Eastern Offensive Begins in Ukraine

Russian forces have launched a renewed offensive in eastern Ukraine, after failing to capture Kyiv. The new Russian assault stretches along almost the entire frontline in the eastern regions of Donbas and Khrakiv, covering about 480 kilometres.

Major cities including Mikolayiv and Kharkiv have been barraged, with several people killed in attacks on residential areas. The governor of Khrakiv province, Oleg Sinegubov, reported five people dead and 17 wounded in the past 24 hours. Ukraine’s top security official Oleksiy Danilov reported Russian forces had broken through the front at only two points.

In the major Donbas regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, at least eight people have been killed and 13 wounded in frontline villages. The Luhansk governor described the situation as “hell”, with some cities facing constant fighting. Ukrainian media have also reported shelling in the frontline cities of Marinka, Sloviansk, and Kramatorsk.

Ukrainian President Zelensky has said, “Now we can state that the Russian forces have started the battle for the Donbas that they have been getting ready for a long time.”

In preparation for this week’s offensive, the Kremlin ordered hundreds of missile attacks on targets including fuel depots, warehouses, other infrastructure. These barrages have mostly been focused in the East, including in the city of Lviv, which until now was relatively unscarred. Seven people were killed in a recent attack – Lviv’s first fatalities since the beginning of the war.  

Mariupol

Russian forces seem to be closing in on a victory in the southeastern port city of Mariupol. Mariupol has been under siege since the early days of the invasion, and has become one of the heaviest hit areas in the war.

Tens of thousands of citizens remain trapped in the city without access to food or water, and bodies are littered on the streets. Ukrainian officials claim as many as 20,000 Mariupol residents have died.

Ukrainian troops in the city are outnumbered, but are defying demands to lay down weapons. Kyiv officials believe the Kremlin is preparing to drop five-tonne bombs on the Azovstal steel plant where last defenders are sheltering.

Why is Mariupol so important? Because capturing the city would allow Putin to link the region to occupied Crimea. Mariupol is the second-largest city in the Russian-backed separatist stronghold of Donetsk. So, linking it to Crimea would create a secure belt of pro-Kremlin Ukraine on the country’s eastern flank.

The offensive comes in the middle of the most important week in the Orthodox year ahead of Easter on Sunday. Both Ukraine and Russia house large Orthodox Christian populations.

Defence strategists say Russia is learning from its failures in Kyiv with its recent movements. A senior Pentagon official, speaking anonymously to the Washington Post, said “They are moving in heavy artillery, they are moving in command-and-control enablers, they are moving in aviation — particularly rotary aviation support…It appears they are trying to learn from the lessons of the north, where they didn’t have proper sustainment capabilities.”

Despite its setbacks in the north, Russian forces still vastly outnumber Ukraine’s, and are better armed. But Zelensky has faith that although the dreaded eastern offensive has begun en masse, “no matter how many Russian troops they send there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves.”

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