Ukraine live briefing: Kharkiv under fire; Kyiv presses West for more ammo

Ukrainian soldiers fire toward Russian positions near Bakhmut on Saturday. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)
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As Russia continued its months-long assault on Bakhmut, Ukrainian authorities said attacks 100 miles to the north have escalated. Kupiansk and the surrounding Kharkiv region have been under heavy attack, prompting evacuations as Russian forces encroach on Ukraine’s east.

Meanwhile, Kyiv renewed its calls for more ammunition and stronger air defenses after Russia killed several people with strikes from hypersonic missiles last week.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Key developments

  • Officials have ordered an evacuation of Kupiansk, a city in Kharkiv, after an uptick in attacks. More than 40 missiles have struck Kharkiv this year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday. The northeastern city’s residents have lived through a back-and-forth of Russian occupation and liberation during the war.
  • Shelling struck Kupiansk and other Kharkiv areas Sunday, according to the general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces. Russia maintained a “significant military presence in the border areas” to prevent Ukraine’s troops from moving elsewhere, the Ukrainian military said on Facebook.
  • Ammunition shortages are Ukraine’s “number one” problem, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper. Kuleba said that he does not expect Western allies to send fighter jets soon but that Ukrainian pilots should be trained for when a decision is made.
  • The head of Ukraine’s armed forces also asked the Pentagon’s top general, Gen. Mark A. Milley, for better air defenses. Gen. Valery Zaluzhny said he “emphasized the issue of the defense needs of Ukraine, namely ammunition and materiel,” according to a Ukrainian readout of their telephone call. The year-old conflict is challenging the West’s ability to keep up with Kyiv’s need for arms.
  • Power was restored throughout affected areas in Ukraine on Sunday after a missile attack left regions without electricity, according to Zelensky. “As of today, we have managed to restore the technical capabilities of electricity supply. Kharkiv has electricity. Zhytomyr region has electricity. All cities and communities that had problems with energy supply have been powered again,” he said in his nightly address.
  • Wealthy families in Moscow and St. Petersburg appear to have been relatively unaffected by Russia’s military draft, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Sunday, adding that in many places, ethnic minorities have taken “the biggest hit.”

Battleground updates

  • Fierce fighting continues in the eastern town of Bakhmut, where the Ukrainian foreign minister said Ukrainian troops would continue to defend. Russian fighters have taken control of most of the eastern part of the city in recent days, while Ukrainian forces are holding their ground in the west, British defense officials said.
  • Ukrainian forces have eliminated “more than 1,100 enemy soldiers” in Bakhmut since March 6, Zelensky claimed Sunday. Another 1,500 Russian soldiers were severely wounded and “dozens of units of enemy equipment were destroyed,” Zelensky said in his nightly address on Sunday.
  • British defense officials described the Ukrainian-held parts of Bakhmut as a “killing zone,” making it hard for Russian mercenaries to advance in the west. A Ukrainian military spokesman said more than 500 Russian fighters had been killed or injured over a 24-hour period. The Washington Post could not independently verify that claim.
  • Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the head of the Russian mercenary outfit Wagner Group, said the situation in Bakhmut is “very difficult” in a message shared on Telegram on Sunday. “The enemy is biting for every meter and the closer we are to the city center, the harder the battles,” he said.
  • Two civilians were killed and three injured in a missile strike Saturday in the city of Kherson, according to the Ukrainian military. The likelihood of further strikes “remains quite high,” it added. In his nightly address, Zelensky said the victims were at a store to buy groceries.

Global impact

  • Artifacts stolen from Ukraine were returned to the country this weekend. The Ukrainian Embassy on Friday hosted a repatriation ceremony for a stone ax head and three metal swords that were taken from the country, the Embassy tweeted. U.S. customs officials seized the items in September at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The metals swords arrived from Russia and the ax head arrived from Ukraine. All three were identified as Ukrainian cultural property, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Officials did not disclose how the items were stolen, or by whom. The Ukrainian Embassy thanked CBP “for helping repatriate our cultural property and a part of our history.”
  • The head of the Russian Orthodox Church urged Pope Francis and other religious leaders to “make every effort to prevent” Kyiv’s crackdown against its Ukraine-based affiliate. Patriarch Kirill, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and one of the most prominent backers of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, said Kyiv’s order last week for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to leave its monastery would “lead to a violation of the rights of millions of Ukrainian believers,” Reuters reported, citing a statement shared on the church’s website.
  • The Ukrainian foreign minister denied suggestions that Ukraine partisans may have been behind explosions in September that severely damaged the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines. “It is the first time that I’m hearing a story of a secret pro-Ukrainian or Ukrainian group that is able to conduct operations of that scale and sophistication,” Kuleba said in an interview in the New Statesman.

From our correspondents

Defending Ukraine’s ‘highway of life’ — the last road out of Bakhmut: As the war’s bloodiest battle continues in Bakhmut, almost all roads have been cut off by Russian troops and fierce fighting. Just one viable road out of the embattled eastern city remains, Highway T0504. The two-lane highway is the only route that can be used by Ukrainian soldiers to evacuate the wounded and the dead, write Alex Horton and Anastacia Galouchka.

Maj. Oleksandr Pantsernyi, commander of the 24th Separate Assault Battalion, one of the units responsible for defending the corridor, said the road also plays a key role in sustaining the fight by enabling the movement of ammunition, water and fresh troops eastward.

Ukrainian soldiers say Russia’s forces are also aware of the road’s importance and have tried to shred it with artillery and force their enemy into the mud.