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Ukraine pushes Russian troops back in counter-offensive in east

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2/2

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A hotel complex destroyed by a Russian missile during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is pictured in Odesa, Ukraine, May 8, 2022. REUTERS/Igor Tkachenko/File Photo

2/2

By Jonathan Landay

KHARKIV, Ukraine (Reuters) -Ukraine said on Tuesday its forces had recaptured villages from Russian troops, pressing a major counter-offensive in the northeast of the country that could signal a shift in the war’s momentum and jeopardise Russia’s main advance.

Tetiana Apatchenko, press officer for the 92nd Separate Mechanized Brigade, the main Ukrainian force near Kharkiv, confirmed that Ukrainian troops had recaptured the settlements of Cherkaski Tyshky, Ruski Tyshki, Borshchova and Slobozhanske, in a pocket north of Kharkiv in recent days.

Yuriy Saks, an adviser to Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, said the successes were pushing Russian artillery out of range of parts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, which has been under bombardment since the war’s earliest days.

“The military operations of the Ukrainian armed forces around Kharkiv, especially north and northeast of Kharkiv, are sort of a success story,” Saks told Reuters.

“The Ukrainian army was able to push these war criminals to a line beyond the reach of their artillery.”

The counterattack could signal a new phase in the war, with Ukraine now going on the offensive after weeks in which Russia mounted a massive assault that Ukrainian troops mostly held off.

By pushing back Russian forces who had occupied the outskirts of Kharkiv since the early days of the war, the Ukrainians are moving into striking distance of the rear supply lines sustaining the main Russian attack force further south.

“They’re trying to cut in and behind the Russians to cut off the supply lines, because that’s really one of their (the Russians’) main weaknesses,” said Neil Melvin of the RUSI think-tank in London.

“Ukrainians are getting close to the Russian border. So all the gains that the Russians made in the early days in the northeast of Ukraine are increasingly slipping away.”

POUNDING AZOVSTAL

The setbacks near Kharkiv deal a blow to Moscow’s war plans at precisely the moment when Western capitals believed President Vladimir Putin had been hoping to present a major victory for a holiday marking the end of World War Two.

On Monday, Putin presided over a huge Red Square military parade for the Victory Day holiday. Western countries had worried that, in the absence of major battlefield success to announce, he might instead order a nationwide mobilisation. But in the event, he did neither – exhorting Russians to keep fighting but giving no indications about his further strategy.

Since Russia was forced to abandon its assault on the capital Kyiv at the end of March, its main attack force has been trying to encircle Ukrainian troops in the eastern region known as the Donbas. The Ukrainian forces have been holding out against intensive assaults from three directions.

By pushing in north of Kharkiv, Ukraine could now try to turn the tables, and force Moscow to switch to trying to defend its own long supply lines, which stretch from the Russian border to the city of Izyum south of Kharkiv.

In the south, Russian forces were again pummelling the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol on Tuesday, trying to capture the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the ruined city where Ukraine says tens of thousands of people have died under two months of Russian siege and bombardment.

Scores of civilians have been evacuated from the steelworks in recent days, but an aide to Mariupol’s mayor, Petro Andryushchenko, said at least 100 still remained inside.

Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, holding out in Azovstal, said on the Telegram messaging app that in the past 24 hours, 34 Russian aircraft had flown over the plant including 8 sorties by strategic bombers. It said the plant had come under fire from the Russian navy and from tanks, artillery fire and rockets.

Reuters was unable to verify the situation at the plant. Russia did not immediately comment on his remarks and has denied targeting civilians.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited Ukraine on Tuesday and toured Bucha, the suburb north of Kyiv where Russian forces left behind hundreds of corpses of killed civilians when they withdrew at the start of April. She said the killers must be punished.

“That is what we owe to the victims,” she said. “And these victims, you can feel that here very intensely, these victims could have been us.”

Baerbock was the first German cabinet minister to visit Ukraine since the start of the war, days or weeks after visits by senior officials from other Western countries. A visit from Germany had been controversial because Kyiv had openly rebuked the government in Berlin for being slow to disavow years of close economic ties with Russia.

