Ukraine official says Russia massing forces around a key city in the country's east

KYIV (AP) — Russia is accumulating large forces around Chasiv Yar in eastern Ukraine as it seeks to make a breakthrough in the Donetsk region, a Ukrainian official said Friday.

Illia Yevlash, spokesperson for the operational group overseeing the eastern front line, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that Russian forces were concentrating efforts to make a powerful push on the key strategic city to the west of Bakhmut, which fell to Moscow last May, hoping to to advance toward Kostiantynivka, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

Ukrainian forces battling Russian efforts to advance in the Bakhmut direction say they have been experiencing a large Russian push over the last three weeks and are facing constant attacks as Moscow troops send in wave after wave of infantry and target them with a variety of artillery and drones.

With the full-scale war now into its third year, Russian forces have been bludgeoning some Ukrainian defensive positions into submission, deploying overwhelming amounts of artillery and troop numbers in an effort to punch through defensive lines at targeted points.

Though Russia’s gains have been small, slow and costly, Ukraine doesn’t have enough reservists and has a severe shortage of artillery shells as the supply of military aid from Western partners has waned.

During a visit to Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region on Friday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and President Voldymyr Zelenskyy signed a bilateral security agreement which included 2 billion euros in military aid from the Netherlands this year and further defense assistance over the next 10 years.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Zelenskyy said the deal prioritized “the provision of air defense, artillery, sea and long-range capabilities, with a particular emphasis on strengthening Ukraine’s air force."

A spokesman for the 17th separate tank brigade told The Associated Press that despite limited resources Ukrainian forces were trying their best to adjust their defense to the ever-changing Russian tactics, even as troops on the ground reported they could not respond with the same firepower and personnel as Russia is able to use against them.

The commander of the tank company working in the Bakhmut direction said “⁠You can really feel it, the density of fire is higher.” “When we can make 10 shots, they can make 50, they have an advantage over us in ammunition, it’s undeniable. And also, there is an advantage in manpower,” said Dmytro, 28, who only gave his first name due to security concerns. Earlier this month, Russia took the strategic eastern city of Avdiivka by overwhelming Ukrainian forces with large numbers of troops and superior air and artillery firepower.

Russia’s tactics in that battle, including its use of drones and dozens of aerial bombs to obliterate Ukrainian positions in the city, has raised concerns it could replicate the same methods elsewhere along the front line if Western aid to support air-defense systems and supplies of long-range weapons and artillery does not come through soon.

Last August, Washington authorized allies to give F-16 warplanes to Ukraine. The Netherlands along with Denmark announced they would supply the fighter jets to Kyiv but the timeline on delivery depended on how soon Ukrainian crews and infrastructure could be readied.

In a post on Telegram, Zelenskyy said new fighter jets would be in the skies this year.

“We have to make this year an effective one in defending ourselves against Russian guided bombs, Russian aircraft, and their missiles,” Zelenskyy said.

In a post on Friday, Ukraine’s defense ministry said the armed forces had shot down 13 Russian aircraft in February, which included 10 Su-34 fighter-bombers, 2 Su-3 fighters and 1 A-50 long-range radar detection and control aircraft. “This is the best result since October 2022. We are grateful to our soldiers for their efficient work. And to our partners — for strengthening the air defense capabilities of Ukraine,” the defense ministry said.