A crater is next to the damaged hotel building after shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk, Ukraine, on Sunday amid the Russian invasion. The Ukrainian army pushed Russian troops from occupied territory in the northeast of the country in a counterattack. Photo by Sergey Shestak/EPA-EFE
Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Russian forces continued to conduct "meaningless" offensive operations near the city of Donetsk in the Donbas region of Ukraine, analysts said Saturday.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., said in an analysis late Saturday that Russian troops are ineffectively conducting offensive operations instead of trying to defend against Ukrainian troops advancing and reclaiming occupied territory in recent weeks.
The provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, which Russia is at risk of losing, together make up the larger Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.
Donbas has been largely held by pro-Russian separatists since the Ukrainian territory of Crimea was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized Luhansk and Donetsk as independent republics before the start of the invasion Feb. 24 and is expected to try to annex the region into Russia in coming months.
Russian troops are attacking the city of Donetsk because it carries "emotional significance to pro-war residents" though little other importance in the scope of the war, according to the think tank.
Meanwhile, Russian forces have chosen not to rush significant reinforcements to defend their control over the eastern part of the Kharkiv province which leaves them "highly vulnerable" to Ukrainian efforts to reclaim the region.
"Just like the Kyiv region, Chernihiv region and Sumy region, just like the Kharkiv region now, we will liberate other regions and all our land," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday in a message posted to Facebook.
"Wherever there is Ukraine, there will be our flag, and this atrocity -- racism, which repeats what the Nazis did, will remain nowhere."
Ukraine's drive to reclaim land in southern Ukraine strengthened over the weekend as Ukrainian forces conducted strikes on key Russian supply lines and military facilities.
Ukrainian officials on Saturday claimed that its military conducted a strike on a cotton mill in Kherson that Russian forces were using as to store equipment and a courthouse used by the Kremlin-backed military administration.
Russian military bloggers also shared video footage on Telegram of a firefight on the streets of the Russian-seized city.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to Zelensky, said in a statement to Twitter that the firefight was between Russian forces seeking to "divide the loot before they flee, considering the news about Armed Forces of Ukraine approach."
The British Defense Ministry said in an intelligence update on Sunday that Russia in the last week "has increased its targeting of civilian infrastructure even where it probably perceives no immediate military effect."
"This category of mission has included strikes against the electricity grid, and a dam on the Inhulets River at Kryvyi Rih," the British Defense Ministry said.
"As it faces setbacks on the front lines, Russia has likely extended the locations it is prepared to strike in an attempt to directly undermine the morale of the Ukrainian people and government."