In addition to the heavy battles near the front, Russia is still using missiles to strike targets deep inside Ukraine.

Firefighters battled blazes in Odesa until early hours on Tuesday after Russian missiles struck the Black Sea port. One person was killed and five people were injured when seven missiles hit a shopping centre and a depot, Ukraine’s armed forces said on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB).

Rescue workers combed through piles of rubble. Ukrainian emergency services said all the fires set off by the strikes were extinguished early on Tuesday.

European Council President Charles Michel visited Odesa on Monday, and his meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal was interrupted by the missile attack. Their talks continued in a bomb shelter, according to Shmyhal’s official Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) account.

The number of Ukrainians who have fled their country since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 was approaching 6 million, according to the United Nations, which says the refugee crisis is the fastest growing since World War Two.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Monday he was worried Putin “doesn’t have a way out right now, and I’m trying to figure out what we do about that”.

(Additional reporting Tom Balmforth in KyivWriting by Peter GraffEditing by Tomasz Janowski)

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Mariupol defenders surrender to Russia but their fate is uncertain

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© Reuters. A bus carrying wounded service members of Ukrainian forces from the besieged Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol drives under escort of the pro-Russian military in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict upon arrival in Novoazovsk, Ukraine May 16, 2022. REUTERS

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By Natalia Zinets

MARIUPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) -More than 250 Ukrainian fighters surrendered to Russian forces at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol after weeks of desperate resistance, bringing an end to the most devastating siege of Russia’s war in Ukraine and allowing President Vladimir Putin to claim a rare victory in his faltering campaign.

Even as the Kremlin prepares to take full control of the ruins of Mariupol, it faces the growing prospect of defeat in its bid to conquer all of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas because its badly mauled forces lack the manpower for significant advances, some analysts of the Russian campaign said.

Buses left the steelworks late on Monday in a convoy escorted by Russian armoured vehicles. Five arrived in the Russian-held town of Novoazovsk, where Moscow said wounded fighters would be treated.

Seven buses carrying Ukrainian fighters from the Azovstal garrison arrived at a newly reopened prison in the Russian-controlled town of Olenivka near Donetsk, a Reuters witness said.

There were some women aboard at least one of the buses in Olenivka, Reuters video showed. Some of the women wore olive green uniforms, as did most of the men. All of them appeared exhausted. One rested against duffel bags stacked on the floor.

What will happen to the fighters was unclear. The Kremlin said Putin had personally guaranteed the prisoners would be treated according to international standards, and Ukrainian officials said they could be exchanged for Russian captives.

TASS news agency said a Russian committee planned to question the soldiers, many of them members of the Azov Battalion, as part of an investigation into what Moscow calls “Ukrainian regime crimes”.

The denouement of a battle which came to symbolise Ukrainian resistance gives Moscow total control of the Azov Sea coast and an unbroken stretch of eastern and southern Ukraine, even as its troops retreat from the outskirts of Kharkiv in the northeast.

Officials from both sides said on Tuesday that peace talks aimed at ending the war had stagnated. Negotiators last convened in-person in late March, and there has been little communication between them in recent weeks.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko said Ukraine “has practically withdrawn from the negotiation process,” While Russian negotiator Leonid Slutsky said talks were not being conducted in any format.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said talks were “on hold” as Russia is not willing to accept that it will not achieve its goals.

PRISONER SWAP?

The complete capture of Mariupol is Russia’s biggest victory since it launched what it calls a “special military operation” on Feb. 24. But the port lies in ruins, and Ukraine believes tens of thousands of people were killed under months of Russian bombardment.

Russia said at least 256 Ukrainian fighters had “laid down their arms and surrendered”, including 51 severely wounded. Ukraine said 264 soldiers, including 53 wounded, had left.

Russian defence ministry video showed fighters leaving the plant, some carried on stretchers, others with hands up to be searched by Russian troops.

