Russia 'forced to merge and redeploy depleted units' in eastern Ukraine, says UK MoD

ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry reports on the latest developments in Ukraine

Russian troops have been forced to "merge and redeploy" depleted units in eastern Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence has said, as Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Moscow of trying to "empty" the Donbas region of "all people".

After failed advances in the north east, many "disparate" Russian units likely with "weakened morale" have been forced to re-think tactics, the British MoD said in an update on Saturday.

It said Russia “still faces considerable challenges” in fighting and believes President Vladimir Putin's troops will now attempt to reorganise efforts and shorten supply lines.

Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesperson for the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said Russian troops are "regrouping and strengthening", as they continue attacks on civilian and military infrastructure.

Ukrainian forces fought on Saturday to hold off the Russian advance in the south and east, where the Kremlin is seeking to capture the industrial Donbas region.The update came as President Zelenskyy said Russia is attempting to make the eastern Donbas region "uninhabitable", as he described Ukraine's defence as "literally a fight for life".

“The constant brutal bombardments, the constant Russian strikes on infrastructure and residential areas show that Russia wants to empty this territory of all people,” he said on Friday in his nightly video address to the nation.

Civilians in Mariupol gather to get humanitarian aid, bread and pure water Credit: AP

He said the cities and towns of the Donbas will survive only if Ukraine remains standing, adding: “If the Russian invaders are able to realise their plans even partially, then they have enough artillery and aircraft to turn the entire Donbas into stones. As they did with Mariupol.”

Mariupol - once one of the most developed cities in the region - is now a “Russian concentration camp among the ruins,” said the president.

In Kharkiv, a major city to the north, the situation is “brutal” but Ukrainian troops and intelligence agents “have had important tactical successes,” he said without elaborating.

Rebecca Barry reports live from the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on the challenges Russia faces more than two months since its invasion

The city's mayor Ihor Terekhov said about 20% of the city’s residential buildings have been so badly damaged that it will be impossible to restore them.

Millions across the country have fled their homes and hundreds arrived in Kharkiv, forced out of their village by Russian soldiers.

In the capital Kyiv, Mr Zelenskyy said rescuers were still going through the rubble after Thursday’s missile strikes.

He expressed his condolences to the family of Vira Hyrych, who was killed in the bombardment. He said she was the 23rd journalist killed in the war.

The United Nations continued trying to broker an evacuation of civilians from the increasingly hellish ruins of Mariupol, a southern port city that Russia has sought to capture since it invaded Ukraine more than nine weeks ago.

People fleeing a nearby village under Russian occupation arrive at a screening point in Kharkiv Credit: AP

The deputy commander of the Azov Regiment of the Ukraine National Guard that is holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol says 20 civilians were evacuated from the plant on Saturday evening amid a ceasefire observed both by Ukrainian and Russian forces.

In a video address posted on Azov's channel in the Telegram messaging app, Sviatoslav Palamar said those evacuated were women and children.

"We hope that these people will go in the agreed direction, namely Zaporizhzhia, to the territory controlled by Ukraine," Palamar said.

In the address he said a ceasefire had been in place near the plant since 11am on Saturday.

Earlier on Saturday, Russian state media reported 25 civilians leaving the plant.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Palamar was referring to the same group as the Russian news reports.

Palamar also called for the evacuation of the wounded.

"We do not know why they aren't being evacuated, and they are not mentioned at all, regarding their evacuation to the territory controlled by Ukraine," Palamar said.

An estimated 2,000 fighters are holed up in the plant, with about 1,000 civilians.

Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, appeared to have dismissed the need for the United Nations to help secure humanitarian corridors out of Ukraine’s besieged cities.

As a reporter at Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV tried to ask Lavrov about U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ proposals for humanitarian assistance and the evacuation of civilians, Lavrov cut him off.

“There is no need. I know, I know,” Lavrov said. “There is no need for anybody to provide help to open humanitarian corridors. There is only one problem … humanitarian corridors are being ignored by Ukrainian ultra-nationals."

His comments came a day after Russia launched a missile attack on Kyiv while Mr Guterres was visiting the city, in its boldest attack on the capital since Moscow's forces retreated weeks ago.