Ukraine war: Russia captures key town near Donetsk

A screenshot purportedly showing Russian soldiers in Mariinka, eastern Ukraine
Image caption,Russian State TV showed destroyed buildings and Russian soldiers in what it said were the outskirts of Mariinka

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has said his troops have seized the key town of Mariinka in eastern Ukraine.

Mr Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin assault units had taken the “powerfully fortified” area just outside Donetsk, a Russian-held regional capital.

The commander of Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi said Ukrainian forces had moved to the outskirts of Mariinka.

Mariinka – seen as a gateway to Donetsk – has been almost completely destroyed.

Separately on Tuesday evening, Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said Russian forces had shelled Kherson railway station, killing one police lieutenant and leaving several injured.

Police were able to successfully evacuate most of the 140 civilians who had been waiting for an evacuation train at the time, he said on Telegram, most likely preventing much higher casualties.

Mariinka, once home to 10,000 people, has remained in Ukrainian hands throughout the Kremlin’s war in eastern Ukraine, which began when Russia seized and annexed Crimea in 2014 and its proxy forces occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

When the full-scale invasion began in 2022, Mariinka came under relentless Russian attack and was evacuated.

“For nine years, the armed forces of Ukraine have made a powerful fortified area, which is connected by underground passages,” Mr Shoigu said, adding that this fortified area had now been cracked.

“Each street has its own well-fortified and fairly well-protected structures from all attacks, both from the air and artillery, long-term firing points, complex underground communication systems.”

Mr Putin hailed the reported capture as “success”, saying that Ukrainian troops had now been pushed further away from Donetsk, which they have been regularly shelling from Mariinka.

The Kremlin leader also said Russian forces now had the “opportunity to move into a wider operational area” in the Donetsk region.

The Ukrainian military initially denied the Russian claim and Ukrainian military bloggers reported that Ukrainian troops were holding out in a small area of western Mariinka.

But speaking during a news conference on Tuesday, the commander of Ukrainian Armed Forces, Gen Valerii Zaluzhnyi confirmed that Ukrainian troops had withdrawn.

“We protect every piece of our land. Every piece. But when, on this narrow piece, enemy shells start to dig this place together with stones, with earth, with our soldiers, the lives of our soldiers are more important to us,” he said.

Gen Zaluzhnyi noted that Mariinka had been held for almost two years, but it was destroyed “street by street, house by house.”

“Mariinka is no more,” he added.

The town has been used by Ukraine as a defensive barrier since 2014, when Russia-backed fighters seized large swathes of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

President Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

A drone view of a destroyed town of Mariinka, eastern Ukraine. Photo: May 2023
Image caption,Mariinka looks like a ghost town after months of fierce fighting (file image from May 2023)

In recent weeks, Russian forces have intensified their attacks in several key areas of a more than 1,200km-long (745 miles) battlefront.

Alongside Mariinka, they have been trying to encircle Avdiivka – another key town near Donetsk.

Ukrainian forces are seeking to extend their bridgehead on the left (eastern) bank of the Dnipro river in southern Ukraine.

Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the country’s military were planning to mobilise up to 500,000 extra people – although Gen Zaluzhnyi denied on Tuesday that the military had issued a request for any specific number of troops.

President Zelensky’s comments come as Ukraine is facing an ammunition shortage amid aid setbacks from its key allies in the US and the EU.

Kyiv’s counter-offensive ground to a halt at the start of winter and there are fears that the Russians could simply outgun Ukraine.

But there was some good news for Ukraine on Tuesday, as Russia’s defence ministry confirmed that one of its warships had been damaged in a Ukrainian attack on the port of Feodosiya in occupied Crimea. One person was killed, officials said.

The head of the Ukrainian Air Force said warplanes had destroyed the landing ship Novocherkassk, used for moving troops and heavy equipment, in the early hours of Tuesday.

Mr Shoigu gave details on Tuesday of the damage to the ship to President Vladimir Putin, before declaring that Russian forces had brought Ukraine’s counter-offensive to a halt and were now pushing forward on all fronts.

Russian state TV had earlier shown him telling Mr Putin: “The assault detachments of the South group today completely liberated the settlement of Mariinka, which is five kilometres [three miles] south-west of Donetsk.

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