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Russia Pushes to Take Ukrainian Town Near a Vital Supply Line


KYIV, Ukraine — Moscow is deploying thousands of troops to southeastern Ukraine as it renews an attack on a strategically important town that Ukrainian forces have used to harass shipments on the next route. Russia’s important economy runs from the eastern Donbas region to Crimea.

The town of Vuhledar has long been in the sights of Russia. It sits at intersection of the eastern front in the Donetsk region and the southern front in the Zaporizhzhia . region, near the only railway connecting Crimea with the Donbas region. The Ukrainians used the nearby distance to fire shells at the trains, limiting Russia’s ability to move people and equipment between the two fronts and, ultimately, to achieve the stated goal of capturing the Donbas, including including the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk.

After a failed major offensive in November, with presumed heavy losses, Russian commanders once again attacked in and around Vuhledar in hopes of securing the railroad.

Ivan Yakovina, a well-known Ukrainian journalist and radio presenter, said: “This can only be done in one way – by capturing and capturing Vuhledar, which just ‘hangs’. on this railway. By capturing “the seemingly small and unimportant town,” he said, “Russia would receive a vast logistical artery along the entire front line and, accordingly, the ability to move troops quickly and oh well.” rushing from one direction to another”.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine acknowledged in his nightly address Saturday that the situation was “very difficult” as Russia “is sending more and more forces to disrupt our defenses”.

In addition to controlling the Donbas, Moscow also intends to retain control of the so-called land bridge, the part of occupied territory that connects Russia with Crimea, a peninsula that Moscow has occupied since 2014. Kyiv’s control of Vuhledar threatens that too.

Ukrainian officials say they have repelled the latest attacks, but warn that Russian forces, backed by thousands of newly mobilized troops, are trying to besiege the town.

The city’s deputy mayor, Maksym Verbovsky, told Ukraine’s Suspline news agency on Friday: “The Russians are not trying to break through Vuhledar’s defenses, but are trying to encircle the city from two sides. “They tried to advance to some nearby villages, but the Ukrainian army pushed them back to their old positions.”

The fighting has left another Ukrainian city in ruins.

Vuhledar “was destroyed,” Mr. Verbovsky said. “One hundred percent of the buildings were damaged. The whole infrastructure.”

Less than 500 civilians and just three children remain, he said, in what a year ago was a crowded industrial town of about 15,000 people.

Vuhledar gets its name, “gift of coal” in Ukrainian, from its suburban mine. Consisting of a cluster of high-rise apartment buildings on an open plain, the town’s elevation, exposure, and tall buildings give defenders a distinct advantage.

The ill-fated November operation was commanded by the 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade of the Russian Pacific Fleet, with dire results. Mediazona, an independent Russian newspaper that tracks Russians killed in battle, published an interview with a Russian marine, who said that more than 200 soldiers were killed in just three days. Reports of defeats have garnered enough traction that the Kremlin feels compelled to issue a statement denying them.

On Saturday, fighting continued to raging across the eastern front and around the besieged city of Bakhmut, about 60 miles from Vuhledar, while damage from Russian attacks on infrastructure Ukraine’s stratum continues to be felt. An accident at an important power plant that was damaged by Russian attacks in the southern city of Odesa resulted in a citywide blackout.

Ukraine’s energy minister, Herman Galushchenko, said on Saturday night that critical infrastructure had been restored, meaning Odesa would have water and heat. Mr. Galushchenko added in a Facebook post that electricity had been restored to about a third of the city’s consumers and that efforts were underway to provide electricity to the rest.

Despite the ongoing fighting, Russia and Ukraine on Saturday said they had conducted another large-scale prisoner-of-war exchange.

Andriy Yermak, head of the office of the president of Ukraine, said that 116 Ukrainians have been released — including “mariupol defenders, Kherson guerrillas, snipers from the vicinity of Bakhmut and other heroes.” He added that the bodies of two British volunteers and a former member of the French Foreign Legion were also returned by the Russians. Ministry of Defense of Russia said in a statement that a “complicated negotiation” led to the release of 63 Russian servicemen, including prisoners of “sensitive categories” facilitated by the United Arab Emirates.

The United Arab Emirates has tried to facilitate prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine during the war. The government arranged to exchange WNBA star Brittney Griner for a Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, on the tarmac of Abu Dhabi airport.

A Russian official reported on a Ukrainian attack and the ensuing fire on Saturday at an industrial facility near the border. Vyacheslav V. Gladkov, governor of the Belgorod region, wrote on Telegram that “the bullet hit the premises of an industrial plant.” In subsequent posts, he said there were no casualties as the staff were quickly evacuated.

Report contributed by Natalya Yermak, Anastasia Kuznietsova, Ivan Nechepurenko And Cassandra Vinograd.

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