Ukraine recaptures village as Russian forces hold other lines and fire on fleeing civilians elsewhere

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s military reported Sunday that it recaptured a southeastern village as Russian forces said they repelled several attacks in the area, while top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said six people had been injured after Moscow troops opened fire on a boat evacuating people from Russian-occupied areas to Ukrainian-held territory along a flooded front line far to the south.

The battlefield confrontation in the southeast and the chaotic scenes in flooded southern Ukraine marked the latest upheaval and bloodshed in Russia’s war in Ukraine, now in its 16th month.

Andriy Yermak, the president’s chief of staff, wrote on his Telegram account that the injured were rushed to hospital in the southern city of Kherson, on the west bank of the swollen Dnieper. An Associated Press team at the scene saw three ambulances drop off injured evacuees at a hospital, one of whom was spattered with blood and taken by stretcher to the emergency room.

Many civilians said Russian authorities in occupied areas were forcing evacuees to present Russian passports before moving them to safety. Since then, scores of small boats have shuttled from Ukrainian-held areas on the west bank across the river – which has been flooded since a dam broke upstream on Tuesday – to rescue civilians desperate trapped on roofs, in attics and other dry islands in the middle of the flood.

To the northeast, almost halfway to the more than 1,000 kilometer (600 mile) front line, Ukrainian forces said they had driven Russian fighters from the village of Blahodatne in the partially occupied Donetsk region. Ukraine’s 68th Separate Fighter Brigade posted a video on Facebook showing soldiers setting up a Ukrainian flag on a damaged building in the village.

Brigade spokesman Myroslav Semeniuk told The Associated Press that an assault team captured six Russian soldiers after entering several buildings where around 60 soldiers were locked up. “The enemy continues to shell us, but that won’t stop us,” Semeniuk said. “The next village we plan to recover is Urozhayne. After that, (we will continue) further south.

Zelenskyy said on Saturday that Ukrainian counteroffensive actions were underway. But while Blahodatne’s recapture signaled a small Ukrainian advance, Western and Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly warned that efforts to expel Russian troops more broadly will take time. Russia has made a big deal of how its troops have held out elsewhere.

On Sunday, the Russian Defense Ministry continued to insist that it was repelling Ukrainian attacks in the region. He said in a statement that Ukrainian attempts at offensive operations on the southern Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia axes of the frontline in the past 24 hours had been “unsuccessful”.

Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed official in the Zaporizhzhia region, insisted that Blahodatne and two other villages in the region were in a “grey zone” as to who controls them. However, Rogov said in a Telegram article that Russian fighters were forced out of the village of Neskuchne in the Donetsk region. In a video, fighters identifying themselves as members of a Ukrainian volunteer force claimed to have taken the village.

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that Ukraine’s counteroffensive had begun and that Ukrainian forces were suffering “significant losses”.

In other developments:

Ukrhydroenergo, Ukraine’s hydroelectric generator, said on Sunday that water levels in a reservoir above the broken Kakhovka dam continued to drop – to 9.35 meters (30ft, 6in) on Sunday morning, marking a drop more than seven meters since the dam burst. Tuesday.

Meanwhile, under the dam, Kherson Regional Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said water levels on the Ukrainian-controlled west bank were falling, although more than 32 settlements remained flooded. He said conditions were worse on the Russian-occupied eastern shore, which is at a lower elevation and where water levels have been slower to recede.

Also on Sunday, the Russian military accused Ukrainian forces of attacking – but unsuccessfully – one of its ships in the Black Sea.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the attempted attack took place when six unmanned speedboats targeted the Russian reconnaissance vessel Priazovye which was “monitoring the situation and providing security along the routes of the TurkStream and Blue gas pipelines Stream in the southeastern part of the Black Sea”.

All speedboats were destroyed by the Russian military and the vessel suffered no damage, the ministry said. The claim could not be independently verified and Ukrainian officials had no immediate comment.

Ukraine and Russia reported swapping dozens of POWs on Sunday; Russia said 94 of its soldiers had been released and Yermak said 95 Ukrainians had been released.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu signed a decree ordering all Russian volunteer formations to sign contracts with the ministry by July 1, according to his deputy Nikolai Pankov. The move would give formations legal status and allow them to receive the same state benefits as contract soldiers.

Observers say the move likely targets the private military company Wagner. Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has a long-standing feud with the Russian military, said on Sunday the group would not sign such contracts “precisely because Shoigu cannot normally handle military formations.”

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