KYIV—Russian forces struck targets across Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region on Tuesday to prepare the path for an expected armoured thrust to try to take more territory as the five-month-old war entered a new phase.
The strikes, reported by the region’s local governor and the Russian military, followed Moscow’s capture of the Ukrainian city of Lysychansk on Sunday, a move that handed it total control of the Luhansk region, one of its main war aims.
Taking full control of Donetsk, the other region in Donbass, the industrialised eastern part of Ukraine that has become the stage of the biggest battle in Europe in generations, is another goal of what Moscow calls its “special military operation.”
Ukrainian forces which retreated from Lysychansk at the weekend took up new defensive lines in Donetsk on Tuesday, according to Serhiy Gaidai, the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk.
In a foretaste of what is likely to follow, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of neighbouring Donetsk, said on TV that his region had been hit overnight.
“Sloviansk and Kramatorsk came under shelling. They are now also the main line of assault for the enemy from the Lyman direction … there is no safe place without shelling in the Donetsk region,” he said.
The Russian defence ministry, which says it does not target residential areas, said it had used what it called high-precision weapons to destroy command centres and artillery in Donetsk, where Ukraine still controls major cities.
President Vladimir Putin has told troops involved in capturing Luhansk who would also be part of any attempt to capture cities in Donetsk, to “rest and recover their military preparedness,” while units in other parts of Ukraine keep fighting.
Since the outset of the conflict, Russia has demanded that Ukraine hand both Luhansk and Donetsk to Moscow-backed separatists, who have declared their independence.
‘Last Victory’ Claim
“This is the last victory for Russia on Ukrainian territory,” Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, claimed in a video posted online.
“These were medium-sized cities. And this took from 4th April until 4th July—that’s 90 days. So many losses.”
Arestovych said besides the battle for Donetsk, Ukraine was hoping to launch counter offensives in the south of the country.
“Taking the cities in the east meant that 60% of Russian forces are now concentrated in the east and it is difficult for them to be redirected to the south,” he claimed.
“And there are no more forces that can be brought in from Russia. They paid a big price for Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.”
Early on Tuesday, Russian rockets hit Mykolaiv, a southern city on the main highway between Kherson and Odesa, the mayor, Oleksandr Senkevych, said.
Zelenskyy said on Monday that despite Ukraine’s withdrawal from Lysychansk, its troops continued to fight.
“The armed forces of Ukraine respond, push back and destroy the offensive potential of the occupiers day after day,” Zelenskyy said in a nightly video message.
“We need to break them. It is a difficult task. It requires time and superhuman efforts. But we have no alternative.”
By Max Hunder and Tom Balmforth