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Ukrainian forces have invaded Russian-occupied areas of northern Donetsk in a move the British Defense Ministry said Friday is “putting pressure on territory Russia deems essential for its war purposes”.
Fighting in northern Donestk has been described as “ongoing” as Ukrainian forces launch a counter-offensive against the city of Lyman, which Russia has occupied since May.
Lyman is located about 30 miles west of Izyum in the northeastern region of Kharkov, where Ukrainian forces made big gains this month by retaking most of the occupied territory and forcing Russian soldiers to retreat.
Ukraine announced control of the entire region west of the Oskil River, where territory is still disputed from eastern Kharkov to the regions of Luhansk.
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“Russia sought to “integrate” the Oskil into a consolidated defense line following the withdrawal of its troops earlier this month,” the Defense Ministry said on Friday.
Over the past three days, however, Ukrainian forces have “secured bridgeheads on the eastern bank” of the river that splits, suggesting they may be in a better position to retake the rest of Kharkov before moving into Luhansk.
The ministry’s announcement comes as Russia launches referendums in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson, despite fierce fighting in all four regions.
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Kharkiv was previously listed as one of the regions that Russia wanted to annex.
Western officials have condemned Moscow’s pressure to illegally seize Ukrainian territory by holding so-called “mock elections” in eastern and southern Ukraine.
The “voting” starts on Friday and the polling stations open on Tuesday.
According to the Russian state media, RIA, the question on the ballot paper will read: “Do you support secession from Ukraine, forming the region as an independent state and joining Russia?”
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The preliminary results are said to be announced on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the election as a “farse” and Western officials have repeatedly pointed to a similar step Russia took during its 2014 invasion of Crimea.