dpa international

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu believes his army is on the offensive against Ukraine and even mentioned alleged territorial gains in a discussion with senior officers.

“Our units are advancing, expanding the zone under their control, improving their position on the front line,” he said at a meeting in Moscow.

“After the failure of the enemy’s counteroffensive, the Russian armed forces have the strategic initiative on the entire front line.”

He added that the Russian army had captured the villages of Tabayivka and Krokhmalne in the eastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv and the village of Vesele near Bakhmut in the Donbass region.

However, the combat situation in these villages with only a few houses is not entirely clear and his claims cannot be verified.

Tabayivka is heavily contested but remains in Ukrainian hands, a military spokesman in Kiev said on Friday, adding: “There are artillery duels.”

Ukraine has been defending itself against an all-out Russian invasion with massive Western support for nearly two years. The fighting is still concentrated around the east and south.

Ukrainian forces launched a counteroffensive in June 2023 but progress has been limited.

Kiev has vowed to retake all the land occupied the Russia, including the Crimean peninsula which the Kremlin annexed in 2014 in violation of international law.

Early on Friday, Russia once again hit Ukraine with drone strikes, causing a major power outage in the industrial city of Kryvyi Rih.

Tens of thousands of households and numerous companies in the city in the south-east of the country were cut off due to damage to a plant, according to the Ukrainian energy company Ukrenergo. The power supply was fully restored after several hours.

The regional governor Serhiy Lysak said that two mining shafts had also been affected by the power outage, with over 100 workers underground at the time.

The city’s military administration later announced that all 113 miners had returned safely to the surface.

Kryvyi Rih is the birthplace of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The massive drone attack mainly affected the southern and central parts of the country, Ukrenerho added. The Ukrainian air defence reported that a total of 11 of 24 Russian drones had been shot down.

Meanwhile, Germany has assured Ukraine of further assistance and cooperation in the health-care sector as the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion nears.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told a conference in Berlin on Friday that support would continue for as long as necessary.

Children’s mental health was a key focus, including after the war, he said.

German Development Minister Svenja Schulze said people in Ukraine had been living with the fear of missile or drone attacks and worries about family or friends on the front line for too long.

“All of this leaves its mark, physically and mentally,” she said.

The first ladies of Ukraine and Germany took part in the conference.

Olena Zelenska said the stress of the war had caused more cases of diabetes while Elke Büdenbender, wife of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said helping children is an investment in Ukraine’s future.

Just over a week after the crash of a Russian Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane with allegedly 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war on board, there are still mysteries surrounding the bodies.

In response to Kiev’s demands for the bodies to be transferred to Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that this was a matter for the Russian investigators.

Officials in Ukraine continue to doubt whether the prisoners were really on board.

Moscow accuses the Ukrainian armed forces of having shot down the Ilyushin on January 24 in the Belgorod region with missiles from the US Patriot air defence system.

In addition to the nine members of the Russian crew, the Ukrainian soldiers intended for a prisoner exchange were also killed. The Ukrainian coordination staff had recently confirmed that prisoners were to be exchanged that day.

The Russian investigators had published an unverifiable video with Ukrainian documents, body parts and a body bag. They also spoke of 670 body parts that had been collected.

Immediately after the crash, Ukrainian President Zelensky called for an international investigation. This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin also spoke out in favour of an international investigation.

Peskov has now said that the West is probably not interested in an investigation so as not to “stumble over itself.”

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu accused the Ukrainian armed forces of always wanting to demonstrate their own effectiveness to their supporters in the West.

As in the case of the Il-76, Ukrainian citizens were also killed in the process. “This shows the cynical nature of Kiev’s actions, which is prepared to commit any crime to achieve its selfish goals,” said Shoigu.

According to Russian investigators, the plane was shot down in the Russian border region of Belgorod from the Ukrainian region of Kharkiv.

Russia has repeatedly attacked Ukraine from the Belgorod region during the war, and Kiev has defended itself with return fire.

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