Ukraine says Russia has launched a new offensive in the eastern part of the country, with explosions on all fronts and attacks in other regions.
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky said on Monday that Russia had launched the “Battle of Donbass” in the east and that “a large part of the entire Russian army is now focusing on this attack.”
“No matter how many Russian troops they send there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves,” he promised in a video message.
Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andrei Ermak, called it a “second phase of the war” and assured Ukrainian troops that they could stop the attack. “Trust our army, it’s very strong,” he said.
Ukrainian media reported that several powerful explosions took place along the front line in Donetsk Oblast, with artillery fire in the towns of Marinka, Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.
Local Ukrainian officials and local media also reported explosions in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkov, the southern city of Nikolaev, and the southeastern city of Zaporozhye.
Reuters could not immediately verify the information.
Ukraine’s top security official, Oleksiy Danilov, said Monday morning that Russian troops had tried to break through Ukrainian security “covering the entire Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkov front lines.”
Since the protests in northern Ukraine, Moscow has resumed ground attacks on the two eastern regions of the Donbas, with long-range strikes on other targets, including the capital, Kiev.
Donbass has been a focal point of Russia’s campaign to destabilize Ukraine since the Kremlin began using proxies in 2014 to establish two separatist “people’s republics” in the former Soviet Union. It is also home to much of Ukraine’s industrial wealth, including coal and steel.
Russia’s Defense Ministry says it has struck hundreds of military targets in Ukraine overnight.
The Western capital and Kiev have accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of aggression for no apparent reason, and US President Joe Biden will call his allies on Tuesday to discuss how to resolve the Ukraine crisis, including sanctions against Russia.
French President Emmanuel Macron has said talks with Putin have stalled following the revelations of a massacre in Ukraine.
As of midnight on April 17, the death toll had risen to 2,072 since the Russians began their offensive on February 24, the United Nations said Monday.
About four million Ukrainians have fled the country.
Russia denies that it targeted civilians as a special operation to demilitarize Ukraine and eliminate dangerous nationalists. Kiev has denied what it sees as evidence of atrocities, and says Ukraine has orchestrated the peace talks.
Russia has been trying to take full control of the southeastern port city of Mariupol for weeks, a huge strategic reward for Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, a territory held by pro-Russian separatists. 2014
According to the video, it was closed behind an apartment building in the burned ruins. Shocked by shells in the Primorsky district, residents cooked over an open fire outside their broken house.
The city council said more than 1,000 civilians were hiding in an underground shelter under the Azovstal steel plant, which has a number of buildings, blast furnaces and a railway.
Major Sergei Volina, commander of the 36th Ukrainian Naval Brigade fighting in Mariupol, sent a letter to Pope Francis asking for help.
“This is what hell on earth looks like … It’s time to help, not just through prayer. Save our lives from Satan’s hands,” the Ukrainian Vatican ambassador wrote on Twitter.
Why is Russia doubling Donbass and how is Ukraine defending itself?
The “Battle of Donbass” has begun, Vladimir Zelensky said, noting that Russia is launching an offensive in southeastern Ukraine.
Following the withdrawal of troops from the capital Kiev, Russia is now turning its attention to the border region of Ukraine.
This is an attack that Ukraine has been waiting for and that the army is preparing, Mr Zelensky said.
“We can now say that the Russian troops have started the long-prepared battle of Donbass,” he said.
“No matter how many Russian troops go there, we will fight,” he said.
“We will protect ourselves. We will do it every day.”
The Ukrainian army announced on social media that “the second phase of the war has begun” and feared that it would be more violent than all the battles since the beginning of the war on February 24.
Why is Russia focusing on Donbass?
Donbass is located in southeastern Ukraine and consists of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
It is the country’s main Russian-speaking industrial region, where Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for the past eight years and declared two independent republics recognized by Russia.
In fact, the rebels have taken control of about a third of the region since fighting began in 2014.
The 2014 battle took place during Euromaidan, a time of unrest over the refusal of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to sign a free trade agreement with the EU in order to establish closer ties with Russia.
Ukraine’s next government did not allow Russian-backed separatists into the Donbass talks, much to the displeasure of the Kremlin and the rebels.
Since then, tensions have risen in the region and clashes between Ukraine and rebels have continued.
On February 24, the Kremlin launched what it called a “military special operation” in the Donbass, but it has escalated into a full-scale aggression in Ukraine.
In recent weeks, after failing to capture Kiev, the Kremlin has said that the main goal of the war is to occupy Donbass.
After leaving the capital, Russian troops began to regroup and gain ground forces in the east before a major battle.
Ukraine’s National Security Secretary Alexei Danilov said on Monday that Russia had begun strikes on Donbass and other northern regions.
“This morning, the aggressors tried to break through our defenses by occupying the entire front line in the eastern part of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkov,” Mr Danilov said.
How many troops does Russia have on the offensive?
It is difficult to know exactly how many Russian troops are in and around the Donbass region.
Initial estimates put the number at 60,000.
A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to comment on the Pentagon’s assessment of the war, told the Associated Press that there are now 76 Russian combat units, known as battalion tactical groups, in eastern and southern Ukraine.
That’s up from 65 last week.
Based on the Pentagon’s initial belief that there were 700 to 800 soldiers in a single class, that would mean about 50,000 to 60,000 troops.
The United States has said Russia is also supplying arms and supplies in an effort to encircle the region.
A Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, said Russia had increased its artillery, ground forces and other capabilities in recent days.
Mr Kirby said: “We have seen a steady influx of Russians with the capacity to help them fight in the Donbass. It is an artillery, a rotating helicopter support, a command and control activator,” Mr Kirby said.
Ukraine estimates that the capture of Mariupol, which killed 21,000 people, will help complete the construction of a land bridge connecting Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which was seized from Ukraine in 2014.
A U.S. defense official said that if the Russian military could take full control of Mariupol, it could release a tactical group of about a dozen battalions for use elsewhere in the Donbass.
How is Ukraine preparing for the next wave of Russian attacks?
The Ukrainian army is still in a strong position, keeping Russia away from Kiev and other major cities.
It will be more difficult to operate in the eastern part of the country, which borders Russia, as it is close to the Russian military.
Ukraine has called in 18-60-year-old military servicemen and stopped men of the same age from leaving the country.
But thousands of Ukrainians are volunteering to sign up to fight Russian aggression.
Foreign support has also helped Ukraine’s defense.
As fighting in the eastern region escalates, the United States recently announced $ 800 million ($ 1.1 billion) in aid, military equipment and training for Ukraine.
The United States plans to teach Ukrainians how to use certain weapons, including howitzers. Mr Kirby said the training would take place outside Ukraine.
The United States has previously trained Ukrainian troops in the Switchblade drone.
The Ukrainian army is preparing for a Russian attack on Donbass
Mr Kirby said half a dozen planes full of military equipment had arrived in the region since US President Joe Biden made a statement last week.
Mariupol remains one of Ukraine’s main concerns, and Russian attacks are on the rise.
Mr Kirby said Ukraine’s opposition was strong but under constant threat.
“Ukrainians are still protesting,” he said.
“The city is not in the hands of the Russians, but they are still firing from the air and from a distance,” he said.
In the last few days, we have seen that the Ukrainians not only bravely defended, but also managed to protect certain villages and settlements in the Donbass.