Ukraine claims military gains; Belarus leader surprised Russian invasion ‘drags on’: Live Ukraine updates – USA TODAY

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Ukrainian forces claimed gains in some territory in the south while repelling Russian attacks in the hotly contested Donbas as the war roared into an eleventh week with no end to the carnage in sight.

“Due to the successful actions of Ukrainian defenders, Russian enemy lost control over several settlements on the border of Mykolayiv and Kherson regions,” the Ukraine military said Thursday it its daily war update. “Eleven enemy attacks were repulsed in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts over the past 24 hours.”

Donetsk and Luhansk are home to separatists and were recognized as republics by Russia days before the war broke out.

Air raid sirens sounded in cities across the country on Wednesday night, and attacks were reported near Kyiv, the capital; in Cherkasy and Dnipro in central Ukraine; and in Zaporizhzhia in the southeast. In Dnipro, authorities said a rail facility was hit.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said rail infrastructure attacks were meant to disrupt the delivery of Western weapons to Ukraine. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu complained that the West is “stuffing Ukraine with weapons.”

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Latest developments:

►Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has expressed support for Russia in the war and whose country has been used as a staging ground for Russian troops, said he hadn’t expected the Russian offensive to “drag on this way.”

►More than 300 civilians have been evacuated from Mariupol and four other towns to Ukrainian-held Zaporizhzhia, the United Nations said. 

►Russian troops have broken into the territory of the Azovstal steel mill, Ukraine’s final holdout in the besieged city of Mariupol, the commander of the main force defending the mill said.

Pro-Russian Ukrainian blogger Anatoly Shariy, accused of treason by his home country, was detained in Spain. Ukraine’s security services announced the arrest on Thursday and said there was reason to believe Shariy “was acting on behalf of foreign entities.” Shariy, a frequent critic of Ukraine’s government, tweeted Tuesday that “my only crime is that I have exposed you thieves too little.”

“This detention is another testimony to the fact that every traitor of Ukraine will sooner or later receive the deserved punishment,” the Ukraine agency said in a social media post. “It is irreversible.”

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The Ukrainian city of Kherson as showing signs that Russia could be in control for the long term. The Russian currency is being introduced and reports are mounting that a sham referendum would be held to legitimize Russian annexation, some locals say. Military checkpoints are everywhere. Kherson, a southern city of about 280,000 and home to ship-building industry on the Dnieper River, became the first major Ukrainian city to fall to Russian forces on March 2. Since then, Russia’s actions to cement control and warnings from U.S. and Ukrainian officials of possible annexation plans have ramped up fear and uncertainty in the strategic provincial capital. 

“If we don’t go now … we go never,” Danets, 22, told USA TODAY by phone on Monday from Romania, just over two weeks after she fled by car. Read more here.

Chris Kenning

Belarus announced it was starting military exercises Wednesday, insisting it had no plans to threaten any neighbors. Russia used Belarus as a staging ground in its invasion, and the U.S. government has wanted citizens not to travel to Belarus and closed its embassy there due to its involvement in the invasion. The military exercises would assess the readiness and capability of the country’s armed forces, and the military’s ability to operate on “unknown terrain in a rapidly changing situation,” the Belarusian Defense Ministry said.

It said the maneuvers “do not threaten the European community in general and any neighboring countries in particular.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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Ukraine claims military gains; Belarus leader surprised Russian invasion ‘drags on’: Live Ukraine updates – USA TODAY

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