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Ukraine updates: Kyiv claims advances near Bakhmut

Published June 5, 2023last updated June 5, 2023

It's unclear if the claimed advances are part of Ukraine's long-awaited counteroffensive. Meanwhile, a pro-Ukraine group said it would transfer captured Russian soldiers from Belgorod to Kyiv. DW has the latest.

A Ukrainian tank fighting near Bakhmut
Ukraine claims to have destroyed a Russian position near BakhmutImage: Ukrainian Armed Forces Press Service/REUTERS

Ukraine said on Monday it was conducting "offensive actions" near the flashpoint city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.

Ukrainan forces managed to destroy a Russian position near the city, according to ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrskyi.

"In some sectors we are conducting offensive actions," Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar said on Monday afternoon. "The Bakhmut sector remains the epicenter of the hostilities. We are advancing there on a rather wide front. We are having some success."

Her comments came after Russia's Defense Ministry claimed to have thwarted a major Ukrainian offensive in the same region, Donetsk.

Moscow said on Monday Ukrainian forces had used six mechanized and two tank battalions in the offensive on Sunday. It added that Russian forces killed 250 Ukrainian troops and destroyed dozens of tanks and vehicles. 

"The enemy's goal was to break through our defenses in the most vulnerable, in its opinion, sector of the front," said the ministry's spokesman, Igor Konashenkov. "The enemy did not achieve its tasks. It had no success."

Meanwhile, a Russian-installed official in Ukraine's partly occupied Zaporizhzhia province, Vladimir Rogov, reported that "a battle is underway" on the border with Donetsk.

Neither side's claims could not be independently verified. It remains unclear whether the alleged attacks are part of Ukraine's long-awaited counteroffensive to recapture territories taken by Russia.

Ukrainian officials have spoken of a planned counteroffensive for months, without providing any details that could be militarily useful such as the scope or focus of any potential push.  

Here are some of the other developments concerning Russia's war in Ukraine on Monday, June 5:

Zelenskyy welcomes 'the news we have been waiting for'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday did not give details after speaking to fighters near the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, but welcomed what he called, "the news we have been waiting for" during his nightly video address to the Ukrainian people. 

"I am grateful to each soldier, to all our defenders, men and women, who have given us today the news we have been waiting for. Fine job soldiers in the Bakhmut sector!" 

Zelenskyy went on to praise the actions of Ukrainian troops who, "skillfully, decisively and effectively defend our positions, destroy the occupiers and, most importantly, move forward." The president also said Russia was reacting "hysterically" to Ukrainian forces.  

EU extends import restrictions on Ukrainian grain until September 15

The European Union (EU) on Monday announced it would extend import restrictions on Ukrainian grains until mid-September to protect EU farmers, rather than let existing limits expire Tuesday. The decision to extend the controversial limits was made by the European Commission, which also made the announcement.

The Commission said lack of storage capacity at EU facilities made the restrictions necessary. The restrictions block five eastern EU countries — Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Poland and Slovakia — from trading Ukrainian agricultural commodities. It remains legal, however, to transport such goods throughout the EU. 

Hackers broadcast fake Putin message on Russian airwaves

Several Russian TV and radio stations were hacked and played a fake message from Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin said on Monday.

The fake announcement claimed that "Ukrainian troops armed to the teeth by NATO and with Washington's consent and support have invaded the Kursk, Belgorod and Bryansk" regions.

It also announced, falsely, martial law and the evacuation of citizens in the three border regions.

"This was indeed a hack," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday. "Control has already been restored."

Officials in the Belgorod region — where Moscow has accused Ukrainian troops of staging a raid, which Kyiv denies — said the broadcast was a deepfake intended to "sow panic among peaceful Belgorod residents."

One of the stations that was hacked, Radio Mir, said the unauthorized broadcast lasted around 40 minutes.

Wagner founder says Ukraine takes part of Berkhivka

Ukrainian forces have captured part of the village of Berkhivka, which lies north of the key city of Bakhmut, the founder of the Russian Wagner mercenary group has said.

Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said that part of the settlement "has already been lost" to Ukrainian forces.

He called the defeat a "disgrace," urging the Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu to proceed to the front and mobilize an army. 

"Come on, you can do it!" he said. "And if you can't, you'll die heroes."

Prigozhin blamed the loss on Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, with whom he's been openly at odds with throughout the majority of the war. 

Wagner's mercenary fighters have been at the forefront of Russia's war on Ukraine, prompting its founder to repeatedly accuse the Russian army and defense ministry of not doing enough.

Brussels to probe use of Belgian weapons during war

Belgium will ask Ukraine to clarify whether reports that pro-Ukrainian forces have used Belgian-made rifles to fight Russian troops in Russia's western border.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the country's defense ministry and intelligence agencies have already started investigating the issue as they attempt "to determine what has happened exactly."

De Croo told Belgium's Radio 1 that European weapons are usually delivered to Ukraine under the condition that they are only used in defense operations on Ukrainian soil. He stressed there are "strict controls in place to see that this is the case."

The Belgian prime minister declined to comment on possible consequences if the reports were confirmed.

"We must not get ahead of ourselves here," he said. "But we are analyzing the situation and we would take this very seriously."

Russia begins Baltic Sea drills

Moscow has kicked off naval drills in the Baltic Sea, amid annual NATO Baltic Sea drills which began on Sunday.

