LONDON — Russian forces started a brutal offensive in eastern Ukraine this week and have already seized what is believed to be their first Ukrainian city as part of their “next phase” of the war, which is nearing its third month. It comes as Russia called on Kyiv forces to surrender the final pocket of resistance in Mariupol as the port city remains on the brink of collapse.
‘Battle for Donbas’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday that Russian forces had begun their long-expected offensive in a bid to take control of the country’s eastern region. “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 an address late Monday night. The Ukrainian president added that a “significant part of the entire Russian army is now concentrated on this offensive.” Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s chief of staff, called the latest offensive the “second phase of the war.” Zelensky has said he’s not willing to give up eastern territory in order to end the war.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said Russian troops are focusing their efforts to take full control of the Donbas area. “The occupiers made an attempt to break through our defenses along nearly the entire frontline,” the General Staff said in a statement on Tuesday. Taking control of Donbas would mean that Russia would have a southern land corridor to the annexed Crimean Peninsula, which has been occupied by Kremlin forces since 2014.
First Ukrainian city seized in new offensive
Russian forces have taken control of the eastern city of Kreminna, the regional governor said Tuesday. Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of Luhansk, said in a briefing that Kyiv forces had left the city. “Kreminna is under the control of the ‘Orcs’ [Russians]. They have entered the city,” he said. “Our defenders had to withdraw. They have entrenched themselves in new positions and continue to fight the Russian army.” Gaidai added that Kremlin-led troops had attacked the city “from all sides.” Regarding the death toll from fighting, he said: “It is impossible to calculate the number of dead among the civilian population. We have official statistics — about 200 dead — but in reality there are many more.” It is believed to be the first city captured in Russia’s new offensive.
Russian officials call on troops in Mariupol to surrender steel plant
Russia’s Defense Ministry called on all troops in the besieged city of Mariupol to surrender the Azovstal steel plant by noon on Tuesday. It is believed that Azovstal is the last major pocket of resistance in the city. “All who lay down their arms are guaranteed to remain alive,” the Kremlin’s Defense Ministry said. Moscow estimates that 400 foreign mercenaries and 2,500 Ukrainian troops are in the plant. Footage released from the City Council appeared to show the aftermath of an airstrike on the plant.
Police estimate that at least 1,000 civilians, including children, are sheltering in the building. Mykhailo Vershynin, chief of Mariupol patrol police, told CNN that Azovstal had “quite large reserves” of much-needed food and water. Meanwhile, Denys Prokopenko, the commander of the Ukrainian National Guard’s Azov Regiment, alleged that Russia had been dropping “bunker-buster” bombs on the plant. These types of bombs are designed to penetrate strong defenses and to hit targets that are underground.
U.S. military assistance arrives in Ukraine
The first shipments of a new U.S. military aid package have arrived in Ukraine, a senior Pentagon official confirmed on Monday. On April 13, the Biden administration announced it had authorized an additional $800 million for weapons and ammunition for Ukraine. “There have been four flights from the United States arriving into the theater just yesterday,” the senior defense official said at a briefing. A fifth flight is due to arrive from the U.S. soon.
The assistance includes 40,000 artillery rounds, 11 Mi-17 helicopters and 18 155 mm howitzers. As it is the first time Ukrainian soldiers will have come into contact with a howitzer, the U.S. military is expected to start training them in the coming days, a senior defense official said. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the first shipment had arrived in Ukraine just 48 hours after President Biden authorized the assistance, which he noted was at an “unprecedented speed.”
Cover thumbnail photo: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters