Ukraine says Russian forces have struck Mariupol, Kharkiv, Kramatorsk and other areas around the Donbas.
KYIV, Ukraine – Russia has deployed military forces in Ukrainian cities and towns and sought to divide the country in a potential major battle to control the eastern industrial center of coal mines and factories, and send more troops to the war.
Fighting erupted on Tuesday along a boomerang-shaped front hundreds of miles long in what is known as the Donbas. If successful, it would give President Vladimir Putin a victory after Moscow forces failed to attack the capital, Kiev, and suffered more losses than expected.
In the now-devastated port city of Mariupol in Donbas, Ukrainian troops say Russian troops have dropped heavy bombs to repair the remains of a widespread steel plant and hit a hospital where hundreds of people remain.
The eastern cities of Kharkiv and Kramatorsk were attacked. Russia has also said it has fired missiles into the western part of the Donbas, around Zaporozhye and the Dnieper.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said Moscow forces had bombed numerous Ukrainian military facilities in or near several towns or villages, including military bases and missile warheads. These allegations could not be independently verified.
Both sides described Monday’s attack as a new phase in the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that most of the Russian military’s combat readiness forces are now concentrated in Ukraine and across the Russian border.
“They expelled almost everyone and everyone who was able to fight Ukraine with us,” he said in a video message to the nation at night.
He said that despite claims that they had hit only military facilities, the Russians continued to target settlements and kill civilians.
“In this war, the Russian army will forever write itself in world history as the most barbaric and inhumane army in the world,” Zelensky said.
After Russia’s failed attempt to seize Kiev a few weeks ago, the Kremlin said its main goal was to seize a predominantly Russian-speaking Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years.
Russia’s victory in the Donbas will deprive Ukraine of its industrial assets, including mines, metallurgical plants and heavy equipment factories.
A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment of the war, said the Russians had added two more combat units to Ukraine in the past 24 hours, known as battalion tactical groups. That brought the total number of units in the country from 65 last week to 78 in the south and east, the official said.
At the beginning of the war, the Pentagon said it had a typical combined force of 700-800 troops, which would increase from 55,000 to 62,000. But at this stage, it is difficult to determine Russia’s combat capability.
A European official, who did not want to be named to discuss military assessments, also said that Russia had 10,000 to 20,000 foreign fighters in the Donbas. According to official sources, they are a mixture of mercenaries of the Russian private Wagner Group and Russian proxy fighters from Syria and Libya.
Although Ukraine has described Monday’s attacks as the beginning of a long-feared attack in the east, some observers have said the escalation has been going on for some time, casting doubt on whether this is indeed the beginning of a new offensive.
The U.S. official said the attack in the Donbas was limited to the area southwest of Donetsk and south of Izyum.
Castin Krump, a former British tank commander with Sibylline Strategic Consulting, said Ukraine’s comments could be partly an attempt to persuade allies to send more weapons.
“I think what they’re trying to do by positioning this is to focus people’s minds and efforts by saying, ‘Look, the conflict has started in the Donbas,'” Krump said. This puts some pressure on NATO and EU suppliers to say, “Guys, we’re starting to fight now.” We need it now. “
The US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said President Joe Biden was expected to announce a new package of weapons in the coming days, including additional artillery and ammunition.
Canada and the Netherlands also plan to send more heavy weapons, their prime ministers said.
Associated Press reporters in Kharkiv say at least four people have been killed and three others injured in a Russian attack on a town in the city.
According to AP journalists at the scene, an explosion also took place in Kramatorsk, killing at least one person and injuring three others.
The head of the regional council, Hanna Zamazeeva, said on Facebook that many people were injured when Russian forces opened fire on a hospital in the southern city of Bashtanka, destroying the reception area and the dialysis unit.
Witness statements and official reports have given a broad picture of the scale of Russia’s progress. However, independent reporting in the Donbas, which is controlled by Russian forces and separatists, is severely restricted, making it difficult to know what is happening in many places.
Military experts say the Russians’ goal is to besiege Ukrainian troops from the north, south and east.
The key to the campaign is the capture of Mariupol, which will deprive Ukraine of an important port and complete the land bridge between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which was seized from Ukraine in 2014. It will also free Russian troops to move elsewhere in the Donbas.
The Russians estimate that several thousand Ukrainian soldiers hid in an expanding steel plant in Mariupol, representing the city’s last pocket of resistance.
Russia ignored a previous ultimatum and issued a new ultimatum on Wednesday to surrender to Ukrainian defenders. The Russian Defense Ministry said the surrender would be allowed to live and receive medical treatment. There was no immediate response from Ukrainian troops, but they repeatedly promised not to surrender.
The deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, one of the remaining troops in Mariupol, said Russian troops had dropped heavy bombs on a steel plant and hit an “improvised” hospital.
Serhiy Taruta, a former governor of Donetsk Oblast and a Mariupol native, also said the hospital had been bombed and that 300 people, including wounded servicemen and civilians with children, had taken refuge there.
The information could not be independently verified.
Zelensky said the Kremlin had not responded to a proposal to replace jailed pro-Russian party leader Viktor Medvedchuk with Mariupol supporters.
Associated Press journalists Mstyslav Chernov and Felipe Dana, Kharkiv, Ukraine; Danica Kirka in London; and Robert Burns and Aamer Madhani of Washington, D.C., like other APs around the world, contributed to the report.
War in Ukraine: Russia is hitting cities, more troops are fighting the war
Source link War in Ukraine: Russia is hitting cities, more troops are fighting the war