By FELIPE DANA and JIM HEINTZ (Associated Press)
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces on Friday pounded a key village in southeastern Ukraine that Kyiv claimed to have recaptured in its grinding counteroffensive.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, marked Ukraine’s Statehood Day by reaffirming the country’s sovereignty — a rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who used his claim that Ukraine didn’t exist as a nation to justify his invasion.
“Now, like more than a thousand years ago, our civilizational choice is unity with the world,” Zelenskyy said in a speech outside St. Michael’s Monastery in Kyiv. “To be a power in world history. To have the right to its national history – of its people, its land, its state. And of our children – all future generations of the Ukrainian people. We will definitely win!”
He also honored servicemen and handed out first passports to young citizens as part of ceremonies in the square. The holiday coincides with the observance that marks the beginning of the widespread adoption of Christianity in land that later became Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.
On the battlefield, the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces, Col.-Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, said his troops were pushing forward in parts of eastern Ukraine occupied by Russia and meeting stiff resistance as the war drags into its 18th month.
“The enemy fiercely clings to every centimeter, conducting intense artillery and mortar fire,” he said in a statement.
Recent fighting has taken place at multiple places along the more than 1,000-kilometer (more than 600-mile) front, where Ukraine deployed its recently acquired Western weapons to push out the Kremlin’s forces. However, it is attacking without vital air support and faces a deeply entrenched foe.
A Western official said Thursday that Ukraine had launched a major push in the southeast. Putin acknowledged that fighting has intensified there, but insisted Kyiv’s push has failed.
Zelenskyy posted a video Thursday night in which Ukrainian soldiers said they had taken Staromaiorske in the Donetsk region. Russian military bloggers said artillery fire at the Ukrainian troops had effectively razed the village and reported more barrages Friday.
Capturing the village, which in 2014 had a population of 682, would give Ukraine a platform to push deeper into Russian-held territory, the bloggers noted.
The area has been a focus of Ukraine’s counteroffensive since June, and its troops have previously captured several other villages there as they slowly work their way across extensive Russian minefields.
It was not possible to verify either side’s claims about what is happening in the war zone.
Syrskyi said fighting that targets the enemy’s artillery as well as its command and control structure is a priority as his troops probe Russian lines for weaknesses.
“In these conditions, it is crucial to make timely management decisions in response to the situation at hand and take measures for maneuvering forces and resources, shifting units and troops to areas where success is evident, or withdrawing them from the enemy’s fire,” he said.
Russia is trying to hold on to the territory it controls in the four provinces it illegally annexed in September — Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Kherson and Luhansk.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian drone was shot down early Friday outside Moscow, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. It was the third drone strike or attempt on the capital region this month.
The ministry said there were no injuries or damage in the early morning incident. It didn’t give the exact location where the drone was shot down.
The shootdown adds to concern about Moscow’s vulnerability to attack as the war drags into its 18th month.
Two drones struck the Russian capital on Monday, one of them falling in the center of the city near the Defense Ministry’s headquarters along the Moscow River about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the Kremlin. The other drone hit an office building in southern Moscow, gutting several upper floors.
In an attack on July 4, the Russian military said four drones were downed by air defenses on the outskirts of Moscow and the fifth was jammed by electronic warfare means and forced down.
Heintz reported from Tallinn, Estonia.
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