Ukrainian forces dig in ahead of expected Russian onslaught

Ukrainian Forces Dig In Ahead Of Expected Russian Onslaught Ukrainian Forces Dig In Ahead Of Expected Russian Onslaught
Volodymyr Zelensky, © AP/Press Association Images
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By Adam Schreck and Cara Anna, Associated Press

Ukrainian forces dug in and Russia’s military lined up more firepower on Sunday ahead of an expected showdown in eastern Ukraine that could become a decisive period in a war that has flattened cities, killed untold thousands and isolated Moscow economically and politically.

Experts say a full-scale offensive in the east could start within days, though questions remained about the ability of Russia’s depleted and demoralised forces to conquer much ground after Ukraine’s inspired defenders repelled their push to capture the capital, Kyiv.

The Ministry of Defence reported on Sunday that Russia’s armed forces were trying to compensate for mounting casualties by boosting troop numbers with personnel who had been discharged from service since 2012.

Ukraine has the bulk of its military forces in the east: estimates vary, but they are believed to number in the tens of thousands.


This satellite image shows an overview of a convoy of armoured vehicles and trucks moving south, around Velykyi Burluk, east of Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)

Russia-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine since 2014 and control parts of the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking, industrial region.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, its troops have bombarded government-held territory. The anticipated offensive in the east and south could end up excising a vast swath of land from Ukraine.

On Sunday, Russian forces shelled Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the north east and sent reinforcements toward Izyum to the south east in attempts to break Ukraine’s defences, the Ukrainian military command said. The Russians also kept up their siege of Mariupol, a key southern port that has been under attack and surrounded for nearly one and a half months.

A Russian Defence Ministry spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said Russia’s military used air-launched missiles to hit Ukraine’s S-300 air defence missile systems in the southern Mykolaiv region and at an air base in Chuhuiv, a city not far from Kharkiv.


Russia’s sea-launched cruise missiles also destroyed the headquarters of a Ukrainian military unit stationed farther west in the Dnipro region, Konashenkov said. Neither the Ukrainian nor the Russian military claims could be independently verified.


Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, appealed for stronger military and political support from the West, including Nato members that have funnelled weapons and military equipment to Ukraine since Russia invaded but denied some requests for fear of getting drawn into the war.

In a late night video message, Zelensky argued that more than Ukraine’s future was at stake: Russia’s aggression “was not intended to be limited to Ukraine alone” and the “entire European project is a target,” he said.

“That is why it is not just the moral duty of all democracies, all the forces of Europe, to support Ukraine’s desire for peace,” Zelensky said. “This is, in fact, a strategy of defence for every civilised state.”

Zelensky thanked the president of the European Union’s executive commission and Canada’s prime minister for a global fundraising event Saturday that brought in more than 10 billion euros (£8.35 billion) to help Ukrainians who have fled the war.

A man with a bicycle walks in front of a destroyed apartment building in the town of Borodyanka, which had been occupied by Russian forces for weeks (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

The UN refugee agency reported on Sunday that more than 4.5 million people have left the country since the invasion started Europe’s worst ground conflict since the Second World War. As of Friday night, the UN’s human rights commissioner had confirmed 1,766 civilian deaths from more than six weeks of fighting – – 630 of them in the Donbas – while acknowledging the toll was likely a vast undercount.


Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian forces of committing war crimes against thousands of civilians during the invasion. The alleged crimes took place during airstrikes on hospitals, a missile attack that killed 52 people at a train station in eastern Ukraine on Friday and as Russian soldiers withdrew from the outskirts of Kyiv.

Zelensky said that when he and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke by phone on Sunday, “we emphasised that all perpetrators of war crimes must be identified and punished”.

Ukraine has blamed Russia for alleged atrocities against civilians in Bucha and other towns outside the capital where hundreds of bodies, many with their hands bound and signs of torture, were found after the Russian troops retreated. Russia has denied engaging in war crimes and falsely claimed that the scenes in Bucha were staged.

In Mariupol, Russia was deploying Chechen fighters, reputed to be particularly fierce. Capturing the city on the sea of Azov would give Russia a land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine eight years ago.

Residents have lacked food, water and electricity since Russian forces surrounded the city, making evacuations hard and supplying emergency relief even harder.

Zelensky has said he expects more evidence of atrocities to be found once Mariupol no longer is blockaded; Ukrainian authorities think an airstrike on a theatre where civilians were sheltering killed hundreds.

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