Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Russia suffered heavy casualties when Ukrainian forces destroyed the pontoon bridge that enemy troops used to try to cross a river to the east, Ukrainian and British officials said in another sign of Moscow’s struggle, a war gone awry rescue.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian authorities opened the first war crimes trial of the conflict. The accused, a captured Russian soldier, is accused of shooting dead a 62-year-old civilian in the early days of the war.
The process began as Russia’s offensive in Donbass, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, increasingly seemed to be turning into a grueling war of attrition.
The Ukrainian Airborne Command released photos and videos of a damaged Russian pontoon bridge over the Siversky Donets River and several destroyed or damaged Russian military vehicles nearby.
According to Ukrainian news reports, earlier this week troops thwarted an attempt by Russian forces to cross the river, damaging or abandoning dozens of tanks and other military vehicles. The commando said its troops “drowned the Russian occupiers.”
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russia had lost “significant armored maneuvering elements” from at least one tactical battalion group, as well as equipment used to deploy the makeshift floating bridge.
“Performing river crossings in a contested environment is an extremely risky maneuver and speaks to the pressure Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine,” the ministry said in its daily intelligence update.
In other developments, a move by Finland, and possibly Sweden, to join NATO was questioned when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not positive” about the idea. He accused Sweden and other Scandinavian countries of supporting Kurdish militants and others Turkey considers terrorists.
Erdogan did not directly say that he would prevent the two countries from joining NATO. But the military alliance makes its decisions by consensus, meaning each of its 30 member countries has veto power over who can join.
NATO expansion would be a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who went to war to thwart the alliance’s eastward advance. But the invasion of Ukraine has sparked fears in other countries along Russia’s flank that they may be next.
As Ukraine asks for more weapons to repel the invasion, the EU’s foreign policy chief announced plans to give the country an additional 500 million euros ($520 million) to buy heavy weapons.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Western heavy weapons now making their way to the front lines – including American 155mm howitzers – will take time to turn the tide in Ukraine’s favour. He admitted that there was no quick end to the war in sight.
“We are entering a new, long-term phase of the war,” Reznikov wrote in a Facebook post. “Extremely difficult weeks await us. How many will there be? No one can say for sure.”
The struggle for Donbass has turned into a back-and-forth from village to village, with no major breakthroughs on either side and little ground gain.
Ukraine’s military chief for the Luhansk region of Donbas said on Friday that Russian forces had opened fire on residential areas 31 times the previous day, destroying dozens of houses, particularly in the villages of Hirske and Popasnianska, and a bridge in Rubizhne.
In the south, Ukrainian officials claimed another success in the Black Sea and said their forces knocked out another Russian ship, although there was no confirmation from Russia and no casualties were reported.
The logistics ship Vsevolod Bobrov was badly damaged but is believed not to have sunk when it was hit trying to deliver an anti-aircraft system to Snake Island, said Oleksiy Arestovych, a Ukrainian presidential aide.
In April, Ukraine sank the Moskva, a guided missile cruiser that was the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. In March it destroyed a DropShip.
Justin Crump, a former British tank commander who is now a national security adviser, said Moscow’s losses have forced it to scale back its targets. He said the Russians had to use hastily patched-up units that hadn’t trained together and were therefore less effective.
“It won’t be quick. So at least we’re bracing ourselves for a summer of battles. I think the Russian side is very aware that this will take a long time,” he said.
Ukrainian prosecutors are investigating thousands of possible war crimes. Many of the alleged atrocities came to light last month after Moscow forces abandoned their attempt to seize Kyiv and retreated from the capital, exposing mass graves and streets strewn with bodies.
In the first war crimes case brought to trial, Russian Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, 21, could face life in prison if convicted on February 28, four days after the invasion began, at a Ukrainian man through an open car window in a village shot in the head in the north-eastern Sumy region.
In a small Kiev courtroom, scores of journalists watched the start of the war trial, which is being closely watched by international observers to ensure the trial is fair.
The defendant, dressed in a blue and gray hoodie and gray sweatpants, sat in a small glass cage during the trial, which lasted about 15 minutes and continues on Wednesday.
Shyshimarin was asked a series of questions, including whether he understood his rights and whether he wanted a jury trial. He refused the latter.
His Ukraine-based lawyer, Victor Ovsyanikov, has acknowledged that the case against the soldier is strong and has not indicated what his defense will be.
Shyshimarin, a member of a tank unit captured by Ukrainian forces, admitted he shot the civilian dead in video released by Ukraine’s Security Service and said he was ordered to do so.
As the war rages on, teachers are trying to restore some sense of normality after fighting closed Ukrainian schools and turned the lives of millions of children upside down.
In Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, classes take place in a subway station that has become home for many families. Children joined their teacher Valeriy Leiko around a table to learn about history art, with drawings made by teenagers on the walls.
“It helps to support them mentally. Because now there is a war and many have lost their homes…some people’s parents are fighting now,” Leiko said. Partly because of the classes, he said, “they feel like someone loves them.”
An elderly student, Anna Fedoryaka, supervised a professor’s online lectures on Ukrainian literature.
Internet connectivity is an issue for some, she said. And “it’s hard to concentrate when you have to do your homework with explosions in the window.”
Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Jari Tanner in Helsinki, Elena Becatoros in Odessa, and other AP staffers around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine