Ukrainian forces are advancing on parts of the front line against Russian troops near the war-torn eastern city of Pakmut.
“Our soldiers are advancing in some areas of the front, the enemy is losing equipment and manpower,” Ukrainian ground forces commander Oleksandr Chirsky said on social media on Saturday.
“Defensive action continues in the direction of Pakmut.”
Russia acknowledged on Friday that its forces had retreated north of Ukraine’s devastated eastern city, saying the retreat by the head of Russia’s private army, Wagner, was “a rout” and not “reintegration”.
In its latest bulletin, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces had gained control of another block in Pakmut.
“Units of the Air Force provided support to the assault units and pinned down the enemy in flanks,” it said.
The Ministry often uses the term “assault units” to refer to Wagner’s private fighters, which lead the attack on Bagmuth at great cost.
The plane was shot down
Meanwhile, videos posted on Russian social media showed the helicopter being shot down in the Bryansk region of Russia, on the border with Ukraine.
State news agency TASS quoted an emergency services official as saying initial reports indicated an engine fire before the crash near Klintsi, 40 km (25 miles) from the border.
However, a video posted on Voyenniy Osvedomitel, a Russian pro-war Telegram channel, showed the helicopter exploding high in the sky and then plunging toward Earth in flames.
A Russian Su-34 fighter jet also crashed in Bryansk, TASS reported. Not sure what brought it down.
Russia said Ukraine had used British-made long-range missiles to target civilian sites in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, injuring six children.
The United Kingdom on Thursday became the first country to supply Kyiv with long-range cruise missiles that would allow them to attack Russian troops and deliver debris behind front lines.
“Air-to-air missiles from the Storm Shadow provided by Great Britain to the Kiev regime were used for the strike, despite London’s announcement that these weapons would not be used against civilian targets,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said.
Russia shot down two Ukrainian aircraft that fired the missiles – an Su-24 and a MiG-29.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Rome on Saturday for talks with government officials and Pope Francis.
In April, the Pope announced that the Vatican was engaged in a peace process to end the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but declined to provide further details. Both Moscow and Kiev publicly expressed surprise at his comments at the time.
This will be Zelensky’s first trip to Italy since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
Earlier in the month, Zelenskyy met with Nordic leaders in Finland. He also visited the Netherlands, where he addressed the World Forum.
In Italy, he is scheduled to meet separately with President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni before heading to the Vatican. He is expected to be a guest on a popular Italian television talk show before heading to Germany.
Germany’s defense ministry said it was preparing a new arms package for Ukraine worth 2.7 billion euros ($2.9bn), Berlin’s largest since Russia invaded last year.
Kyiv said the massive new weapons package was another sign that Russia was losing its war against Ukraine. “States are announcing large security aid packages for Ukraine,” said Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to Zelensky.
He said the aid has forced Russia to “lose and sit on the bench of historical shame.”
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he had discussed the next arms delivery with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. “I paid close attention to the importance of providing F-16s to Ukraine and the necessary steps to train Ukrainian pilots.”
Zelenskyy to meet the Pope
The meeting with the Pope is expected to be the most important part of Zelensky’s time in Italy. He previously met the pope at the Vatican in 2020, and the two have had several phone conversations since the war began.
At the beginning of the war, the Pope tried to take a balanced approach, hoping to be a mediator, but later began forcefully condemning Russia’s actions, comparing them to some of the worst crimes against Ukraine during the Soviet era.
Francis met Alexander Avdeyev, Russia’s outgoing ambassador to the Vatican this week, and Italian newspaper Il Messaggero reported that he may have given the Vatican envoy a letter addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Francis has made frequent calls for peace and expressed his willingness to act as a mediator between Kyiv and Moscow. His offer has so far failed to produce any progress.
Zelenskyy and his team have been promoting Kyiv’s 10-point peace plan, urging world leaders to hold a global peace summit based on the proposals.
It calls for the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops and an end to hostilities. Zelenskyy has repeatedly said the plan is not open to negotiations.