Russia is moving reserve forces from across the country and assembling them near Ukraine for future offensive operations, British military intelligence said on Saturday.
A large proportion of the new Russian infantry units are probably deploying with MT-LB armoured vehicles taken from long-term storage as their primary transport, Britain’s Ministry of Defence tweeted in a regular bulletin.
The bulletin comes as Ukrainian defenders battled on Saturday to contain Russian forces along several fronts, officials said.
A missile strike on the northeastern city of Kharkiv wounded three civilians, its governor said, adding fighters had repulsed two Russian attacks near Dementiivka, a town situated between the city and the border with Russia.
Russia’s defence ministry said its forces hit two “bases of foreign mercenaries deployed near Kharkiv.”
Southeast of Kharkiv, attacks continued in Luhansk and Donetsk. Those two provinces, parts of which were held by pro-Russian separatists before the conflict began in February, comprise the eastern industrial region of the Donbas.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Gaidai said on Telegram that Russian forces were “firing along the entire front line,” though a subsequent Ukrainian counter-attack that hit weapons and ammunition stores had forced Moscow to halt its offensive.
Donetsk regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on the Telegram messaging service that a Russian missile had struck Druzhkivka, a town behind the front line, and reported shelling of other population centres.
Russia, which claimed control over all of Luhansk province last weekend, denies targeting civilians.
Since Russia, which has also seized a big chunk of territory across Ukraine’s south, started what it calls a “special operation” to demilitarize Ukraine on Feb. 24, cities have been bombed to rubble, thousands have been killed, and millions displaced.
Ukraine and its Western allies say Russia is engaged in an unprovoked land grab.
Zelensky sacks multiple ambassadors
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday that he had dismissed several of Kyiv’s senior envoys abroad, including the country’s outspoken ambassador to Germany.
Zelensky announced the sacking of Ukraine’s ambassadors to Germany, India, the Czech Republic, Norway and Hungary and said new candidates were being readied for the positions.
“This rotation is a normal part of diplomatic practice,” he said in a statement.
It was not clear if the envoys would be assigned new positions.
Zelensky has urged his diplomats to drum up international support and military aid for Ukraine as it tries to fend off Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
Kyiv’s relations with Germany, which is heavily reliant on Russian energy supplies and also Europe’s biggest economy, are particularly sensitive.
Andriy Melnyk, who was appointed by Zelensky’s predecessor as ambassador to Germany in late 2014, is well known among politicians and diplomats in Berlin.
The 46-year-old regularly engages in outspoken social media exchanges and has branded politicians and intellectuals who oppose arming Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion as appeasers.
He once accused German Chancellor Olaf Scholz of behaving like an “offended liver sausage” when Scholz did not immediately accept an invitation by Zelensky to visit Kyiv.
Kyiv and Berlin are currently at odds over a German-made turbine undergoing maintenance in Canada. On Saturday, Canada’s federal Department of Natural Resources said it will be granting a “a time-limited and revocable permit” to Siemens Canada that allows for the return of the turbine; it is used for Nord Stream One, a set of natural gas pipelines connecting Germany and Russia.
China-U.S. frictions at G20
On Saturday U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging the international community to join forces to condemn Russian aggression, told journalists he had raised concerns with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi over Beijing’s alignment with Moscow.
The pair held over five hours of talks on the sidelines of the G20 gathering of foreign ministers on the Indonesian island of Bali. On Friday, Russia’s Sergei Lavrov had walked out of a meeting there, denouncing the West for “frenzied criticism.”
The Chinese foreign ministry said, without giving details, that Wang and Blinken had discussed “the Ukraine issue.”
It also quoted Wang as saying that Sino-American relations were in danger of being further led “astray,” with many people believing that “the United States is suffering from an increasingly serious bout of ‘Chinaphobia’.”
Shortly before the Russian invasion, Beijing and Moscow announced a “no limits” partnership, although U.S. officials have said they have not seen China evade U.S.-led sanctions on Russia or provide it with military equipment.
Ukraine also faulted for nursing home fire by UN
A new United Nations report found that Ukraine’s armed forces bear a large, and perhaps equal, share of the blame for a deadly fire that ripped through a nursing home in Stara Krasnyanka, about 580 kilometres southeast of Kyiv, on March 11.
A Russian assault on the facility set off the fire, but the UN said Ukrainian soldiers took up positions inside the nursing home days before the attack — effectively making the building a target.
WATCH | Ukraine shares blame for fire, says UN:
UN report claims Ukraine also at fault for March nursing home attack
A report from the United Nations reportedly says Ukraine shares the blame with Russia for an attack on a nursing home that happened in March.
The report by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights doesn’t conclude the Ukrainian soldiers or the Russian troops committed a war crime. But it said the battle at the Stara Krasnyanka nursing home is emblematic of the human rights office’s concerns over the potential use of “human shields” to prevent military operations in certain areas.
At least 22 of the 71 patients survived the assault, but the exact number of people killed remains unknown, according to the UN.
Ukrainian authorities had previously placed the fault squarely on Russian forces, accusing them of killing more than 50 vulnerable civilians in a brutal and unprovoked attack.