Zelenskiy Removes Ukraine’s Ambassador To Germany, Others In Diplomatic Shake-Up

A regional governor said Ukrainian forces were pushing back against Russian efforts to advance into the eastern Donetsk region, as Ukraine officials urged Western allies to send more weapons.

In a post to Telegram on July 9, Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk regional administration, reported heavy Russian shelling of towns amid attacks from several directions.

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“Russians are firing along the entire front line,” Hayday wrote. “The enemy is trying to advance from the settlements of the Luhansk region to the first villages of the Donetsk region.”

In Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv, emergency services said six civilians were wounded when a rocket hit a two-story residential building on July 9.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces hit two “bases of foreign mercenaries deployed near Kharkiv.”

Kharkiv’s governor, Oleh Synehubov, said on Telegram that Ukrainian fighters had driven back two Russian attacks near Dementiivka, a town between Kharkiv and the Russian border.

Western intelligence agencies said this week that Russian forces may be taking an operational pause in their offensive in Ukraine’s Donbas region after claiming to have taken all of the Luhansk region.

Hayday and other Ukrainian officials have denied that Luhansk was fully under Russian control, even as Ukrainian forces withdrew from the last major cities of Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk.

“The Russians are making very, very incremental, limited, hard-fought, highly costly progress in certain, select, small spaces in the Donbas,” a senior U.S. defense official told reporters on July 8. “They’re way behind on their timelines. They’re far behind on their objectives. The Ukrainians are in localized places launching effective offensives.”

Mykhaylo Podolyak, a top Ukrainian presidential adviser and negotiator, also said that Russia had been forced to pause operations to replenish troops and equipment.

“It is clear that they have to redeploy things, bring forward new troops and weaponry, and this is very good,” Podolyak told Ukraine’s 24 Channel television on July 8. “A certain turning point is beginning to take shape because we are proving we are going to attack storage facilities and command centers.”

Britain’s Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said on July 9 that Russia appeared to be using older, outdated vehicles to get troops to the front lines and suggested that Russia might be running low on some weaponry.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly called for more modern Western weaponry to help bolster defenses and launch counterattacks.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on July 9 that Western sanctions on Moscow were working, and he called again for more deliveries of high-precision weapons.

“Russians desperately try to lift those sanctions, which proves that they do hurt them. Therefore, sanctions must be stepped up until [Russian President Vladimir] Putin drops his aggressive plans,” Kuleba told a forum in Dubrovnik by video link.

On July 8, the White House announced a new weapons package worth up to $400 million, including four more high mobility artillery rocket systems and more ammunition.

The rocket systems, known as HIMARS, allow Ukrainian forces to target Russian positions from further distances and with greater accuracy than regular artillery. With the new shipment, Ukraine will have 12 HIMARS in operation.

Russian forces have also seized territory across Ukraine’s south, including in Kherson and Zaporizhzhya. Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, urged residents to evacuate before Ukrainian forces launch a counteroffensive.

Ukrainian officials have also warned civilians to flee in case they are trapped in territory that is taken over by Russian forces. As many as 1.6 million people may have been forcibly resettled from Russian-occupied territories, to Russia itself, according to Ukrainian and Western officials.

Activists and reporters have documented so-called filtration camps, where Ukrainians are interrogated and held — sometimes for days — while their backgrounds are scrutinized.

“We assess that Russia, with the help of proxy groups, almost certainly is using so-called filtration operations to conduct the detention and deportation of Ukrainian civilians to Russia,” Courtney Austrian, the deputy U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said in remarks on July 7.

“Russian officials reportedly began preparations for the filtration process before February 24,” she said. “At least 18 filtration locations along both sides of the Ukraine-Russia border have been identified thus far.”

Top diplomats from the Group of 20 major industrial nations met in Bali, Indonesia, on July 8 for talks that were dominated by the Ukraine war, as well as soaring global food and energy prices.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, walked out of the meetings in the face of criticism from Germany and other Western officials. He denounced the criticism as “frenzied.”

The rise in food prices is due in large part to Ukraine’s inability to export its grain from Black Sea ports because of Russia’s naval presence and ports that are mined.

Speaking on July 9 in Indonesia, alongside his Chinese counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that he believed Russia had come away from the G20 meetings isolated and alone.

“It was very important that he heard loudly and clearly from around the world condemnation of Russia’s aggression,” Blinken was quoted by Reuters as saying. “We see no signs whatsoever that Russia at this point is prepared to engage in diplomacy.”

Putin, meanwhile, said Western sanctions against Russia risked causing “catastrophic” energy price rises.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and Reuters