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Russian forces gain ground in eastern Ukraine; U.N. official cites likely war crimes

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Russian forces gain ground in eastern Ukraine; U.N. official cites likely war crimes
Ukrainian soldiers walk along a road littered with debris from Russian shelling in the northern part of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday. Fighting in the region this week has yielded both Russian and Ukrainian gains. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

May 12 (UPI) -- Russian forces assaulted a number of targets in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, including the last bastion of resistance at a steel plant in the port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said as the war approaches the start of its fourth month.

Russian troops have stepped up attacks this week in Ukraine's east -- notably the mostly separatist Donbas -- and have continued to try and shell Ukrainian resistance into submission at the Mariupol plant. Ukrainian officials said Thursday that Moscow has had some success in these attacks.

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One Ukrainian military official told CNN that Russian forces "completely destroyed" captured settlements in Luhansk and said that Russian shelling intensified along the "entire Luhansk front."

Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk region military administration, said that there was heavy fighting Thursday around Severodonetsk and that the situation "has significantly deteriorated."

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Hayday also said, however, that Ukrainian units in Belohorivka are "holding back the Russian invasion."

"Our defenders have twice destroyed pontoon crossings, and based on the actions of the Russians, the third time will be the same," he said according to CNN.

A Ukrainian woman picks up a purple teddy bear in a room of her destroyed home in Irpin, Ukraine, on Monday, after Russians shelled the neighborhood. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI

Britain's Defense Ministry noted that some of the Russian fighting has stalled and Moscow has lost ground in parts of the Donbas and around Kharkiv in the northeast. On Wednesday, Ukrainian officials reported significant gains in the Kharkiv area, which has been under constant assault since the war began in February.

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Ukrainian forces recaptured several towns along the Russian border, Kyiv said, in what's been part of a Ukrainian counterattack that's shown to be effective against slower Moscow troops.

"The withdrawal of Russian forces from Kharkiv is a tacit recognition of Russia's inability to capture key Ukrainian cities where they expected limited resistance from the population," the British Defense Ministry said in a tweet.

Off the coast of Snake Island, Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odesa Regional Military Administration, said the Ukrainian Navy struck the Russian support ship Vsevolod Bobrov, catching it on fire. In a post on Telegram, Bratchuk said the ship was being towed toward Sevasopol after being hit.

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"The information is yet to be clarified," he said, "but the fact that she suffered a 'snake bite' in the area of Snake Island is true."

Also Thursday, the president and prime minister of Finland publicly backed a move to NATO in a bid to shore up European security. It's been noted for weeks that Helsinki was eyeing a possible move to the defensive alliance as a result of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Scandinavian neighbor Sweden is also thought to be mulling a move to NATO.

United Nations human rights chief Michele Bachelet said at a briefing on Thursday that she saw evidence of likely Russian war crimes when she visited areas near Kyiv recently.

"The scale of unlawful killings, including indicia of summary executions in areas to the north of Kyiv, is shocking," Bachelet said according to The Guardian.

Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Thursday that Russian forces have sent "several thousand" Ukrainians to filtration centers and tens of thousands more to other Russian-controlled locations. He said Ukrainians are facing what amounts to war crimes in these locations, some of which he described as "makeshift encampments."

"Numerous eyewitness accounts indicate that 'filtering out' entails beating and torturing individuals to determine whether they owe even the slightest allegiance to the Ukrainian state," he said in remarks before the OSCE Permanent Council.

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"Once in Russia, survivors report that some Ukrainian citizens are permitted to stay with friends and family living in Russia but that people without money or documents are put onto trains destined for cities hundreds of miles away, to be given jobs by Russian authorities."

Scenes from Ukraine: Destruction, atrocities and mourning

Priest Andrii Gavalin presides over the funeral of Eugene Bogdanov, 35, in Bucha, Ukraine, on May 10. Bogdanov went missing two months ago. His wife, Natalia Bogdanova, was searching for him throughout the Kyiv and Bucha regions when his body was found at a morgue in Belaya Tserkov on May 9. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

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