© Reuters. A lifeguard works after shelling, as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, at the Mykolaiv Regional Hospital of Dermatology and Venereology, in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, in this August 1, 2022 image released. Emergency Service of Ukraine
By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets
KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine on Thursday said it was forced to cede some territory in the east of the country in the face of a Russian offensive, and the head of the NATO military alliance said Moscow was not allowed to win the war. fight.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy this week described the pressure his armed forces are under in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine as “hell”. He spoke of the fierce fighting around the town of Avdiivka and the fortified village of Pisky, where Kyiv has conceded “partial success” to the Russian enemy in recent days.
Ukraine’s military on Thursday said Russian forces hit at least two attacks on Pisky but its troops repelled them.
Ukraine has spent the past eight years fortifying defensive positions in Pisky, seeing it as a buffer against Russian-backed forces that control the city of Donetsk about 10 kilometers (6 miles) to the southeast.
General Oleksiy Hromov told a news conference that Ukrainian forces had recaptured two villages around the eastern city of Sloviansk, but had been pushed back to the suburban town of Avdiivka after being forced to give up a coal mine that had been abandoned. considered a key defensive position.
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed their attack.
It said its forces inflicted heavy losses on Ukrainian forces around Avdiivka and two other locations in Donetsk province, forcing some of Kyiv’s units to withdraw.
Reuters could not immediately verify either party’s claim.
Video released by the Russian Defense Ministry shows Russian missile launchers in action and tanks advancing and firing at speed over open terrain. It is not clear where they were filmed.
Officials from the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) said on Thursday that Ukrainian shelling had left at least five people dead and six wounded in the city of Donetsk.
Footage on social media showed bodies, some blown up, lying next to a road in central Donetsk. Blood splattered on the street.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, Governor of Donetsk of Ukraine, said on Telegram that three civilians were killed by Russian shelling in Bakhmut, Maryinka and Shevchenko and five were injured in the past 24 hours.
He said eight people were killed and four wounded by Russian shelling in the town of Toretsk in Donetsk.
Russia, which denies deliberately attacking civilians, has said it plans to take full control of the wider Donetsk province, one of two provinces that make up the industrialized Donbas region, as part of what it calls is a “special military operation” to protect the country’s security. what it calls the absurd expansion of NATO.
Human rights group Amnesty International on Thursday accused Ukraine of endangering civilians by stationing troops in residential areas in a report Kyiv called Russian propaganda and disinformation. .
Ukraine and the West, who describe Russia’s actions as a gratuitous war of imperialist aggression, say Russian forces must withdraw to their positions by February 24 when President Vladimir Putin sends Tens of thousands of troops entered Ukraine.
Moscow, which has frequently spoken of the need for its forces to push deeper into Ukraine, is unlikely to agree to do so voluntarily.
It appears that further progress has been made in moving grain ships to defuse the growing global food crisis. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said there were plans for three ships to depart from Ukrainian ports on Friday.
A first vessel carrying Ukrainian grain departed the port of Odesa on Monday, arriving in the Bosphorus about 36 hours later under an agreement between Russia and Ukraine, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations.
Ukraine says Russia’s offensive in the east looks like an attempt to force it to shift troops from the south, where Kyiv’s forces are trying to recapture territory and destroy Russian supply lines as a show of force. prelude to a broader counterattack.
“The idea is to put military pressure on us in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk in the next few weeks … in a YouTube interview,” said adviser to the President of Ukraine Oleksiy Arestovych.
General Hromov said Russia will likely launch its own offensive in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine to try to regain momentum in the war after building up its forces there.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday said the war was the deadliest moment for Europe since World War Two and that Russia should not be allowed to win.
In order to successfully contain Moscow, he said, NATO and its member states may have to support Ukraine with weapons and other assistance for a long time to come.
“We are in favor of this kind of belligerent policy failing,” Stoltenberg said in a speech in his native Norway.
With some politicians in the West concerned that Russia’s ambitions could extend beyond Ukraine, Stoltenberg warned Putin that the reaction to such a move from the Western military alliance would be overwhelming. island.
“If President Putin even thinks about doing something similar to a NATO country as he did to Georgia, Moldova or Ukraine, all of NATO will join immediately,” Stoltenberg said.
The war has prompted formerly non-aligned Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership, with the request so far ratified by 23 of the 30 member states, including the United States.
Russia, which shares a long land border with Finland, has repeatedly warned Finland and Sweden against joining NATO.