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Ukraine war latest: Situation near Robotyne 'in flux' but not critical, military says

by The Kyiv Independent news desk March 20, 2024 11:35 PM 7 min read
A serviceman from Ukraine's 65th Separate Mechanized Brigade is standing on the outskirts of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, southeastern Ukraine, on Feb. 21, 2024. (Ukrinform/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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Key developments on March 20:

  • Military: Situation near Robotyne 'in flux' but not critical
  • Drone strikes reportedly hit Russia's Engels airbase, other locations in Belgorod, Saratov oblasts
  • Prosecutor's Office: Russian officer who shot civilians in Hostomel identified
  • Lithuania allocates $38 million to buy shells for Ukraine via Czech initiative
  • Russian attack on Kharkiv kills 5, injures 8.

The line of contact near the village of Robotyne in Zaporizhzhia Oblast is "in flux," but the situation is "not critical" despite Russian assaults in the area, Nataliia Humeniuk, spokesperson of Ukraine's Southern Operational Command said on March 20.

The village of Robotyne, which lies some 15 kilometers (9 miles) south of Orikhiv and 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) southeast of Zaporizhzhia, was liberated by Ukraine during its counteroffensive in the summer of 2023 and has been on the front line since.

Robotyne sits by the main road toward Russian-occupied Tokmak and further to occupied Melitopol, one of the key logistic hubs for Russian forces in southern Ukraine.

"We need to remember that on such open surfaces as this region, the line of contact is in flux. Positions can change even within a day - by a few meters, a few tens of meters. But this is not critical, it is a normal development of combat events," Humeniuk told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) on March 20.

"The enemy is continuing to attack and put pressure (on Ukrainian troops in the area), has a numerical advantage, and uses 'human wave' attacks," she said.

Russian forces actively use counter-battery fire, such as artillery and drones, near Robotyne, according to Humeniuk.

There were six assault attempts by Russia in this area over the past day, all of which were repelled by Ukraine's Armed Forces, she added.

Russian troops are also having trouble gathering groups to assault territories controlled by Ukraine on the east bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast, she said.

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Drone strikes reportedly hit Russia's Engels airbase, other locations in Belgorod, Saratov oblasts

Drones reportedly hit Russia's Engels military airbase in Saratov Oblast overnight, and other drone strikes were reported in Belgorod Oblast, Russian authorities and Telegram channels said on March 20.

Sources from Ukraine's military intelligence (HUR) told the media outlet NV that its operatives were responsible for the attack on the airbase. Andrii Cherniak, a spokesperson for the military intelligence, told the Kyiv Independent that he could neither confirm nor deny its involvement.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's (RFE/RL) Schemes project reported that sources from military intelligence had said that Ukrainian drones had been used in the attack, and claimed that "targets were hit" but did not clarify which ones. Citing satellite images, Schemes said that there were 11 Russian military aircraft at the airbase at the time of the attack, including six Tu-95 and three Tu-160 bombers.

In past weeks, Ukrainian forces have launched a series of drone strikes aimed at damaging Russia's oil industry. Ukraine has hit oil refineries in multiple regions deep inside the Russian territory. Russian authorities have also claimed other attacks inside Russian territory, particularly in areas close to the Ukrainian border.

The uptick in claimed drone and artillery strikes comes against the backdrop of ongoing fighting between pro-Kyiv Russian militia and the Russian military on Russian territory.

Saratov Oblast Governor Roman Busargin wrote on Telegram that the city of Engels, home to a Russian air force base, was targeted by a drone attack. He claimed that there were no injuries or damage.

The Astra Telegram channel, citing sources, claimed that three drones landed on the territory of the airbase but could not confirm if the drones had caused damage or casualties on the ground.

The channel also shared a video that appeared to depict stationary camera footage of the airbase, in which a loud explosion could be heard.

Russia's Defense Ministry separately said that four drones had been shot down over Saratov Oblast and one in Belgorod Oblast.

The claims could not be independently verified.

Engels airbase, located some 700 kilometers (434 miles) from the Ukrainian border, has been previously attacked since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.

Kyiv often does not comment on claimed attacks within Russian territory.

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Prosecutor's Office: Russian officer who shot civilians in Hostomel identified

The Kyiv City Prosecutor's Office identified a Russian deputy commander of the National Guard unit of Krasnoyarsk region who fired at a civilian in Hostomel, Kyiv Oblast, at the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion, the office's press service reported on March 20.

Hostomel is a town located around 10 kilometers northwest of Kyiv. As the all-out war started in February 2022, Hostomel was one of the main strategic aims of Russian troops due to its proximity to Ukraine's capital and the presence of a cargo airport near the city.

One of the Russian attacks on Hostomel Airport destroyed An-225 Mriya, the world's largest aircraft.

Ukrainian forces retook the town in early April 2022.

According to the Kyiv City Prosecutor's Office, the identified Russian soldier and his comrades were ordered to kill civilians in occupied Hostomel.

On Feb. 25, 2022, the suspect allegedly shot at a civilian car that was driving across Shevchenko Street in the direction of Bucha in Kyiv Oblast. The driver survived despite gunshot wounds. The crime against the civilian was recorded on a video.

Russian soldiers from this unit were reportedly involved in the shooting of 12 vehicles in Hostomel, killing 11 and injuring 15 people, the Kyiv City Prosecutor's Office's report says.

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Lithuania allocates $38 million to buy shells for Ukraine via Czech initiative

Lithuania had pledged 35 million euros (around $38 million) for the Czech initiative to buy artillery shells for Ukraine, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said on March 20.

Czech President Petr Pavel said in February that Prague had identified 500,000 155 mm shells and 300,000 122 mm shells outside of Europe that could be bought and sent to Ukraine after the necessary funds were allocated to the initiative.

Artillery shells are a crucial capability for Ukraine as the country faces critical ammunition shortages. Delays in U.S. military assistance, caused by disputes in Congress, have already had a direct impact on the battlefield, contributing to the loss of the key front-line city of Avdiivka.

"Lithuania will contribute to all the international efforts that bring Ukraine closer to its and our victory," Simonyte said on X.

Vilnius announced its intention to join Prague's efforts already on March 4, but the exact size of the commitment has not been known until now.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on March 12 that the initiative has already secured the purchase of 300,000 shells and received nonbinding commitments for 200,000 more.

According to Fiala's security advisor, Tomas Pojar, the rounds could start flowing to Ukraine by June.

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Russian attack on Kharkiv kills 5, injures 8

Russia launched an attack against Kharkiv on March 20, killing five people and injuring eight others, Kharkiv Oblast Governor Oleh Syniehubov reported.

Explosions were reported in Kharkiv at around 1 p.m. local time. The strike damaged an eight-story building and a factory, where a fire spread across an area of 10,000 square meters.

Russia used a Kh-35 anti-ship missile in the attack, Volodymyr Tymoshko, the head of the National Police in Kharkiv Oblast, reported on social media.

All victims were civilians and employees of the factory, the Prosecutor General's Office said.

Kharkiv has been at the forefront of Russian strikes since the outbreak of the full-scale invasion. It came under several deadly attacks over the winter as Russia launched mass missile strikes against Ukraine.

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