IMAGE ID 2J60B84 Ukrainian serviceman looks on as smoke rises following Russian shelling in Luhansk Region, Ukraine 260421 CREDIT Reuters, Serhii Nuzhnenko, Alamy Stock Photo
Ukraine's president said he is proud of the Ukrainian defenders managing to hold back the Russian advance in the Donbas region (Picture: Reuters/Serhii Nuzhnenko/Alamy Stock Photo).
Ukraine

Ukraine: Zelensky hails troops holding back Russian advance into country's east

After failing to capture the capital Kyiv, Moscow is focusing on the Donbas region.

IMAGE ID 2J60B84 Ukrainian serviceman looks on as smoke rises following Russian shelling in Luhansk Region, Ukraine 260421 CREDIT Reuters, Serhii Nuzhnenko, Alamy Stock Photo
Ukraine's president said he is proud of the Ukrainian defenders managing to hold back the Russian advance in the Donbas region (Picture: Reuters/Serhii Nuzhnenko/Alamy Stock Photo).

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said no-one knows how long the war in his country will last but his forces are defying expectations by preventing Russian troops from overrunning eastern Ukraine, where the fighting has been fiercest for weeks.

In his daily video address, Mr Zelensky said he is proud of the Ukrainian defenders managing to hold back the Russian advance in the Donbas region, which borders Russia and where Moscow-backed separatists have controlled much of the territory for eight years.

"Remember how in Russia, in the beginning of May, they hoped to seize all of the Donbas?" the president said. "It's already the 108th day of the war, already June. Donbas is holding on."

After failing to capture the capital Kyiv early in the war, Moscow focused on seizing the parts of the largely Russian-speaking Donbas still in Ukrainian hands, as well as the country's southern coast.

But instead of securing a swift, decisive takeover, Russian forces were drawn into a long, laborious battle, thanks in part to the Ukrainian military's use of Western-supplied weapons.

Both Ukrainian and Russian authorities said Severodonetsk, an eastern city with a pre-war population of 100,000, remains contested.

The city and neighbouring Lysychansk are the last major areas of the Donbas' Luhansk province not under the control of the pro-Russia rebels.

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Leonid Pasechnik, the head of the separatist-declared Luhansk People's Republic, said Ukrainian fighters remain in an industrial area of the city, including a chemical plant where civilians had taken shelter from days of Russian shelling.

Luhansk governor Serhii Haidai reported on Saturday that a big fire broke out at the plant during hours of Russian shelling.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, a counter-offensive pushed Russians out of parts of the southern Kherson region they took early in the war, according to Mr Zelensky.

Moscow has installed local authorities in Kherson and other occupied coastal areas, offering residents Russian passports, airing Russian news broadcasts and taking steps to introduce a Russian school curriculum.

Mr Zelensky said that while an end to the war is not in sight, Ukraine should do everything it can so the Russians "regret everything that they have done and that they answer for every killing and every strike on our beautiful state".

The Ukrainian leader asserted that Russia has suffered about three times as many military casualties as the number estimated for the Ukrainian side, adding: "For what? What did it get you, Russia?"

There are no reliable independent estimates of the war's death toll so far.