Russia suffers losses in failed river crossing, officials say

Kiev, Ukraine (AP) — Russia suffered heavy casualties when Ukrainian forces destroyed the pontoon bridge that enemy forces used to cross a river to the east, Ukrainian and British officials said in another sign of Moscow’s struggle for a ​rescue failed war

Ukrainian authorities meanwhile have opened the first war crimes trial of the conflict. The defendant, a captured Russian soldier, is accused of shooting a 62-year-old civilian to death in the early days of the war.

The process got underway as the Russian offensive in the Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heart, seemed to be turning into a war of attrition.

Ukraine’s airborne command has released photos and video of what it claims is a damaged Russian pontoon bridge over the Siversky Donets River and several destroyed or damaged Russian military vehicles nearby.

Ukrainian news reports said troops earlier this week thwarted an attempt by Russian troops to cross the river, damaging or leaving dozens of tanks and other military vehicles. The command said its troops “drowned the Russian occupiers”.

The British Ministry of Defense said Russia lost “significant armored maneuver elements” from at least one battalion tactical group, as well as equipment used to deploy the makeshift floating bridge.

“Crossing rivers in a contentious environment is a very risky maneuver and speaks to the pressure on Russian commanders to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine,” the ministry said in its daily intelligence update.

In other developments, a move by Finland and possibly Sweden to join NATO was called into question when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not positive” about the idea. He accused Sweden and other Scandinavian countries of supporting Kurdish militants and others Turkey considers terrorists.

Erdogan did not say outright that he would block the two countries from joining NATO. But the military alliance makes its decisions by consensus, meaning each of its 30 member states has a veto over who can join.

An expansion of NATO would be a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who started the war in what he said was an attempt to thwart the alliance’s advance eastward. But Ukraine’s invasion has sparked fears in other countries along Russia’s flank that they could be next.

While Ukraine called for more weapons to fend off the invasion, the European Union’s chief of foreign affairs announced plans to give the country an additional 500 million euros to buy heavy weapons.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said heavy weapons from the West now making their way to the front lines – including US 155mm howitzers – will take some time to turn the tide in Ukraine’s favour. He admitted that there is no quick end to the war in sight.

“We are entering a new, protracted phase of the war,” Reznikov wrote in a Facebook post. “We have extremely difficult weeks ahead of us. How many will there be? No one can say for sure.”

The battle for the Donbas has turned into village by village, plodding back and forth with no major breakthroughs on either side and little territorial gain.

Ukraine’s army chief for the Luhansk region of the Donbas on Friday said Russian troops opened fire on residential areas 31 times the day before, destroying dozens of homes, most notably in the villages of Hirske and Popasnianska, and a bridge in Rubizhne.

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In the south, Ukrainian officials claimed another success in the Black Sea, saying their forces had taken out another Russian ship, although there was no confirmation from Russia and no casualties were reported.

The logistics vessel Vsevolod Bobrov was badly damaged but was not thought to have sunk when it was hit while trying to supply an anti-aircraft defense system to Snake Island, said Oleksiy Arestovych, a Ukrainian presidential adviser.

In April, Ukraine sank the Moskva, a guided-missile cruiser that was the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. In March it destroyed a landing ship.

Justin Crump, a former British tank commander who is now a security adviser, said Moscow’s losses have forced the country to narrow its targets. He said the Russians have had to hastily cobbled together units that have not trained together and are therefore less effective.

“This isn’t going fast. So at least we’re ready for a summer of fighting. I think the Russian side is very clear that this is going to take a long time,” he said.

Ukrainian prosecutors investigate thousands of possible war crimes. Many of the alleged atrocities came to light last month after Moscow forces abandoned their attempt to capture Kiev and withdrew from the entire capital, exposing mass graves and streets littered with bodies.

In the first war crime case brought to trial, Russian Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, 21, could face life in prison if convicted of shooting a Ukrainian man through an open car window in a village in the northeastern Sumy region on Feb. 28, four days after the invasion.

In a small Kiev courtroom, dozens of journalists watched the start of the war proceedings, which will be closely watched by international observers to ensure a fair trial.

The defendant, dressed in a blue-grey hoodie and gray sweatpants, was kept in a small glass cage during the trial, which lasted about 15 minutes and resumes Wednesday.

Shyshimarin was asked a series of questions, including whether he understood his rights and whether he wanted a jury trial. He declined the latter.

His Ukraine-appointed lawyer, Victor Ovsyanikov, has acknowledged that the case against the soldier is strong and has not specified what his defense will be.

Shyshimarin, a member of a tank unit captured by Ukrainian forces, admitted to shooting the civilian in a video posted by Ukraine’s security service, saying he was ordered to do so.

As the war continues, teachers are trying to restore a sense of normalcy after the fighting has shut down Ukrainian schools and turned the lives of millions of children upside down.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, classes are held in a metro station that has become home to many families. Children joined their teacher Valeriy Leiko around a table to learn about history art, with drawings by young people lining the walls.

“It helps to support them mentally. Because there is now a war and many have lost their homes… some people’s parents are now fighting,” Leiko said. Partly because of the lessons, he said, “they feel like someone loves them.”

An elderly student, Anna Fedoryaka, attended a professor’s online lectures on Ukrainian literature.

The internet connection was a problem for some, she said. And “it’s hard to concentrate when you have to do your homework with explosions at your window.”

Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Jari Tanner in Helsinki, Elena Becatoros in Odessa and other AP employees around the world contributed to this report.

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