Ukraine reports battlefield gains as Europe’s energy worries grow

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BURNED OUT TANKS

As fighting continued, the governor of the Russian region of Belgorod, on the other side of the border from Kharkiv, said a village had been shelled from Ukraine, wounding one person.

Further east, Ukrainian forces seemed to be in control of Rubizhne, on the banks of the Donets river.

“It is burned out, just like all Russian tanks,” a Ukrainian soldier told Reuters near Rubizhne next to the ruins of one Russian tank. “The weapons are helping a lot, the anti-tank ones.”

Ukraine authorities have so far confirmed few details about the advance through the Kharkiv region.

“We are having successes in the Kharkiv direction, where we are steadily pushing back the enemy and liberating population centres,” said Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov, Deputy Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of Ukraine’s General Staff.

In southern Ukraine, where Russia has seized a swathe of territory, Kyiv has said Moscow plans to hold a fake referendum on independence or annexation to make its occupation permanent.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday it was up to residents living in the Russian-occupied Kherson region to decide whether they wanted to join Russia, but any such decision must have a clear legal basis.

Earlier, TASS news agency quoted an official in the Russian-controlled administration as saying the region planned to ask President Vladimir Putin to incorporate it into Russia.

Russian forces have also continued to bombard the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, last bastion of Ukrainian defenders in a city now almost completely controlled by Russia after more than two months of siege.

Ukraine’s Azov Regiment holed up inside it said Russia was bombing and trying to storm it. Ukraine was seeking to swap Russian prisoners of war with the wounded soldiers in Azovstal.

“If there is hell on earth, it is there,” wrote Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to Mariupol’s Mayor Vadym Boichenko, who has left the city.

Ukraine says it is likely that tens of thousands of people have been killed in Mariupol. Ukrainian authorities say between 150,000 and 170,000 of the city’s 400,000 residents are still living there amid the Russian-occupied ruins.

The mayor said that unless medical care was restored and water systems repaired, epidemics would break out. “Without proper conditions, mortality among vulnerable groups will increase exponentially.”