Zelenskyy says ‘counter-offensive and defensive actions’ are taking place in Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday that counter-offensive and defensive actions were underway against Russian forces, saying his top commanders were in a “positive” mood as their troops were engaged in intense fighting along the front line.

The Ukrainian leader, at a news conference in Kyiv alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, answered a question about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comment a day earlier that Ukraine’s counteroffensive had started – and the Ukrainian forces suffered “significant losses”.

Zelenskyy said that “counter-offensive and defensive actions are taking place in Ukraine. I won’t talk about what stage or phase they are in.

Senior Ukrainian officials have refrained from announcing that a full-scale counteroffensive is underway, although some Western analysts have said fiercer fighting and the reported use of reserve troops suggest so.

“I am in contact with our commanders from different directions every day,” he added, citing the names of five of Ukraine’s top military leaders. “Everyone is positive. Pass this on to Putin.

Trudeau, the first foreign leader to visit Ukraine since devastating floods caused by a breach in a dam on the Dnieper, offered financial, military and moral support. He pledged C$500 million ($375 million) in new military aid, on top of more than C$8 billion ($6 billion) that Canada has already provided since the war began in February 2022. , and announced C$10 million ($7.5 million). ) for humanitarian aid in case of flooding.

Trudeau said the dam collapse was “a direct result of Russia’s war,” but he did not blame Moscow directly.

Ukraine’s general staff said Saturday that “heavy battles” were underway, with 34 clashes over the previous day in the country’s industrial east. He gave no details but said Russian forces were “defending themselves” and launching air and artillery strikes in southern Ukraine’s Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Recent Western injections of billions of dollars worth of military equipment – ​​some high-tech and high-end – into Ukraine have raised expectations about when and to what effect it will be used against buried Russian lines.

For months, Ukrainian commanders in the eastern town of Bakhmut – which was largely devastated in months-long fighting that was one of the bloodiest battles of the war – used the language of counter-offensive and defensive operations to describe the activity there.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Friday that the epicenter of the fighting was in the east, particularly in the Donetsk region, and cited “heavy battles” in Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Marina.

Valerii Shershen, spokesman for the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Zaporizhzhia, told Radio Liberty that they were looking for Russian defense weaknesses in that region to the west.

Ukraine’s nuclear energy agency Energoatom said the last operating reactor at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, had been placed in “cold shutdown” mode. It is a process in which all control rods are inserted into the reactor core to stop the nuclear fission reaction and the generation of heat and pressure.

The plant’s other five reactors were already in cold shutdown due to concerns about the plant’s exposure to combat.

Energoatom said in a statement on Friday evening that there was “no direct threat” to the Zaporizhzhia plant due to the breach of the Kakhovka dam further up the Dnieper, which forced thousands to flee flooding and also greatly reduced water levels in a reservoir used to help cool the facility.

Water levels in the Kakhovka reservoir, which supplies the Zaporizhzhia plant, remained stable on Saturday, Energoatom said.

The site’s power plants have not been in operation since September last year. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is due to visit Ukraine in the coming days.

Ukrainian authorities reported on Saturday that at least six civilians died across the country as Russian forces launched Iranian-made Shahed drones, missiles, and artillery and mortar strikes.

Ukraine’s state emergency service reported that three people were killed and more than two dozen injured overnight in an attack targeting the Black Sea port of Odessa. A spokeswoman for the Southern Ukraine Operational Command, Natalia Humeniuk, said two children and a pregnant woman were among the injured.

Two people were killed in a Russian attack on the town of Orekhova in the Zaporizhzhia region, according to Governor Yuriy Malashko.

In northeastern Ukraine, a 29-year-old man was killed as more than 10 drones targeted the Kharkiv region, its governor, Oleh Syniehubov, reported on Saturday. He added that at least three other civilians were injured.

Ukraine’s air force said it shot down 20 of 35 Shahed drones and two of eight missiles “of various types” launched by Russian forces overnight.

Fighting and civilian casualties captured attention as authorities in southern Ukraine said water levels had dropped in a large area below the broken dam.

Nearly a third of protected natural areas in the Kherson region could be wiped out by flooding following the Kakhovka dam breach, Ukraine’s environment minister warned on Saturday.

UN humanitarian aid chief Martin Griffiths said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday that 700,000 “extraordinary” people needed clean water.

In other developments:

On Saturday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he wanted to continue talking with Putin – whose order for Russia to invade Ukraine has been criticized by many Western leaders – and plans to do so again “soon”. Scholz has spoken to Putin several times by phone since the invasion.

The Chancellor said the basis for a “just peace” between Russia and Ukraine was the withdrawal of Russian troops. “It has to be understood,” he said.

The British government has said it will provide 16 million pounds ($20 million) in humanitarian aid to people affected by the floods. Most of the money is channeled through international organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Nations, and the UK is also sending boats, community water filters, water pumps and waders in Ukraine.

The UK has already given Ukraine £1.5 billion in economic and humanitarian support since the start of the war, the government said, and has pledged £4.6 billion in military aid.

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Contributing to this story are Jon Gambrell in Kyiv, Joanna Kozlowska and Jill Lawless in London, and Frank Jordans in Bonn, Germany.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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