Advertisement

Russia’s large-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine has begun, officials say

Click to play video: 'Deadly attack strikes Lviv as Russia escalates assault on Ukraine' Deadly attack strikes Lviv as Russia escalates assault on Ukraine
WATCH: Deadly attack strikes Lviv as Russia escalates assault on Ukraine – Apr 18, 2022

Russia has begun its anticipated large-scale offensive operation in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, officials said Monday, marking a new phase in the nearly two-month-long war.

Ukraine has been bracing for a new onslaught from Russian forces since troops pulled back from the capital of Kyiv and other cities in the country’s north in late March, in order to refocus its efforts on the eastern flank.

“Now we can state that the Russian forces have started the battle of the Donbas that they have been getting ready for for a long time,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address.

Read more: Russia seizes Ukrainian city amid ‘Battle of the Donbas’

Ukraine’s national security council secretary Oleksiy Danilov said the offensive began Monday morning, with Russian forces attacking “along almost the entire front line” in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of the Donbass.

Story continues below advertisement

“Our military is defending, we are not surrendering our territories,” Danilov said on social media. He echoed his statement in televised comments on Ukrainian media channels, while noting Russian forces managed to break through at two points.

Read more: Ukrainian forces dig in as showdown with Russia in eastern Ukraine looms

Ukrainian officials said Russian shelling killed four people in the eastern Donetsk region earlier on Monday, while a man and a woman were killed in Kharkiv when shells hit a playground near a residential building.

Russia’s defense ministry said it had hit hundreds of military targets in Ukraine overnight. It said air-launched missiles had destroyed 16 military facilities in the Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk regions and in the port of Mykolayiv, which are in south and east Ukraine.

Ukrainian media reported a series of explosions, some powerful, along the front line in the Donetsk region, with shelling taking place in Marinka, Slavyansk and Kramatorsk. Ukrainian local officials and local media also said explosions were heard in Kharkiv in the northeast of Ukraine, Mykolaiv in the south and Zaporizhzhia in the southeast.

A Ukrainian military official said street battles had begun in Kreminna and that evacuation was impossible.

Click to play video: 'Questions rise over whether Canadians possibly trapped in Mariupol steel plant' Questions rise over whether Canadians possibly trapped in Mariupol steel plant
Questions rise over whether Canadians possibly trapped in Mariupol steel plant – Apr 18, 2022

Luhansk regional military administrator Serhiy Haidai said heavy artillery fire set seven residential buildings on fire and targeted the sports complex where the nation’s Olympic team trains.

Story continues below advertisement

Haidai later told Ukrainian television that Russians took control of the city after “leveling everything to the ground,” so his forces retreated to regroup and keep on fighting.

U.S. officials would not go so far as to say the eastern offensive was fully underway. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the Russians were still in the process of “shaping operations,” including bringing more forces and command centres into the Donbas.

Click to play video: 'Zelenskyy calls for support as Ukraine prepares for “hard battle” in the east' Zelenskyy calls for support as Ukraine prepares for “hard battle” in the east
Zelenskyy calls for support as Ukraine prepares for “hard battle” in the east – Apr 9, 2022

Russia’s defence ministry announced on March 25 that it would be re-focusing its efforts on “liberating” Donetsk and Luhansk after declaring it had achieved the aims of the “first phase” of its so-called “special military operation.”

Over the course of that first phase, some cities like Mariupol have been almost completely decimated by intense Russian shelling, while critical infrastructure in larger urban centres like Kyiv has also been destroyed. Thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed.

Story continues below advertisement

Yet the front lines have largely remained static for weeks as Ukrainian defensive forces have held back attempted Russian advances.

The bulk of the Ukrainian army is concentrated in eastern Ukraine, where it has been locked up in fighting with Moscow-backed separatists in a nearly eight-year conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Donetsk and Luhansk as independent regions days before the Ukrainian invasion began, recognizing separatist leaders through diplomatic agreements that the West viewed as a pretext for the current war.

Read more: Ukraine is ready for ‘hard battle’ with Russia in eastern regions: Zelenskyy

Russia’s reinforcements have set the stage for a protracted battle in the east that military analysts say is certain to inflict heavy losses on both sides.

The Institute for the Study of War predicted the new offensive was “unlikely to be dramatically more successful” than earlier campaigns, noting Russia did not wait long enough to properly regroup. But the think tank predicted Russian forces may be able to wear down the Ukrainians and make limited gains.

If Russia succeeds in encircling and destroying the Ukrainian forces in the country’s industrial heartland, it could try to dictate its terms to Kyiv and potentially attempt to split the country in two.

Story continues below advertisement

In a post on Facebook, the Ukrainian armed forces command said that Russia’s main military force was concentrating on taking control of the entirety of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that make up the swathe of the Donbas.

“The second phase of the war has begun… Believe in our army, it is very strong,” the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Click to play video: '‘No safe and unsafe locations’: Lviv mayor urges citizens to be vigilant after deadly missile strikes' ‘No safe and unsafe locations’: Lviv mayor urges citizens to be vigilant after deadly missile strikes
‘No safe and unsafe locations’: Lviv mayor urges citizens to be vigilant after deadly missile strikes – Apr 18, 2022

Other parts of Ukraine remain under fire despite the new focus on the east, with Russia launching long-range attacks on Kyiv and other cities.

Monday saw seven people killed after Ukrainian officials say Russian missile strikes hit the western city of Lviv, which has been mostly spared during the war.

Lviv has also been a safe haven for civilians fleeing the fighting, many of whom have rested there before continuing on to neighbouring countries like Poland.

Story continues below advertisement

Meanwhile, in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard that was holding out against Russian forces, said in a video message that Russia had begun dropping bunker-buster bombs on the Azovstal steel plant where the regiment was holed up.

The sprawling plant contains a warren of tunnels where both fighters and civilians are sheltering. It is believed to be the last major pocket of resistance in the shattered city.

—With files from Reuters and the Associated Press

Sponsored content