Saturday, the foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland were due to meet representatives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Germany after the leaders of both nations expressed a strong interest in joining the defense alliance.

Finland said Thursday it will apply for membership, a move welcomed by the United States and several NATO member states. Sweden should follow up with their announcement. At least one Member State, Turkey expressed hesitation at the moves.

Speaking to Russian state media, Moscow Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said on Saturday that he saw no “real” reason for Scandinavian nations to join the alliance. He said Russia would respond to their admission “by taking adequate precautionary measures”. Finland’s border with Russia is more than 800 miles long.

The United Nations this week estimated that over 14 million people have been displaced by the war in Ukraine. The number represents about a third of the nation’s population. The UN also reported more than 3,500 civilian deaths, though it said the real number is likely much higher.

Kaleem reported from London and McDonnell from Lviv, Ukraine.