While both sides spoke of a deal under which all Ukrainian troops would abandon the steelworks, many details were not yet public, including how many fighters still remained inside, and whether any form of prisoner swap had been agreed.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar told a briefing that Kyiv would not disclose how many fighters remained inside until all were safe. Ukraine’s military said units in Azovstal had completed their combat mission.

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Kyiv aimed to arrange a prisoner swap for the wounded once their condition stabilises, but neither side disclosed terms for any specific deal.

High-profile Russian lawmakers spoke out against any prisoner swap. Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house, said: “Nazi criminals should not be exchanged.”

Lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, one of Russia’s negotiators in talks with Ukraine, called the evacuated combatants “animals in human form” and said they should be executed.

Natalia, wife of a sailor among those holed up in the plant, told Reuters she hoped “there will be an honest exchange”. But she was still worried: “What Russia is doing now is inhumane.”

The United Nations and Red Cross say the true death toll from the Mariupol siege is still uncounted but it is certain to be Europe’s worst since the 1990s wars in Chechnya and the Balkans.

UKRAINIAN ADVANCES

Elsewhere, Ukrainian forces have been advancing at their fastest pace for more than a month, driving Russian forces out of the area around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.

Ukraine says its forces had reached the Russian border, 40 km (25 miles) north of Kharkiv. They have also pushed at least as far as the Siverskiy Donets river 40 km to the east, where they could threaten supply lines to Russia’s main advance in the Donbas.

Russia is still pressing that advance despite taking heavy losses. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia had shelled the areas in the north and west on Tuesday to compensate for what he called Russia’s failures in the east and south.

“They cannot produce any successes for their combined forces in areas where they are trying to advance,” Zelenskiy said in a late night address. “These strikes, like many of those that came before them, will give them nothing.”

Putin may have to decide whether to send in more troops and hardware to replenish his dramatically weakened invasion force as an influx of modern Western weaponry bolsters Ukraine’s combat power, analysts said.

“Time is definitely working against the Russians. They’re running out of equipment. They’re running out of particularly advanced missiles. And, of course, the Ukrainians are getting stronger almost every day,” said Neil Melvin of the RUSI think-tank in London.

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Polls close in North Carolina in Senate primary that tests Trump clout

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© Reuters. A woman wears a t-shirt falsely claiming that former U.S. President Donald Trump won the 2020 election, after a presentation to the Surry County board of commissioners by several individuals that aimed to cast doubt on election integrity, urging the commi

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By Jarrett Renshaw and Joseph Ax

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) -Polls closed on Tuesday evening in North Carolina, where voters were selecting nominees in a critical U.S. Senate race, while Pennsylvania residents were still casting ballots in Senate and gubernatorial races that present another test of former President Donald Trump’s sway with Republicans.

President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrats are fighting to retain their slim majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate in the Nov. 8 midterm elections. Democrats in both states are vying to win Senate seats being vacated by retiring Republicans.

The Pennsylvania Republican senatorial primary turned into an unpredictable three-way battle in its final days. Conservative political commentator Kathy Barnette surged into contention against two better-funded rivals: Trump-endorsed TV wellness celebrity Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund chief executive David McCormick (NYSE:MKC).

A weekend opinion poll by the Trafalgar Group, a Republican firm, showed Oz leading Barnette 28.5% to 26.8%, within the margin of error, with McCormick trailing at 21.6%.

Barnette’s rise – along with that of state senator and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a far-right candidate who has echoed Trump’s conspiracy theories – has worried some establishment Republicans that the duo could prove too extreme for voters in the general election.

In Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary, progressive Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman has been comfortably ahead of centrist U.S. Representative Conor Lamb in polls. Fetterman has been hospitalized in Lancaster since suffering a stroke last week but said doctors expect a full recovery.

His campaign on Tuesday released a photo of him voting from his hospital bed via an emergency absentee ballot, shortly before his campaign said he successfully had a pacemaker installed to address irregular heart rhythms that caused the stroke.

