Bad weather and Russian resistance slowed Ukrainian forces’ progress

Black smoke billows above the Asyl River, which separates the western bank controlled by Ukrainian forces from the eastern bank, disputed with Russian forces, in front of the city of Kubiansk, amid the incessant sound of explosions.

“For now, the rain makes it difficult to use heavy weapons everywhere. We can only use paved roads,” Ukrainian forces sergeant Roman Malina told AFP as armored personnel carriers and tanks maneuvered in heavy rain.

“We are targeting their armored vehicles, their ammunition depots and groups of soldiers as it is difficult to advance because of the weather,” he added.

“Only their bodies will be left behind”

On Friday, Kubyansk military administrator Andriy Kanachevych told AFP it could take up to ten days for Ukrainian forces to secure the area.

Ukrainian artillery targeted Russian positions in the woods east of the city, but a Russian drone caused concern and attracted attention.

A stream of refugees fleeing the bombed-out city advanced over a bridge whose rails were still painted in the red, white and blue colors of the Russians occupying Kubyansk.

Two Ukrainian soldiers, well-equipped — American assault rifles and bulletproof vests — and in good spirits despite fatigue and a Russian drone flew down a debris-strewn road and crossed a river.

One of them, who goes by the name “Mario,” believes it’s too early to know when the eastern bank will come under full control of Ukrainian forces, while insisting Russian forces will withdraw.

“Only their bodies are left behind,” he says.

“In general, everything is good, taking into account the level of activity, we have no losses,” he told AFP.

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Much of Kubyansk, an important rail hub previously used by Russia to supply its forces stationed further south on the Donetsk front, fell to Ukrainian forces in a counteroffensive in September.

But a narrow stretch of Kharkiv region on the east bank of the Oskil River remains in the hands of Russian forces, preventing Ukrainians from advancing toward the Russian-held Luhansk region.

“Yes, we have enough men and weapons, but it depends on what happens on the other side”, according to Sergeant Malina.

“They try to find weak points in our defensive line. So they try to attack from time to time using armor and infantry,” he said of the tactics used by the Russian forces.

“Our morale is good. We are ready to fight, but we need more heavy weapons and precision weapons,” said Sgt., reiterating Ukraine’s appeal to the West.

Many civilians have fled a city without electricity and running water, but some have nowhere to go and rely on food aid.

At the entrances of five-story buildings, residents gather around laptop sockets, recharging tablets and torches.

Most say they are happy about the return of Ukrainian forces to liberate the city from Russian occupation.

“Alone With My Cats”

Lioudmila Beloukha, 74, was a trapeze artist in the Moscow Circus during Soviet times. “I traveled all over the Soviet Union and abroad,” he recalls.

The widow lives alone in a homestead in Kubyansk. Her sister had gone to Greece, and she had not heard from her nephew, who lived on the east bank of the river, for several months.

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“I’m at home, alone with my cats. Completely alone. My kitchen and balcony windows are destroyed. They have to be fixed with plastic wrap because it’s cold. I’m freezing,” she explains.

Ms Peluka received a small food aid distributed by volunteers and did not suffer from hunger, but “we had no water, no electricity. Nothing. Not even boiling water for tea”.

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