Russia has attacked positions in eastern Ukraine as it tries to encircle Ukrainian forces in the Donbas and fend off a counteroffensive around the city of Izium.
The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said Russia’s offensive in Donbas had stalled and Ukraine could win the war, an outcome few military analysts predicted at the outset of the conflict.
“Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going as Moscow had planned,” Stoltenberg said.
Finland on Sunday confirmed it would apply to join Nato, while Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats backed Nato membership, paving the way for an application and abandoning decades of neutrality.
Nato and the US said they were confident both countries would be accepted, and that reservations from Turkey could be overcome – it wants them to halt support for Kurdish militant groups present on their territory.
British military intelligence said Russia had lost about a third of the ground combat force deployed in February, and its Donbas offensive had fallen “significantly behind schedule”.
As well as losing large numbers of men and much military equipment, Russia has been hit by economic sanctions, while western states have provided Ukraine with military aid.
Ukraine has deployed many of its new US M-777 howitzers at the frontlines, and Washington has delivered all but one of the 90 artillery pieces it was due to send, according to the US embassy in Kyiv. Washington lawmakers are set to press ahead this week with efforts to send more aid.
Ukraine has scored a series of successes since Russia invaded on 24 February, reversing an advance on the capital, Kyiv, and in the last few days driving Russian forces out of Kharkiv in the east.
Since mid-April, Russian forces have focused on trying to capture two eastern provinces known as the Donbas. Moscow recognized the independence of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic in the Donbas days before it launched its invasion of Ukraine.
The most intense fighting appeared to be around the eastern Russian-held city of Izium, where Russia said it had struck Ukrainian positions with missiles.
Ukraine’s military said its troops had repelled 17 attacks on Sunday and destroyed 11 pieces of Russian equipment. The command of Ukraine’s air force said Ukrainian forces downed two helicopters, two cruise missiles and seven drones.
Russia continued to target civilian areas along the entire frontline in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, firing at 23 villages and towns, the Ukrainian military added. Reuters was not able to independently confirm the reports. Russia denies targeting civilians.
If Ukraine can sustain pressure on Izium and Russian supply lines, it will be harder for Moscow to encircle Ukrainian troops in the Donbas.
Ukraine’s military also acknowledged setbacks, saying Russian forces “continue to advance” in several areas in the Donbas region.
In western Ukraine near Poland, missiles destroyed military infrastructure and were fired at the Lviv region from the Black Sea, Ukrainian officials said.
Another 10 civilians were wounded in the southern region of Mykolaiv, the regional council said, without providing details.
There was also no let-up on Sunday in Russia’s bombardment of the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, where a few hundred Ukrainian fighters are holding out weeks after the city fell into Russian hands, the Ukrainian military said.
Brightly burning munitions were shown cascading down on the steelworks in a video posted by a pro-Russian separatist commander.
The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has spoken of “very difficult and delicate negotiations” to save Ukrainians in Mariupol and Azovstal.
In the port city, some residents ate and talked outside their burnt-out apartment building, which was shelled and caught fire in early April.
“I was in the kitchen when the smoke appeared,” one resident named Natalya said. “I started carrying out my belongings, saving what I could.”
She said three neighbors had died in the fighting.
“We could not bury them because of the shelling. Each day we’ve been putting a person into a grave, but we could not cover it up with soil because of the shelling.”
Ukrainian troops received a morale boost from the country’s win in the Eurovision song contest on the weekend, with some saying it was a sign of battlefield victories to come. “We have shown that we can not only fight, but we can also sing very nice,” said Vitaliy, a soldier bunkered down north of Kyiv.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism