Ukraine war: Ukraine claims Bakhmut breakthrough, grain deal extension, Zaporizhzhia under fire

Ukrainian soldiers fire artillery at Russian positions near Bakhmut.
Ukrainian soldiers fire artillery at Russian positions near Bakhmut. Copyright AP Photo/LIBKOS
By Euronews with AP/AFP
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All the latest from the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine claims Bakhmut gains, Moscow contests

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Kyiv says it has seized ground in the besieged city of Bakhmut, though Russia denied it this morning. 

Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar claimed Ukrainian forces advanced two kilometres. 

However, earlier today the Kremlin denied reports its frontline had collapsed at several points, claiming the situation was under control.

If Ukraine's claim is true, it would mark a rare advance after months of grinding warfare, but large questions hang over whether its much-anticipated counter-offensive has started. 

Pro-Russian bloggers suggest it has begun, pointing to Ukrainian advances north and south of Bakhmut. Yet, only yesterday Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the counteroffensive would be delayed, fearing it would cost too many lives. 

His generals have since claimed some of their biggest battlefield successes in months.

Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Thursday that the situation on the flanks of Bakhmut was unfolding in line with the "worst of all expected scenarios". 

His troops have played a central role in the fighting, though he recently threatened to pull out over a dispute with Russia's top brass about ammunition. 

The southeastern city has seen fierce fighting since last summer, being dubbed a "meat grinder". 

Euronews cannot independently confirm the situation on the ground. 

Ukraine's expected attack could be pivotal for the war, possibly changing frontlines that have remained unchanged for months. 

Kyiv is eager to prove it can achieve significant battlefield gains with weapons and equipment from the West, while Russia will be looking to avoid damaging defeats. 

Grain deal possibly extended

The landmark grain deal allowing Ukrainian grain exports across the Black Sea may be extended by 60 days, Russian state media reports. 

Due to expire on 18 May, TASS News noted that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who helped broker the deal, will announce a 60-day extension. 

"Russia may agree to this for the last time", they quoted an anonymous source as saying, adding the decision could be announced "today or tomorrow".

The grain deal was signed last July, lifting a Russian blockade on Ukrainian grain that had sent food prices spiralling, pushing many parts of the world to the brink of famine. 

It was originally meant to last 120 days, but was later extended. 

Moscow threatened to quit on 18 May over obstacles to its own grain and fertiliser exports, plus as leverage to try and get Russian Agricultural Banks connected to the SWIFT system. 

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Zaporizhzhia comes under attack

Ukraine's State Emergency Services (SES) said five people including two ambulance workers were injured on Wednesday evening after intense Russian shelling damaged homes and two emergency vehicles.

Five houses caught fire and six others were damaged as a result of the shelling, SES said. While battling a fire in one of the affected houses, firefighters were able to rescue a woman from a burning building. 

A total of 48 fire and emergency personnel and nine units of equipment had been dispatched to deal with the fires, which were all extinguished, according to SES.

Ukraine's appointed head of the Zaporizhzhia Regional Military Administration, Yurii Malashko, claimed Russian troops attacked the Zaporizhzhia region 70 times in a 24-hour period between Wednesday and Thursday night. 

According to initial reports eight people were injured in the region by mine explosions and bombs fragments.

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This comes as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in remarks broadcast Thursday that Kyiv is delaying its long-awaited counteroffensive against Russia’s occupying forces because Ukraine lacks enough Western weapons to succeed without suffering too many casualties.

His comments, in an interview with European broadcasters, were aired shortly before Britain said it has sent Ukraine air-launched cruise missiles that would allow pilots to extend their reach farther than possibly any other weapon in their arsenal, to locations deep behind the front line.

Ukraine's troops are receiving Western training, as well as advanced weapons, as it gears up for a counterattack.

South Africa accused of supplying arms to Russia

Meanwhile, the US ambassador to South Africa accused the country Thursday of providing weapons and ammunition to Russia for its war in Ukraine via a cargo ship that docked secretly at a naval base near the city of Cape Town for three days in December.

Questions were raised in South Africa's parliament on Thursday and President Cyril Ramaphosa said an investigation was underway.

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Ambassador Reuben Brigety said the US was certain the equipment was loaded onto the Russian vessel at the Simon's Town naval base and then transported to Russia, according to reports of his comments carried by multiple South African news outlets.

Ramaphosa was in Cape Town answering questions in Parliament when news of Brigety's comments broke.

When a lawmaker asked about the weapons and ammunition, the president replied that “the matter is being looked into, and in time we will be able to speak about it.”

Ramaphosa declined to comment further, citing the need for an investigation to play out. 

Ammunition supplies have become a problem for Russia in the war. The leader of the Russian private mercenary Wagner Group complained last week that his soldiers in Ukraine were allegedly dealing with dire shortages.

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In a statement issued later Thursday, Ramaphosa's office acknowledged a Russian ship named the Lady R docked in South Africa, but the office did not say where or what the purpose of the stop was.

The statement criticised the American ambassador for going public and said there was an agreement that US intelligence services would provide whatever evidence they have to aid South Africa's investigation.

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