Russian Onslaught Targets More Ukrainian Towns And Villages As Ukraine Says It Shot Down 3 Warplanes

Medics of volunteer battalion "Hospitallers" move injured Ukrainian serviceman Mykola, 25, from ambulance to the medical bus during evacuation to safe area, in Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine, on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)
Medics of volunteer battalion "Hospitallers" move injured Ukrainian serviceman Mykola, 25, from ambulance to the medical bus during evacuation to safe area, in Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine, on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)
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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces are pushing hard against more Ukrainian towns and villages in eastern and southeastern Ukraine as Moscow tries to press its current advantage in weapons and troops, Kyiv officials said Thursday.

Despite Russia’s apparent offensive momentum on the ground, Ukraine said it has shot down 13 Russian warplanes this month, including three on Thursday, as the Kremlin’s forces pushed forward.

With the full-scale war now into its third year, Russian forces have been bludgeoning some Ukrainian defensive positions into submission, deploying overwhelming amounts of artillery and troop numbers in an effort to punch through defensive lines at targeted points.

Though Russia’s gains have been small, slow and costly, Ukraine doesn’t have enough reservists and has a severe shortage of artillery shells as the supply of military aid from Western partners has waned.

The Russian army is trying to seize the towns and villages of Tonenke, Orlivka, Semenivka, Berdychi and Krasnohorivka in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukraine’s army chief, Col. Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, said on social media.

Those are places where Ukrainian military officials had said they would form a new line of defense after Ukrainian troops pulled out of Avdiivka on Feb. 17.

In the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region, Russian forces are focusing on retaking Verbove and Robotyne, towns that Ukraine won back in last summer’s counteroffensive in 2023, Syrskyi said.

Syrskyi, who was appointed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to lead the country's military on Feb. 8, accused some of his commanders of making “miscalculations” in assessing the enemy and taking countermeasures.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said that its forces shot down three Russian Su-34 jets overnight.

That made a total of 11 warplanes, including an early warning and control A-50 plane, that Ukraine claims to have downed since Feb. 17, and 13 in February — the highest monthly tally, it said, since October 2022.

“The enemy has increased its air presence in the east. Our top military leadership reacted accordingly,” air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said on national television.

A major question for Kyiv officials is how they can unlock further military help from their partners. Emergency U.S. national security funds for Ukraine are still on hold amid a political dispute in Washington.

Ukrainian parliamentary Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk addressed an open letter to U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, asking him to put to a vote the Biden administration’s proposal to send $60 billion of aid to Ukraine.

The letter Stefanchuk posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Wednesday was also signed by 23 speakers and heads of parliament in European countries.

Eight Ukrainian civilians, including a 6-year-old girl, were killed, and at least 12 people were wounded in the southeast over the previous 24 hours, the Ukrainian president’s office said Thursday.

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Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report from Tallinn, Estonia.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine