In Bakhmut and Kherson, Ukrainian forces advance against Russian fighters

Opinion

Ukrainian forces continued their advance against Russian troops in the southern Kherson region on Tuesday, pushed back Russian mercenaries from Bakhmut in eastern Donetsk and gained new momentum in Luhansk, where they seized a key highway between the Kremlin and the towns of Svatove.

On a day of heavy fighting and intense events in many battle zones, the Ukrainians appeared to extend their recent gains in recapturing captured territory and pushing Moscow’s troops back into areas that President Vladimir Putin now claims are Russia’s.

Far from the battlefield, the Kremlin has continued to make repeated unsubstantiated claims that Kiev is preparing to use a “dirty bomb,” a weapon that combines conventional explosives with radioactive material — an accusation the United States and other Western countries have denied.

US officials have said Moscow’s accusations threaten that Russia itself is planning a radiation attack, which its territorial failures could be used as an excuse to further escalate the ongoing war.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator Energoatom also issued a similar warning, referring to the Russian military’s surveillance of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in Energodar. “Energoatom suggests that such actions of the invaders may indicate that they are preparing a terrorist attack using nuclear materials and radioactive waste stored at the ZNPP site,” the statement said.

Recurring fears of some kind of radiation attack have added to fears that Putin’s war in Ukraine is becoming more deadly and dangerous as each side tries to reconstruct the facts on the ground ahead of winter.

Ukraine is pushing for further territorial gains, and Russia this month began a relentless bombing campaign against Ukraine’s energy system, using missiles and attack drones to plunge the country into cold and darkness, likely to offset battlefield losses.

Failures in its invasion of Ukraine have led to increased Russian nuclear threats, echoing Cold War events such as the lesser-known nuclear crisis of 1983. (Video by Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

As Ukraine continues to make gains, pro-Kremlin military bloggers and analysts confirmed on Tuesday new setbacks for Russian forces, including in occupied Luhansk in easternmost Ukraine, the region most strongly under Russian control.

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“The Ukrainian army has resumed its counteroffensive in the direction of Luhansk,” the Russian project WarGonzo reported in its daily military update, adding that Ukrainian forces had taken control of a key highway between the Luhansk city of Svatove and the Kremlin.

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“Russian artillery is actively working on the left bank of the Jerebets River and is trying to stop the enemy’s reinforcements, but the situation is very difficult,” VarGonzo said.

In the Donetsk region, the Wagner militia, led by St. Petersburg businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, appears to be pushing back from Bakhmut, where mercenaries have pounded the city for weeks with little success. Military experts say the capture of Bakhmut has little strategic value, but Prigozhin seems to see an opportunity to win a political prize while Russia’s regular military units suffer defeats in other combat zones.

Ukrainian forces recaptured a concrete factory on the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut on Monday, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said. On Sunday, Prigogine acknowledged the slow pace of Wagner’s efforts, saying the mercenaries were only making “100 to 200 meters a day.”

“Our units constantly face the fiercest resistance of the enemy, and I note that the enemy is well prepared, motivated and working reliably and harmoniously,” Prigozhin said in a statement released by the press service of his catering company. “It won’t stop our warriors from advancing, but I can’t say how long it will take.”

In the southern Kherson region, one of four countries claimed by Moscow to have annexed, Russian forces appear to be preparing to defend the city of Kherson, pulling back to the east of the Dnieper River and reclaiming crucial ground.

On October 24, displaced people from the Ukrainian city of Kherson, occupied by Russia, arrived in the Crimean city of Zhankoy by buses. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Reuters/Reuters)

In an emergency update on Tuesday, Ukraine’s military said Russian troops were setting up “defensive positions” on the east bank of the Dnieper, leaving small passages to retreat from the west bank.

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Speculation that Moscow is preparing to abandon Kherson has been swirling for weeks after Ukrainian forces made a steady push south.

“I do not know all the nuances and plans of the command, but I do not rule out the surrender of Kherson, because from a military point of view, its defense can be defeated at the moment,” said a popular Russian military blogger, writing under the pseudonym Zapiski Veterana, in a Telegram post. “But in my opinion, if it is decided to fight until victory in Moscow, there is nothing tragic in the surrender of Kherson, because this war has been here for a long time.”

Moscow may have no choice. The Institute of War Research said: “Russia’s position in the upper Kherson region is impossible.”

Kremlin-appointed officials are forcing residents to evacuate the west bank of the Dnieper, saying they are preparing to attack Kiev’s Kakhovka hydroelectric plant, as well as “dirty bomb” allegations.

The head of the mercenary army made a statement to Putin regarding the war in Ukraine

The United States, France and Britain have accused Moscow of using the dirty bomb allegations as a pretext for escalation, and Putin’s government has warned it will face further sanctions from the West.

On Tuesday, the Kremlin called Washington’s lack of confidence in Russia’s claims “unacceptable and frivolous.”

After a two-week bombing campaign in which Moscow systematically targeted energy infrastructure, Kyiv became increasingly concerned about civilians enduring the bitter winter. Ukrainian officials have been demanding more sophisticated weapons from European officials for the past few weeks, particularly advanced air defense systems needed to counter Russian airstrikes.

The country is also facing an urgent cash crunch, raising questions about how officials will secure funding to keep Ukrainian services running for weeks and months to come. According to the forecast of the World Bank in early October, the economy of Ukraine will shrink by 35 percent this year.

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On Tuesday, Germany and the European Union held a conference on reconstruction in Berlin, but that talk seemed especially premature given the daily attacks by Russia that bring new destruction.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyi said Ukraine needs about $38 billion in emergency economic aid next year alone. But while senior officials have consistently said the EU stands by Ukraine, there are questions about the short- and long-term outcome.

While European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has outlined a plan to help Ukraine until 2023, EU officials have acknowledged delays in delivering nearly $9 billion in loans to Kiev promised earlier this year.

US Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has in recent weeks urged her European counterparts to step up financial aid to Kyiv and has implicitly questioned the decision to provide loans rather than grants.

“We call on our partners and allies to join us in moving forward and doing more on their long-standing commitments to Ukraine,” Yellen said this month. In a video address to the European Council summit in Brussels last week, Zelensky called out European leaders for failing to deliver much-needed economic aid quickly enough.

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“Thank you for the allocated funds,” said Zelensky. “But the remaining $6 billion from this package has yet to be decided — it’s desperately needed this year.”

“It is in your hands,” he continued, “to reach an agreement in principle on providing this assistance to our country today.”

With existing needs unmet, some wonder how seriously the EU’s promises of an effort of Marshall Plan proportions can be taken. In a question-and-answer session published by Germany’s G7 presidency ahead of Tuesday’s conference, it noted that the measure does not include a “collateral segment.” Instead, the goal is to “underline that the international community is united and steadfast in its support for Ukraine.”

In private conversations, some EU diplomats have questioned whether the bloc should devote resources to rebuilding the still-warring country, especially given Europe’s own energy and economic crises.

As von der Leyen spoke in Berlin on Tuesday, the focus in Brussels was on EU member states’ efforts to find common ground on emergency energy measures.

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