By Maria Starkova
LVIV, Ukraine, Jan 22 (Reuters) – Russia increased shelling of Ukraine’s eastern regions outside the main front line in the Donbas industrial area, officials from the Zaporizhzhia and Sumy regions said on Saturday.
Russia’s defence ministry said a recent offensive had put its army’s units in more advantageous positions along the Zaporizhzhia front line, a claim Ukrainian military officials called an exaggeration.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
Since an aggressive Ukrainian counteroffensive in late August, fighting has concentrated in Donbas, which includes most of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions that are partly controlled by Russia and which Moscow claims to have annexed.
After invading its neighbour on Feb. 24, Russia has attacked other parts of Ukraine’s east but failed to capture them. The intensified shelling comes as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other Ukrainian officials have said Moscow would likely attempt a new offensive in the coming months.
Russian’s attacks seek to overload Ukraine’s defences and deter Kyiv from retaking territory, officials and analysts say.
“Attempting to study our defence, the enemy has activated artillery fire,” Oleksandr Starukh, governor of the Zaporizhzhia region of southeastern Ukraine, said on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia fired on the region 166 times through the day, he said, with 113 attacks aimed at populated areas, killing one civilian. Russia says it does not target civilians.
Countering Moscow’s claim of recent advances, Yevhen Yerin, a military spokesperson in Zaporizhzhia, told the Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne, “At the moment, they have not captured anything. All their attempts have been repulsed and the enemy has suffered losses.”
The Ukrainian military’s General Staff said Russia continues its offensive in Zaporizhzhia, increasingly using aviation. It said 25 settlements in the region were affected by Russian artillery fire on Saturday.
Russian forces launched 115 strikes in the Sumy region that borders Russia in Ukraine’s northeast, regional Governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky said on Telegram.
A 17-year-old was wounded and a number of houses and infrastructure buildings were destroyed, Zhyvytsky said.
Oleh Zhdanov, a military analyst in Kyiv, said the increased attacks in Sumy were a “test” by Russia. “This is not their first attempt,” Zhdanov said in a social media video, adding that the attacks were repelled.
Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania urge Germany to send tanks to Ukraine
The Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania made a joint call to Germany on Saturday to step up its leadership and send its main battle tanks to Ukraine, putting further pressure on Berlin to move faster on aiding Kyiv in its war against Russia.
“We, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania Foreign Ministers, call on Germany to provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine now,” Estonia’s Foreign Minister said on Twitter.
“This is needed to stop Russian aggression, help Ukraine and restore peace in Europe quickly. Germany as the leading European power has special responsibility in this regard.”
The statement came a day after Germany and Western allies reached no decision on whether Berlin would agree to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine or permit other countries that have them to do so.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year raised concerns in the small Baltic states – all NATO members that restored their independence after decades of Soviet rule in 1991 – that they could also come under an attack from Moscow.
Russia in recent days has increased shelling of Ukraine’s eastern regions over outside the main front line in Donbas, with Russia’s defence ministry saying on Saturday its offensive in the Zaporizhzhia region had put its army’s units in more advantageous positions.
Germany’s new Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said on Saturday he plans to visit Ukraine “quickly,” adding that Berlin is in “close dialogue” on the issue of tanks with the United States and other international partners.