Russian forces have taken control of Ukraine’s second biggest power plant – and are pushing “maximum troops” into three key southern areas.
The bold moves came amid expectations of a Ukrainian counter-offensive, with president Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowing to recapture the southern city of Kherson, which fell to Russia in the early days of the war.
Russian-backed forces claimed on Wednesday to have seized the Soviet-era coal-fired Vuhlehirsk power plant intact, in what was Moscow’s first significant gain in more than three weeks.
However, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, described it as merely “a tiny tactical advantage” for Russia.
Moscow confirmed it was pushing ahead with a “massive redeployment” of troops to three southern regions – Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
Unverified reports claimed Russian forces had attacked the city of Mykolaiv with multiple rocket launchers.
But Ukrainian forces in the south said they had killed 66 enemy troops and destroyed three tanks and two arms dumps in the past 24 hours.
Reuters news agency also said Ukraine had shelled an important bridge straddling the Dnipro river in Kherson, closing it to traffic.
Undeterred, Russian officials said they would simply turn instead to pontoon bridges and ferries to get forces across.
In his nightly address to his country, President Zelenskyy said: “We are doing everything to ensure the occupying forces do not have any logistical opportunities in our country.”
US to offer Russia prisoner swap deal to free two Americans
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he plans to have a phone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – the first between the two diplomats since before the start of the war.
However, Mr Blinken stressed the call, expected to be in the coming days, would not be “a negotiation about Ukraine”. Any talks on ending the war must be between Kyiv and Moscow, he said.
One of the subjects thought to be on the table is a US offer to Russia for it to release WNBA star Brittney Griner and
former US marine Paul Whelan, both currently in Russian jails.
Meanwhile, Russia reduced gas flows to Europe on Wednesday in an energy stand-off with the European Union.