Fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine

Fierce fighting erupted on Wednesday in Soledar, eastern Ukraine, where Russia is trying to turn the tide of the war at all costs, once again changing its military leader as kyiv seems closer to obtain Western heavy armaments.

“Everything that is happening today in the direction of Bakhmout or Soledar is the bloodiest scenario of this war,” said Mykhaïlo Podoliak, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, in an interview with AFP.

The fighting “continues” in Soledar, the front “holds”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in the evening. “We are doing everything to strengthen the Ukrainian defense without any break, even for a day” in the eastern region of Donetsk, he hammered.

According to Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar, the Russians have “unsuccessfully” sought to “completely” take over this mining town of 10,000 inhabitants located near the larger city of Bakhmout which the Ukrainians are relentlessly defending for many months.

The group of Russian mercenaries Wagner, which claimed responsibility for its capture, which would constitute a military victory for Moscow after several humiliating setbacks since September, has however been denied not only by the Ukrainian military but also by the Russian army.

“Assault forces are fighting in the city,” for its part assured the Russian Ministry of Defense, specifying that “airborne units blocked the northern and southern parts” of Soledar.

– “Huge” Russian losses –

The Kremlin was cautious about the situation on the ground.

“We must not hurry. Let’s wait for official statements,” spokesman for the Russian presidency, Dmitry Peskov, told the press, while considering that there was “a positive dynamic” in the ranks of the Russian troops. .

“No one has planned to give the city away,” insisted “Bober”, a wounded Ukrainian soldier awaiting evacuation, met by AFP on Wednesday on the road linking Bakhmout to Sloviansk. Soledar “was not completely taken” by the Russians, he claimed.

According to Mykhaïlo Podoliak, the Russian military losses there are “enormous” and “the Ukrainian army is also losing men”. “Certainly, it’s more than what’s happened before,” he told AFP.

In the region of Lugansk, neighboring that of Donetsk, the Russians have “gathered” around 30,000 soldiers, also reported its Ukrainian governor, Serguiï Gaïdaï.

On the scale of the whole of Ukraine, “during the day, the enemy carried out two missile strikes and 22 air strikes”, summed up the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.

In the southern city of Kherson, where bombardments caused “numerous explosions”, the state university and a perinatal center were damaged, deplored the governor of the province, Yaroslav Yanouchevitch. An employee of a maternity ward also affected was also seriously injured, added the office of the Ukrainian presidency.

A little further north, in Marhanets, nine apartment buildings were damaged by Russian strikes, while one person was injured by shrapnel, according to local authorities.

– New military leader –

At the same time in Moscow, in a new change at the top of the military hierarchy, the last episodes of which were considered to be dictated by the major disappointments encountered on the ground, it was the Chief of the Defense Staff, General Valéri Guerassimov – a direct interlocutor of Vladimir Putin -, who was appointed “commander of the combined group of troops” deployed in Ukraine.

“The increase in the level of command of the special operation (in Ukraine) is linked to an expansion of the scope of the missions to be performed, the need to conduct closer interaction between the components of the armed forces”, explained the Department of Defense.

Valéri Guerassimov’s predecessor, General Sergei Surovikin – demoted to the rank of deputy – only directed operations for barely three months.

He had been appointed in October to redress the situation of the Russian army which suffered setbacks in the face of Ukrainian offensives in the regions of Kharkiv (north-east) and Kherson.

He was attributed the tactic of massive strikes on the energy infrastructure of Ukraine, which did not bend kyiv.

– Heavy tanks? –

At the same time, Ukraine reiterated its appeals to its Western partners, on the eve of a new meeting at the American base at Ramstein in Germany on January 20, to provide it with heavy and long-range armaments.

“Only missiles with a range of more than 100 kilometers will allow us to significantly accelerate the liberation of the territories,” argued Mykhaïlo Podoliak in his statements to AFP, promising that they would not be used against the territory. Russian.

“We still want to get 250-350 heavy tanks,” he repeated.

Western chancelleries are slow to respond favorably to kyiv’s requests on this point and Paris, London, Berlin and Washington have only promised tanks and other light armored vehicles at this stage.

But Poland took a first step on Wednesday, saying it was ready to deliver a company of German Leopard 2 heavy tanks, or 14 units.

This delivery will be made “as part of a coalition that is being built,” said its president Andrzej Duda in Lviv in western Ukraine.

“One state alone cannot help us, because we are fighting against thousands of Russian tanks,” reacted Mr. Zelensky.

Finally, on the diplomatic front, a rare meeting between Russian and Ukrainian officials took place in Turkey on Tuesday between the human rights officers of the two belligerents, Dmytro Loubinets and Tatiana Moskalkova.

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