Russia said its drills involve 40 ships and boats, 25 aircraft and some 3,500 personnel and are due to run until June 15.

The NATO drills meanwhile involve 50 ships, over 45 aircraft and 6,000 personnel. They feature participation from Finland for the first time, shortly after it joined the alliance.

Moscow has also kicked off drills in the Sea of Japan and the far eastern Sea of Okhotsk.

Papal peace mission to Kyiv underway

Pope Francis has tasked a cardinal to visit Kyiv on Monday and Tuesday, on a peace mission trying to help end the war in Ukraine.

The Vatican said Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi is carrying out the peace mission.

"This is an initiative whose main purpose is to listen in depth to the Ukrainian authorities on the possible ways to reach a just peace and support gestures of humanity that may help ease tensions," it said.

A cardinal since 2019, Zuppi hails from the same Sant' Egidio Community which brokered in 1992 a deal ending the civil war in Mozambique.

Pope Francis has made repeated calls for a peaceful solution since the Russian invasion in February 2022.

Russia hit Ukraine with drones to drain missile supply, UK says

Russia launched over 300 Iranian Shahed aerial vehicles (OWA-UAVs) over the course of May against Ukraine, in an attempt to "force Ukraine to fire stocks of valuable, advanced air defense missiles," the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) said in its latest intelligence update.

The use of the Shahed drone was most intense to date last month, the ministry added.

However, it said that Russia was not thought to have been successful. The MOD said Kyiv neutralized at least 90% of the incoming drones. Ukraine has been reliant on older and cheaper air defense weapons, as well as electronic jamming.

The ministry also suggested Moscow was "attempting to locate and strike Ukrainian forces well behind the front line," adding that this goal was also not reached due to its "poor targeting processes."

Pro-Ukraine group says it will hand Russian captives to Kziv

The pro-Ukraine Russian Volunteer Corps has said it captured several soldiers during a raid in the southern Russian Belgorod region and would hand them over to Ukrainian authorities.

A video released on the Telegram messaging app late Sunday showed what was seemingly a group of around a dozen Russian soldiers being held captive, with two lying on hospital beds.

"We have already decided the fate of these guys. They will be transferred to the Ukrainian side for the exchange procedure," a man could be heard saying in the video clip. 

"These Russian men took up arms against their will. Soon they will understand the whole vileness and injustice of the war unleashed by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin," another Corps member who did not identify himself said in the video. 

Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of the Belgorod region bordering Ukraine, said earlier that he was open to meeting the group if the soldiers were still alive. 

The man in the video said Gladkov had not shown up at the designated meeting place.

The group initially said they had captured two soldiers, and later said they took more soldiers throughout the day. 

The man in the video said he had just returned from the Russian town of Novaya Tavolzhanka, where Gladkov had earlier reported clashing with what he called a group of "Ukrainian saboteurs."

Russia's Defense Ministry said its forces drove the fighters back into Ukraine.

Kyiv has denied direct involvement in the cross-border attacks.

Belgorod governor says energy facility on fire after attack 

The governor of the Russian region of Belgorod said an energy facility was set on fire in the early hours of Monday. 

Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram that the "preliminary cause of the fire was an explosive device dropped from a drone,"

"There were no casualties," he said. 

An armed incursion into Belgorod last month forced Russia to use its artillery and air force on home soil. Moscow blames Kyiv, while Ukraine denies responsibility. 

Reports: Polish fighters involved in fighting in Belgorod

Polish media have reported that mercenaries from Poland were fighting on the side of the Ukrainian army under the name of the Polish Volunteer Corps. 

The reports published on the online news portals Polsatnews.pl and Wprost.pl referred to the group's own messages on Telegram, as well as a video allegedly showing soldiers on their way to Belgorod.

Polsat said the Polish Volunteer Corps was working together with the Russian Volunteer Corps.

Wagner chief Prigozhin accuses Russia of mining retreat routes

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, accused the regular Russian army of mining a route that his fighters had wanted to drive on out of Bakhmut. 

Prigozhin also published a document that he claimed was an operation log from mid-May, which mentions exchanges of fire between Wagner fighters and Russian soldiers.

The Wagner chief had made similar accusations in recent days, the latest in a public spat with the Defense Ministry in Moscow. 

Russia evading sanctions on weapons: Zelenskyy 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Sunday that Moscow was evading international sanctions by using a network of suppliers.

The sanctions were intended to stop Russia from making missiles and other weapons.

"Unfortunately, the terrorist state manages to use the technologies of the world through a network of suppliers, manages to bypass international sanctions," Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy did not name the countries that he claimed were helping Moscow.

In April, an aide to Zelenskyy said Ukraine's army was finding a growing number of components from China in Russian weapons used in Ukraine. Beijing denies sending arms to its key ally Moscow.

More DW coverage 

Although Russia may be bluffing with its new offensive, it's crucial for Western cohesion that Ukraine retake its south — particularly if Donald Trump were to make a comeback, says political scientist Francis Fukuyama.

At an event near Berlin, crowds angry at Germany's military support for Ukraine chanted, "Warmonger!" as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz took the stage. Scholz responded in an unusual, defensive tone. Watch DW's report on the incident: 

zc, fb/sri (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)