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Ukraine: Kyiv purges defence ministry, counteroffensive gains, human rights in Russia 'degraded'

FILE - Ukrainian Border Guard soldiers participate in a military exercise in central Ukraine, Tuesday, May 2, 2023.
FILE - Ukrainian Border Guard soldiers participate in a military exercise in central Ukraine, Tuesday, May 2, 2023. Copyright Bernat Armangue/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Bernat Armangue/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Euronews with AP, AFP
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All the latest developments from the war in Ukraine.

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Ukrainian troops have broken through the Russian defence line near the town of Bakhmut, the commander of Kyiv's ground forces General Oleksandre Syrsky said on Monday.

Following the recapture of the villages of Andriivka and Klichtchiivka over the past few days, "the enemy's defence line has been breached", said General Syrsky.

The re-capture of the village Klishchiivka on the eastern front came just a day after the Ukrainian flag was raised over Andriivka.

Ukraine claimed on Monday to have liberated 7 square kilometres of territory over the past week from Russian troops in the south and east.

Russia has not officially commented on Ukraine's claims, but its supporters in the Donetsk region have dismissed the significance of the victories saying the two villages are unoccupied and reduced to rubble.

“Our warriors, our heroes on the front line. I am proud of each of them. And I am grateful to each brigade for its strength!”, wrote Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Twitter, now called X.

AP Photo/Alex Babenko
An assault unit commander from the 3rd Assault Brigade raises Ukrainian flag on the village of Andriivka, 16 September 2023AP Photo/Alex Babenko

He also used his Sunday night address to thank the armed forces for capturing Klishchiivka near Bakhmut in the country’s east.

Grinding battles along the front in Donetsk have left few buildings, or even trees, standing.

Ukraine launched a counteroffensive in June to retake territories occupied by Russia, after receiving Western weapons and training.

Ukrainian soldiers now appear to be closing in on Bakhmut, the scene of one of the bloodiest battles in the war so far. Should they recapture the town it would be a major symbolic victory.

An ex-Wagner Russian mercenary told Euronews in July detailed harrowing accounts of the fighting in Bakmut, alongside lies and mutiny on the front. 

Kyiv purges defence ministry

Six Ukrainian deputy defence ministers were fired on Monday, according to officials. 

It comes a fortnight after Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov was dismissed amid a corruption scandal, involving the ministry's procurement of army uniforms at grossly inflated prices. 

Deputy defence ministers including Hanna Maliar, Vitalii Deyneha and Denys Sharapov, as well as the state secretary of the Ministry of Defense, Kostiantyn Vashchenko, were fired, wrote Taras Melnychuk, permanent representative of the Cabinet of Ministers, on Telegram.

Melnychuk provided no explanation of the firings. 

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Maliar confirmed that both Andriivka and Klishchiivka had been liberated in a statement hours before it was announced that she had been relieved of her duties. Such moves are common following the appointment of a new minister. 

Corruption has long been an endemic evil within Ukraine, though the country has made steps towards tackling the problem in recent years. 

Human rights in Russia majorly deteriorated  since war - UN

The human rights situation "has significantly deteriorated" in Russia since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, underlined a report by the UN Human Rights Council on Monday. 

"The situation was already in constant decline over the last two decades, partly due to the two wars in Chechnya which ended in 2009", said UN rapporteur Mariana Katzarova, who is responsible for monitoring rights and freedoms in Russia.

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While the report did not contain any surprises, it was a diplomatic blow to Moscow. This is the first time a rapporteur has been appointed to investigate one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Katzarova pointed to Moscow's attempts to "hinder" her work and deplored having had no access to Russia.

The report documents that "Russian authorities have severely restricted freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, both online and offline, and have fundamentally undermined the independence of the judiciary and guarantees of 'a fair trial.'

Katzarova demanded the release of all political opponents arbitrarily detained, including Alexei Navalny, as well as dissidents Vladimir Kara-Mourza and Ilya Yashin.

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She also described how women, particularly those working as rights defenders, activists or journalists, have "experienced specific gender-based violence, humiliation and intimidation."

Tit for tat drone attacks

Russia claimed to have intercepted several Ukrainian drones overnight from Sunday to Monday in annexed Crimea, the Moscow region and Begorod and Voronezh on the border. 

A total of 13 unmanned aerial vehicles were shot down by Russian air defences, while no casualties or damage were reported by local authorities in Crimea. 

On Monday, the Ukrainian army announced it had downed 18 drones and 17 missiles launched by Russia the same night. 

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“Eighteen drones were shot down” as they headed towards the southern Mykolaiv and Odesa regions in Ukraine, the air force said on Telegram. All 17 cruise missiles were also destroyed, it added. 

Russia's Defence Ministry said it struck a plant for repairing armoured vehicles of the Ukrainian army in Kharkiv on Saturday. 

Head of the local Ukrainian military administration, Oleg Synegubov, wrote on Telegram a “civilian” company was hit around 12:30 a.m. local time by missiles, causing a fire to break out. 

Kyiv has stepped up strikes on Russian territory in recent months, against the backdrop of its counteroffensive. Though such attacks are often thwarted by Moscow's defences or seldom hit military targets, experts argue Ukraine's drone war has key objectives. Read more below. 

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Washington and NATO see a long war

Kyiv's counteroffensive "has not failed" but the road to a victory is still very long, said the US Army chief of staff, General Mark Milley, in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

“This offensive, although slow, slower than expected, remained constant,” he said, adding Ukraine still had “a significant strike force”.

The general conceded, however, that it "will take a long time" to achieve Zelenskyy's goal "of kicking out all the Russians".

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also warned the West should not expect a quick end to the war in Ukraine, in another interview published on Sunday.

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“Most wars last longer than expected when they started,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with the German media group Funke.

“Therefore we must prepare for a long war in Ukraine,” he added.

In September, Estonia's Defence Minister warned the clock was ticking for Ukraine's counteroffensive, with winter weather conditions looming. 

Ukraine's armed forces encountered a tough fight after launching their big military push, with Moscow having had several months to ready its defences. 

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Advances have been slow and are likely to be bogged down even further as wet, muddy and freezing weather conditions complicate movements on the front.

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