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Ukraine war: Kyiv claims counteroffensive boost, Putin met Wagner boss claim, '50,000 Russians dead'

Face masks depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Yevgeny Prigozhin are displayed among others for sale at a souvenir shop in St. Petersburg, Russia, 2023.
Face masks depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Yevgeny Prigozhin are displayed among others for sale at a souvenir shop in St. Petersburg, Russia, 2023. Copyright AP/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright AP/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews
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All the latest developments from the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian counteroffensive showing drive - Zelenskyy

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Ukrainian troops have "taken the initiative" in their counteroffensive into Russian-occupied territory, Ukraine's president said on Sunday. 

"All of us, we want to do it faster because every day means new losses of Ukrainians. We are advancing. We are not stuck," said Volodymyr Zelenskyy during an interview on the US's ABC news network. 

He noted Ukraine's military had overcome a "kind of stagnation" in previous months.

"We would all love to see the counteroffensive accomplished in a shorter period of time. But there is a reality. Today, the initiative is on our side."

Meanwhile, Moscow has said there is heavy fighting around the eastern city of Bakhmut, captured by Russian mercenary Wagner forces in May after months of gruelling warfare.  

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said one of his units was deployed in the area.

Furnished with advanced Western weapons and training, Ukraine launched its much-anticipated counteroffensive in June, aimed at capturing a cluster of villages in the southwest and retaking areas around Bakhmut.

Ukrainian forces have encountered stubborn Russian resistance. 

Wagner boss met Putin after abortive mutiny, says Kremlin

Russia's president met Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner mercenary group, following his armed rebellion at the end of June, according to the Kremlin. 

The meeting lasted "almost three hours", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday, adding it involved "all commanders and leaders" of Wagner.

Putin "listened to the explanations of [Wagner's] commanders and offered them alternatives for their future work and their use for military purposes", added Peskov. 

"The commanders gave their version of the facts. They stressed that they were convinced supporters and soldiers of the head of state [Putin]... and affirmed they were ready to continue to fight for the homeland," he continued.

Wagner's rebellion on 24 June shook the Kremlin. 

For several hours, its fighters occupied a Russian army HQ in Rostov-on-Don and marched on Moscow. 

The mutiny ended on that evening with an agreement with Prigozhin reportedly exiled to Belarus, but his exact whereabouts have since been unknown. 

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He has not spoken publicly since June 26.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said last Thursday that Prigozhin was still "free" in Russia, despite the deal that secured him an amnesty for rebelling. 

Prigozhin claims his uprising was not to take power, but to save Wagner from being dismantled by the Russian army, which he has long slammed for incompetence in the conflict in Ukraine.

More cluster bomb concerns

President Joe Biden's controversial decision to send cluster bombs to Ukraine has been criticised by two US Democrats, Senator Tim Kaine and Representative Barbara Lee.

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Washington announced on Friday it would supply Kyiv with the widely banned munitions as part of a new €730 million aid package. 

The move was widely condemned by rights groups, while the US's NATO allies distanced themselves from it. 

"Cluster bombs should never be used," said Representative Lee to the CNN new channel on Sunday. "That's crossing a line." 

She added the US risked losing its "moral leadership" by sending cluster bombs to Ukraine.

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Cluster bombs are prohibited by more than 100 countries by the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans their production, stockpiling, use and transfer.

Russia, Ukraine and the United States have not signed the agreement. 

Cluster bombs are notorious for maiming and killing civilians years after a conflict, often spreading over a large area and lying dormant until they come into contact with people.

Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, told reporters on Sunday that Ukraine has given written assurances it would not use cluster bombs in Russia or in populated areas.

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Supporters of the US move say cluster munitions are an attractive option because they would help Ukraine destroy more targets with fewer rounds.

50,000 Russians dead in war: Estimate

Nearly 50,000 Russian men have died in the war in Ukraine, according to the first independent statistical analysis of Russia’s war dead.

Two independent Russian media outlets, Mediazona and Meduza, working with a data scientist from Germany’s Tübingen University, used Russian government data to shed light on the true human cost of its invasion of Ukraine.

They used a statistical concept popularised during the COVID-19 pandemic called excess mortality. Drawing on inheritance records and official mortality data, they estimated how many more men under age 50 died between February 2022 and May 2023 than normal.

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Neither Moscow nor Kyiv gives timely data on military losses. Russia has publicly acknowledged the deaths of just over 6,000 soldiers. 

In February, the UK's Ministry of Defense said approximately 40,000 to 60,000 Russians had likely been killed in the war. 

Euronews cannot independently verify these figures. 

Russia bombs aid centre, killing civilians

Four people have been killed in a Russian bombardment on a humanitarian aid distribution centre in Orikhiv, central Ukraine, a local official announced on Monday. 

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Women aged 43, 45 and 47, and a 47-year-old man were killed on the spot, said regional governor Governor Yuri Malachko, calling the strike a "war crime". 

The strike took place on Sunday at 1.20pm local time, injuring 13 others. 

Civilians were targeted at a time when they were receiving humanitarian aid, according to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. 

The ministry added that nearby residential buildings and civilian infrastructure were also damaged, with footage of the strike's aftermath showing a completely destroyed two-storey building. 

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Orikhiv, a city of around 14,000 before the war, is located in the Zaporizhia region. It is one of four Ukrainian territories Russia annexed in 2022 even though its army does not fully control them.

The city is close to the front line, where Ukrainian forces have been trying since early June to retake heavily fortified positions from Russian forces.

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