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Ukrainian forces have pushed into Russian-held areas of northern Donetsk in a move that Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Friday was “putting pressure on territory that Russia considers essential to its war aims”.
Fighting in northern Donetsk has been described as “ongoing” as Ukrainian forces launch a counter-offensive against the town of Lyman, which Russia has occupied since May.
Lyman is about 30 miles west of Izyum in the northeastern Kharkiv region, where Ukrainian troops made major gains this month retaking most of the occupied territory and forcing Russian soldiers to retreat.
Ukraine announced control of the entire region west of the Oskil River, where territory remains disputed from eastern Kharkiv to the Luhansk regions.
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“Russia attempted to ‘integrate’ Oskil into a consolidated defensive line following the withdrawal of its forces earlier this month,” the UK Ministry of Defense said on Friday.
However, over the past three days, Ukrainian forces have “secured bridgeheads on the east bank” of the river that divides the river, suggesting they may be in a better position to retake the rest of Kharkiv before advance towards Luhansk.
The ministry’s announcement comes as Russia launches referendums in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, despite intense fighting in all four regions.
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Kharkiv was previously listed as one of the regions Russia wanted to annex.
Western officials have condemned Moscow’s push to illegally seize Ukrainian territory by holding “sham” elections in eastern and southern Ukraine.
“Voting” will begin on Friday and polling stations will open on Tuesday.
According to Russian state-owned media outlet RIA, the ballot question will allegedly read: “Do you support the secession of Ukraine, the formation of the region as an independent state and accession to Russia?”
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Preliminary results will be announced on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the election as a “sham” and Western officials have repeatedly pointed to a similar step taken by Russia during its 2014 invasion of Crimea.