The expected major Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine started on Tuesday. Moscow has announced that it wants to militarily “liberate” the Donbass, accusing the West of “prolonging” the conflict by supplying arms to Kiev.
Omar Ouahmane, one of Radio France’s special envoys, interviewed on Tuesday in the Forum program, said Ukrainian troops are still resisting “relentlessly”. The journalist is in Kramatorsk. The capital of the Ukrainian city of Donbass is spared for the time being, but the fighting is approaching. The city is in the sights of the Russian troops.
The struggle is unequal as the pro-Russian separatists can count on the support of the world’s second military force. According to the journalist, a few days ago, near the demarcation line between the Ukrainian-controlled area and the separatist area, the Donbass campaign began with heavy bombing, followed by a lightning offensive. The aim of the operation is to take the region “in a pincer movement”, as in Mariupol.
>> Listen to Omar Ouahmane’s interview in Forum:
The Russian army has already taken a small town in the Luhansk region, the first since the outbreak of the “Battle of Donbass,” Ukrainian authorities announced on Tuesday. Kreminna, which had a population of 18,000 before the war, fell to Russian troops after the withdrawal of Ukrainian soldiers defending it, the governor of the Luhansk region said.
At least three people were killed and 21 others injured in new Russian bombing raids on Kharkiv, a major city in northeast Ukraine, on Tuesday, local authorities said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it carried out dozens of airstrikes and missiles overnight on military installations near Sloviansk (Donetsk region), Chervona Polyana (Lugansk) and Balakliia (Kharkiv).
At least eight civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions on Monday, according to local Ukrainian authorities. They said four people had died trying to flee the city of Kreminna.
A humanitarian corridor could not be set up on Tuesday for the evacuation of civilians from combat zones across the country, Kiev announced for the third consecutive day.
Artillery fire and land maneuvers
According to a French military source, the fighting has entered a “battlefield preparation” phase. She spoke of “intensive artillery fire on the Ukrainian front lines prior to ground maneuvers”, as well as “deep strikes to disrupt Ukrainian logistical lines”.
According to the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW), “Russian forces carried out large-scale attacks targeting” [les villes de] Ruijné, Popasna and Marinka” on Monday.
“Multiple reports of poor Russian morale and constant logistical challenges indicate that the firepower of Russian units in eastern Ukraine is only a fraction of their on-paper strength,” added the ISW. The institute foresees difficulties for the Kremlin’s armed forces, such as around Kiev in March.
Ukrainian soldiers still holed up in Mariupol
The Ukrainian port city of Mariupol is under siege and still the scene of street fighting, the Ukrainian governor of the region said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday.
“There is fighting in Mariupol. It is street fighting and not only with small arms, but also with tank battles in the streets of the city,” said Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region. This information was not verifiable from an independent source.
The Russian army has promised to “save lives” to Ukrainian fighters from Mariupol who still occupy the Azovstal industrial estate if they surrender. The fall of the city would allow the Russians to consolidate their territorial gains on the coast along the Sea of Azov by linking the Donbass region, which is partially controlled by their supporters, to Crimea.
A strategic decision that could take place in the coming days, according to a European representative. On condition of anonymity, he warned that the devastation could be greater than in Boutcha, where the Russian soldiers were accused of abuses. What Moscow refutes.
>> How to collect information about Donbass? Also listen to the interview of Alexander Query, reporter for the media “the Kiev Independent”: