THE GUARDIAN: Ukrainian president announces assault but declares: ‘We will fight. We will not give up anything Ukrainian’.
Russia has begun its long-expected large-scale military action to seize the east of Ukraine, the country’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.
“Now we can already state that the Russian troops have begun the battle for the Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time,” he said in a video address late on Monday night. Zelenskiy said a “significant part of the entire Russian army is now concentrated on this offensive”.
He added: “No matter how many soldiers are driven there, we will defend ourselves. We will fight. We will not give up anything Ukrainian.”
Echoing his comments, Kyiv’s presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak said: “The second phase of the war has started.”
Ukrainian media reported a series of explosions, some powerful, along the frontline in the Donetsk region, with shelling taking place in Marinka, Slavyansk and Kramatorsk.
Ukraine’s top security official, Oleksiy Danilov, said Russian forces attempted to break through Ukrainian defences “along almost the entire frontline of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions” on Monday morning.
By Monday night, Russian troops had reportedly captured the east Ukraine town of Kreminna, which had a population of 18,000 before the war.
“Currently, control over the city of Kreminna is lost, street fights are taking place,” Luhansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said in a statement. Gaiday said four people had been killed as they tried to evacuate in their own vehicles.
The head of Kreminna’s military administration, Oleksandr Dunets, told Radio Donbas: “The fighting lasted three days and Russia used a large number of armoured vehicles to attack the city.”
Kreminna as well as nearby Rubizhne, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, have withstood heavy shelling from both sides for several days on the frontline. Rubizhne, which had more than 60,000 residents before the war began, came under intense Ukrainian artillery and mortar fire on Monday, AFP journalists saw.
Shelling in the Donetsk region also killed four people, regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko said.
There are 76 Russian battalion tactical groups (BTGs) in the Donbas region and in the country’s southeast, a senior US defence department official said on Monday night. Eleven of those groups were added in recent days.
BTGs are typically composed of combined-arms elements, such as air defence, armour, tactical vehicles, artillery, helicopters and logistical support. There are about 22 BTGs north of Ukraine that are likely being resupplied and refitted, the official said in a statement late Monday.
Earlier on Monday, Russia unleashed a barrage of long-range missiles against targets across Ukraine, in what analysts described as a “softening up” exercise ahead of its military push into the east.
Four Russian rockets smashed into the western city of Lviv, killing seven people and injuring at least 11. Three hit military infrastructure. But the fourth appeared to have missed its target and landed in a car repair workshop.
The city, which is close to the Polish border, has become a haven for civilians fleeing the fighting elsewhere. To the Kremlin’s increasing anger, Lviv has also become a major gateway for Nato-supplied weapons.
Zelenskiy has also submitted a filled-out questionnaire in the first step toward obtaining membership in the EU – a desire that has been a source of tension with Moscow for years.
Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement that missiles had wiped out Ukrainian ammunition dumps and other military targets.
A powerful explosion was reported to have rocked Vasylkiv, a town south of Kyiv that is home to a military airbase, according to residents. There was also further deadly shelling in Kharkiv. Over the past four days, 18 people have been killed and 106 injured.
Ukrainian government officials warned Russian war-planes were preparing to drop five-tonne bombs on the Azovstal plant in the besieged city of Mariupol. Ukrainian soldiers have been holding out in tunnels under the factory for seven weeks.
The underground complex is also being used as a shelter by hundreds of civilians including children. They were about to be wiped out, the officials said.
The capture of Mariupol, where Ukraine estimates 21,000 people have been killed, is seen as key, and not just because it would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, seized by Moscow eight years ago.
The US defence official said that if Russian forces succeed in taking full control of Mariupol, that could free up nearly a dozen battalion tactical groups for use in the Donbas.
The first shipments of US military aid as part of a $800m (£615m) package announced by Washington last week arrived at Ukraine’s border on Sunday. Training of Ukrainian personnel on US 155mm howitzers is set to begin in the next several days.
The new phase of the conflict began as the United Nations said the war’s civilian death toll had surpassed 2,000, reaching 2,072 since the invasion began on 24 February. About 4 million Ukrainians have fled the country.
Russia denies targeting civilians in what it calls a special operation to demilitarise Ukraine and eradicate dangerous nationalists. It rejects what Kyiv says is evidence of atrocities, saying Ukraine has staged them to undermine peace talks.
The president’s comments follow a dramatic escalation of attacks by Russia ahead of the long-anticipated operation. Vladimir Putin has declared his intention to seize Donbas, the industrial heartland in the east of the country already partly controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
Zelenskiy made clear that the Ukrainian army would battle any attempted advance by Moscow. “No matter how many Russian troops are driven there, we will fight,” he said. “We will defend ourselves. We will do it every day.”
Control of Donbas would allow Moscow to create a southern corridor to the occupied Crimean peninsula.
US president Joe Biden will on Tuesday hold a call with allies to discuss the Ukraine crisis, including on how to coordinate on holding Russia accountable, the White House said. French president Emmanuel Macron earlier said talks with Putin had stalled after mass killings were discovered in Ukraine.