Russia-Ukraine war news: Zelensky, Wagner chief offer clashing views on counteroffensive

The Ukrainian and Russian sides have given conflicting statements about whether Ukraine’s counteroffensive has begun, amid fierce fighting for the eastern city of Bakhmut. The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, said his forces control most of the city, but that a Ukrainian counter-offensive is “in full swing”, with successful attacks on Russian forces. Later on Friday, Prigozhin called on Russia’s defense leaders to “stop lying” about the state of the battlefield game.

Russia’s Defense Ministry denied reports that Ukrainian forces had broken through on the front. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his country had to wait for more equipment to arrive before launching a spring offensive, even as defense officials announced gains around Bakhmut. Some Ukrainians fear that if the counteroffensive is perceived as short-lived, pressure will mount on Zelensky to negotiate a peace deal with Moscow, or Western support could wane.

Here’s the latest on the war and its effects around the world.

Ukraine’s Cultural Counteroffensive: The Rush to Erase Russia’s Footprint: In another sign of how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion has backfired, Ukrainians are erasing traces of their country’s Russian culture, language and monuments, report Ruby Mellen, Zoeann Murphy, Kostiantyn Khudov and Kasia Strek. Russian books have been stripped. Russocentric museums have been closed. Landmarks named after Russian figures have been flagged for renaming.

“No one has done more to de-Russify Ukraine than Putin,” said Rory Finnin, associate professor of Ukrainian studies at Cambridge University. Ukrainians had been able to “manage their sometimes overlapping” and layered cultures, Finnin added, but Putin’s aggression has pushed many to seek the complete erasure of Russian culture and history.

Loveday Morris and Stefano Pitrelli contributed to this report.

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