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Ukrainian Cities Bombed as US Pursues Leaked Documents

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Amidst intense air strikes and artillery attacks by Russian forces on frontline cities in eastern Ukraine, U.S. officials are actively searching for the source of a leaked classified document containing Ukrainian counterattack plans.

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian General Staff said that the Russians continued their offensive in the eastern Donetsk region, where several cities and towns were subjected to heavy shelling.

It said that the Ukrainian forces repelled several attacks while the Russian army continued its efforts to control Bakhmut.

A senior Ukrainian commander accused Moscow of using “scorched earth” tactics.

“The enemy has turned to the so-called scorched-earth tactics from Syria. It destroys buildings and positions with air strikes and artillery fire,” Col. Gen. Oleksandr Sersky, commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, said of Bakhmut.

The battle for the now largely ruined small town on the edge of a section of Russian-held territory in Donetsk was the bloodiest of the 13-month war as Moscow tries to inject momentum into its campaign after recent setbacks.

Both sides suffered heavy losses fighting Bakhmut, but Cirsky said, “The situation is difficult, but manageable.”

The head of the Moscow-controlled part of Donetsk, Denis Pushlin, said that Russian forces now controlled 75% of the city, though he warned that it was too early to talk about Bakhmut’s fall.

The Moscow army was also targeting the city of Avdiivka.

“The Russians have turned Avdiivka into complete ruin,” said Donetsk region governor Pavlo Kirilenko, describing an airstrike on Monday that destroyed a multi-storey building.

“In total, there are still about 1,800 people in Avdiivka, and all of them risk their lives every day.”

In Shasiv Yar, the first major city in western Bakhmut, only a few buildings remain intact, and those lining up for food and other aid do not hesitate even at the sound of artillery.

“It was scarier, but we’re used to it now,” said Maxime, the 50-year-old humanitarian volunteer. “You don’t even pay attention,” he added, his words almost drowned out by the sound of explosions.

Seal the leak

With the battle approaching, the US channel CNN said that Ukraine had to adjust some of its military plans before its long-awaited counter-attack due to the leak of dozens of classified documents.

US officials are trying to trace the source of the leak, reviewing how they exchanged secrets internally and dealing with the diplomatic fallout.

The documents detail topics such as information about the conflict in Ukraine, where Washington supplied Kiev with massive amounts of weapons and led to international condemnation of Moscow’s invasion.

Asked about the report, Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolak said that Kiev’s strategic plans have not changed, but specific tactics are always subject to change.

Some national security experts and US officials said they suspected the leaker to be American, but did not rule out pro-Russian actors.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the leak but said: “There is, in fact, a tendency to blame Russia for everything. It is generally ill.”

Hot on the eastern front

A Ukrainian counteroffensive after months of war of attrition in the east had long been expected.

The Russian winter offensive failed to make much headway, and its forces made little progress at great cost.

The Ukrainian defenders also took heavy casualties.

Cirsky said Moscow was sending special forces and airborne units to assist in their attack on Bakhmut as the members of the Russian special mercenary Wagner Group who led the Bakhmut attack were depleted.

Reuters could not verify accounts of the battlefield.

The Ukrainian General Staff said that Russian forces made unsuccessful advances in areas west of Bakhmut while shelling several towns and villages, including Bakhmut and Chasev Yar.

It added that the Ukrainian forces repulsed 52 enemy attacks.

Donetsk is one of four provinces in eastern and southern Ukraine that Russia announced its annexation last year and is seeking to occupy in what appears to be a shift in war aims after failing to overrun the country following its February 2022 invasion.

Control of Bakhmut would allow Russia to directly target the Ukrainian defensive lines at Chasev Yar and open the way for its forces to advance on two larger cities in the Donetsk region – Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

Last week, President Volodymyr Zelensky said troops could withdraw if they risked being surrounded. Kiev and the West say that the now shattered city of Bakhmut has only symbolic significance.

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