Final results may not be known tonight. Pennsylvania officials said voters requested 908,000 absentee or mail-in ballots. State law prevents these from being processed until Election Day.

CAWTHORN FACES TEST

In North Carolina, Trump-endorsed congressman Ted Budd leads former Governor Pat McCrory as they vie to succeed retiring Senator Richard Burr. Cheri Beasley, the first Black woman to serve as chief justice of North Carolina’s Supreme Court, is expected to win the Democratic nomination.

Trump ally Madison Cawthorn, a first-term Republican congressman who has frustrated his party’s leaders with a series of self-inflicted scandals, hopes to fend off a challenge in the House primary from state Senator Chuck Edwards.

Cawthorn, at 26 the House’s youngest member, has claimed that conservative leaders invited him to a cocaine-fueled orgy, attempted twice to bring a gun onto a plane and was forced to defend his conduct after a video surfaced that showed him nude and gyrating against someone.

More than 580,000 North Carolina voters had already cast their ballots in person or by mail, nearly twice as many as four years ago, according to the state Board of Elections. Those voters returned slightly more Democratic than Republican ballots.

In Idaho, meanwhile, incumbent Republican Governor Brad Little faces Trump-backed primary challenger Janice McGeachin, the state’s lieutenant governor.

Trump has endorsed more than 150 candidates as he tries to solidify his status as his party’s kingmaker, though his picks have not always prevailed. His support helped author J.D. Vance win the Ohio Senate primary, but his favored candidate lost in Nebraska’s gubernatorial race last week.

STRUGGLE FOR SENATE

Republicans are well positioned to regain control of the House, which could enable them to frustrate Biden’s legislative agenda. Democrats have a better chance of keeping control of the Senate, currently split 50-50 between the parties with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote.

Barnette, seeking to become Pennsylvania’s first Black U.S. senator, has called her rivals insufficiently conservative. She was photographed marching toward the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, alongside members of the extremist Proud Boys group shortly before a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building in a failed bid to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Barnette’s campaign told NBC she did not take part in or condone the destruction of property and has no connection to the Proud Boys.

Trump last week endorsed Mastriano, who is leading the polls in Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial primary and was also present outside the Capitol on the day of the riot. Mastriano played a significant role in the Trump campaign’s failed effort to overturn the state’s presidential results based on false claims of voting fraud.

Mastriano has said he would pursue a statewide abortion ban, after a leaked draft opinion showed the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has no rivals for the Democratic nomination, has vowed to protect abortion rights. Shapiro said on Tuesday that he was isolating at home after testing positive for COVID-19.

Primary elections are also taking place in Kentucky and Oregon.

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U.S. Justice Dept requests Jan 6 committee transcripts -panel chair

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A mob of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump fight with members of law enforcement at a door they broke open as they storm the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice asked the House of Representatives committee investigating last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol to turn over some transcripts from interviews conducted as part of its probe, the panel’s chairman said on Tuesday.

Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson told reporters that the department had asked for the transcripts but the panel had not agreed to turn them over.

“It’s our work product. It’s the committee’s work product,” Thompson said, when asked about the request, first reported by the New York Times.

“We’re in the midst of our work. If they want to come and talk, just like we’ve had other agencies to come and talk, we’d be happy to talk to them, but we can’t give them access to our work product at this point,” he said.

Thompson said the committee planned to turn over the transcripts when it completed its investigation.

On Jan. 6, 2021, supporters of Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building, after the Republican then-president gave a fiery speech urging them to protest congressional certification of his defeat by Democrat Joe Biden in the November 2020 election.

The committee has conducted hundreds of interviews, including many with close Trump associates and former White House aides, about the Capitol riot and events leading up to it.

It plans to hold public hearings next month.

Earlier on Tuesday, Thompson said the panel had not yet decided to call Trump himself to testify.

The Jan. 6 committee last week sent subpoenas to five House Republicans, including Representative Kevin McCarthy, the party’s leader in the House, demanding that they sit for interviews.

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