(AP) The West moved to pour billions more in aid into Ukraine on Friday, as Russia shifted forces freed up by the imminent fall of the pulverized port city of Mariupol and fighting raged in the country’s industrial heartland in the east.
Ukraine said its troops repelled a Russian attack in the grinding, back-and-forth battle for the Donbas, the mostly Russian-speaking expanse of coal mines and factories that the Kremlin is bent on capturing.
Battered by their nearly three-month siege of the Mariupol, Russian troops need time to regroup, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in an assessment, but they may not get it.
With the battle winding down for the steel plant that represented the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, Russia is continuing to pull back forces there, and their commanders are under pressure to quickly send them elsewhere in the Donbas, according to the British.
“That means that Russia will probably redistribute their forces swiftly without adequate preparation, which risks further force attrition,” the ministry said.
An undisclosed number of Ukrainian soldiers remained at the Azovstal steel plant. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said more than 1,900 surrendered in recent days. Also remaining at the plant were the bodies of soldiers who defended it while tying down Russian forces.
Denis Prokopenko, commander of the Azov Regiment, which had led the defense of the plant, called them “fallen heroes.”
“I hope soon relatives and the whole of Ukraine will be able to bury the fighters with honors,” he said.
Pro-Moscow separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the Donbas for the past eight years and held a considerable swath of it before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. But the effort by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops to take more territory there has been slow-going.
In a sign of Russia’s frustration with the war, some senior commanders have been fired in recent weeks, the British Defense Ministry said.
Meanwhile, Russian forces elsewhere in Ukraine continued to blast away at targets, some of them civilian.
In the village of Velyka Kostromka, west of the Donbas, explosions in the middle of the night Thursday shook Iryna Martsyniuk’s house to its foundations. Roof timbers splintered and windows shattered, sending shards of glass into a wall near three sleeping children.
“There were flashes everywhere,” she said. “The windows smashed, there was smoke everywhere.”
She grabbed the children and ran toward the home’s entrance. “But the corridor wasn’t there anymore. Instead, we saw the starry night,” she said.
The family finally was able to climb out of the wrecked house through a back window. They ran down the road to a neighbor’s home, where they hid in the basement.
Around 20 other houses were damaged and two people were lightly injured, said Olha Shaytanova, the head of the village.
In other developments:
— Russia will cut off natural gas to Finland on Saturday, the Finnish state energy company said, just days after Finland applied to join NATO. Finland had refused Moscow’s demand that it pay for gas in rubles. The cutoff is not expected to have any major immediate effect. Natural gas accounted for just 6% of Finland’s total energy consumption in 2020, Finnish broadcaster YLE said.
— A captured Russian soldier accused of killing a civilian awaited his fate in Ukraine’s first war crimes trial. Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, 21, could get life in prison.
— The Group of Seven major economies and global financial institutions agreed to provide more money to bolster Ukraine’s finances, bringing the total to $19.8 billion. In the U.S., President Joe Biden was expected to sign a $40 billion package of military and economic aid to Ukraine and its allies.
— Putin said his country has faced a tide of cyberattacks from the West but has managed to fend them off. He charged that “an outright aggression has been unleashed against Russia, a war has been waged in the information space.”
On Friday, a governor in the Donbas said Russian forces attacked the cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk. Twelve people were killed and more than 60 houses destroyed across the region, Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said in a Telegram post.
But the attack on Severodonetsk was unsuccessful, according to both Haidai and Ukraine’s military, who said Russia took losses and retreated. Their claims could not be independently verified.
“It is hell there, and that’s not an exaggeration,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said of the campaign. He called the bombardment of Severodonetsk “brutal and completely senseless.”