As Ukraine consolidates the territory it has recaptured in the northeastern Kharkiv province, it continues to make gains in the east and south of the country.
Kyiv's forces have taken back more than 150 miles of land in the southern Kherson province that had fallen to the Russians early in the war, Ukraine's southern military command said Thursday. Spokesperson Natalia Humeniuk added the situation along the southern front remains fluid.
At the same time, the Ukrainian counteroffensive that drove Russian troops out of Kharkiv and across the border has extended to the neighboring provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk, which make up the industrial Donbas region that Russia covets. Among the prize gains was the strategically important city of Lyman.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his officials announced Wednesday the retaking of villages in those provinces. Zelenskyy proclaimed, "The return of the Ukrainian flag means that a peaceful and socially secure life is once again possible for Donbas."
With the attempted Russian annexation of four provinces as a backdrop, further Ukrainian progress in parts of Luhansk appears probable because of favorable terrain and lack of Russian reinforcements, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
In addition, the institute said, "Ukraine's ongoing northern and southern counteroffensives are likely forcing the Kremlin to prioritize the defense of one area of operations at the expense of another, potentially increasing the likelihood of Ukrainian success in both.''
TURNING POINT IN THE WAR?: As Russia admits defeat in Kharkiv, Ukraine regains land, confidence
►The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, was in Kyiv on Thursday for meetings with government officials and residents. She said the U.S. would provide an additional $55 million to repair heating pipes and other equipment.
► The European Union on Thursday froze the assets of an additional 37 people and entities tied to Russia's war in Ukraine, including officials involved in the annexation of four Ukrainian provinces.
►Polish officials said they are distributing potassium iodide tablets to regional firefighter stations in case Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is damaged.
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2 Russians escaping draft seek US asylum after landing in Alaska
Two Russians who said they're escaping President Vladimir Putin's military conscription are requesting U.S. asylum after landing on a remote Alaskan island in the Bering Sea, the office of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said.
Murkowski and fellow Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, both Republican, said the Russians arrived at a beach near Gambell, an isolated community of about 600 people on St. Lawrence Island. Sullivan said he was alerted to the arrival Tuesday morning, and his spokesperson said it appeared the two Russians arrived by boat.
Gambell is about about 36 miles from the Chukotka Peninsula in Russia's region of Siberia.
Kremlin accuses NATO of 'pumping up' nuclear talk
A Kremlin spokeswoman on Thursday appeared to tamp down controversy over any nuclear option in Ukraine and blamed NATO for an escalation in nuclear rhetoric.
"The Russian Federation is fully committed to the principle of the inadmissibility of nuclear war," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Zakharova said she won't "participate in pumping up the degree of nuclear rhetoric," saying it served the interests of NATO countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in announcing a partial military mobilization for his country last month, vowed to use "all available means" to deter attacks against Russia, an allusion to Russia's tactical nuclear arsenal. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg then warned of "severe consequences for Russia" if Putin were to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The U.S. issued a similar warning.
Missile attacks draw close to Zaporizhzhia
Russia launched two missile attacks Thursday that hit apartment blocks in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, close to Europe's largest nuclear power plant, authorities said. One person was killed and at least five were trapped in the rubble, Gov. Oleksandr Starukh wrote on Telegram. The strikes Thursday came hours after Ukraine announced that Russian occupation forces had been driven out of three more villages in regions illegally annexed by Moscow.
Each side has blamed the other for rocket attacks roaring harrowingly close to the plant. Putin on Wednesday declared the plant Russian property, a decree quickly rejected by Ukraine. Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was scheduled to visit Kyiv on Thursday to continue talks about establishing a nuclear safety zone at the plant.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Live updates: Ukraine regains 150 miles in south; Kremlin blames NATO