Russia carries out dozens of attacks in eastern Ukraine

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Russia launched dozens of attacks from Monday to Tuesday in eastern Ukraine, hours after kyiv announced the start of the great “battle for Donbas”, a region in which Moscow is focusing its efforts after almost two months of war.

“We are gradually implementing our plan to liberate the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics,” the self-proclaimed pro-Russian separatist territories in eastern Ukraine, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, accusing Western countries of “prolonging” the conflict by handing over weapons. to Kyiv.

Earlier, his ministry announced that the army had neutralized 13 Ukrainian positions in Donbas, including the key city of Sloviansk, and shelled “60 other military targets”, some on the eastern front line.

A total of 1,260 military targets were hit by missiles and artillery in recent hours, during which Russian forces also destroyed two missile stores and shot down a Ukrainian fighter in eastern regions of the country, it added.

In addition, the ministry issued a warning “to the servicemen of the Ukrainian army”: “Do not try your luck, make the right decision, to end military operations and lay down your arms.”

But the Ukrainian authorities, which on Monday began receiving the latest $800 million in military aid approved by the United States, seem far from meeting Moscow’s demands.

“No matter how many Russian soldiers are brought here, we will fight. We will defend ourselves,” Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelenski had warned the day before, after announcing the start of the battle for Donbas.

This mining region partly controlled by pro-Russian separatists would give Moscow a swath of land from Ukraine’s southern coast to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

The great obstacle in this ambition remains the port city of Mariupol, besieged for weeks, where the last Ukrainian forces entrenched in the vast Azovstal industrial complex received a new ultimatum from Moscow.

The Ministry of Defense proposed a ceasefire starting at noon on Tuesday so that “all units of the Ukrainian army without exception and all foreign mercenaries leave without weapons or ammunition.”

If they do, the Russian army has promised them “they will save their lives,” he said.

The upsurge in bombing in Donbas led the Ukrainian authorities to suspend for the third consecutive day the deployment of safe humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians.

“Today, April 19, unfortunately there is no humanitarian corridor. Intense bombing continues in Donbas,” said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, assuring that “the Russians refuse to open a corridor.”

Despite the absence of these safe evacuation routes, local authorities urged civilians to flee the area where, according to a US defense official, Russia has added eleven groups of tactical battalions out of the 76 deployed in the country.

“Go away!” said the governor of the Lugansk region, Sergei Gaidai, who the day before had pointed to “incessant” fighting in several cities and the loss of the small town of Kreminna, about 50 km from Kramatorsk, the de facto capital of Donbas still under control of kyiv.

“Thousands of inhabitants of Kreminna did not have time to flee and are now hostages of the Russians,” added Gaidai, whose claims about the fall of this city were contradicted by an adviser to the Ukrainian presidency.

In the neighboring region of Donetsk, also in Donbas, the Russians bomb “in the direction of Marinka, Ocheretyne and Avdivka,” said its governor, Pavlo Kirilenko, noting that the situation “is difficult but under control.”

But without corridors, fleeing is impossible for many civilians caught up in the fighting for weeks. “We don’t have any more money, we don’t have gasoline, we can’t leave,” lamented Nadia, a 65-year-old neighbor in the town of Novodruzhesk.

“We are being bombarded from all sides. It is a miracle that we are still alive,” the woman said with a trembling voice.

From that town a dozen kilometers from Kreminna, the Ukrainian forces punished the nearby city of Rubizhne on Monday with artillery and mortars, whose sky appeared dotted with columns of black and white smoke.

Although the focus is in Donbas, Russia has also attacked other parts of the country.

On Monday, deadly bombings were recorded in Kharkov (northeast), the country’s second largest city, and in Lviv, the large western city that had become a refuge for the displaced.

“Today (Monday) we have clearly understood that there are no safe places in Ukraine. It is very dangerous,” a bank employee named Natalia told AFP in that city, where at least seven people died.

The conflict has already caused almost 5 million refugees in other countries and more than 7 million internally displaced persons, according to the United Nations.

The Donbas has been in Moscow’s sights for a long time. The separatist forces have drawn their support since the outbreak of the war against kyiv in 2014, and shortly before launching his invasion on February 24, President Vladimir Putin recognized the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Coinciding with the intensification of the Russian offensive in the east, US President Joe Biden called a meeting this Tuesday with his allies to analyze the situation in Ukraine.

From the European Union, on Monday they condemned the “indiscriminate” bombings against Ukrainian civilians and denounced “particularly intense attacks” in the east, the south and in Kharkov.

In his attempt to get closer to Brussels, Zelenski said on Monday that he hoped to obtain “in a few weeks” the status of a candidate to join the EU, after handing the bloc’s ambassador to Ukraine, Matti Maasikas, two files with the request for accession .

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