Russian troops are advancing in eastern Ukraine, shelling key towns and aiming to “destroy everything there”, President Volodymyr Zelensky has said, as Moscow signals it is embarking on a long war against his neighbour.
As the war entered its fourth month on Wednesday, Russian forces relentlessly shelled the industrial city of Severodonetsk while attempting to encircle it, a key objective in recent fighting in the Donbass region.
Zelensky mourned the thousands of Ukrainian men and women who have perished since the start of the Russian invasion while renewing calls for heavy weapons from foreign partners, saying arms for kyiv were “the best investment in the stability of the world”.
Sergiy Gaidai, governor of the eastern Lugansk region, said Severodonetsk was being hammered by airstrikes, rockets, artillery and mortars in a bid to tighten control of the province and push further into Ukraine.
“The situation is very difficult and unfortunately it is only getting worse,” Gaidai said, describing what he called a “large-scale offensive in all directions” in a video on Telegram.
“The Russian army has decided to completely destroy Severodonetsk. They just wipe Severodonetsk off the face of the earth,” he said.
Thousands of troops were sent to capture the Luhansk region, Gaidai said, adding that the shelling of Severodonetsk was so intense that it was too late for its 15,000 civilians to leave.
In Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made it clear that Russia was settling into a long war.
“We will continue the special military operation until all goals are achieved,” he said, using Moscow’s name for the war.
In his daily address to the nation on Tuesday evening, Zelensky described the situation in Donbass as “extremely difficult”.
“All the strength of the Russian army that they still have was thrown there for the offensive,” Zelensky said. “The occupiers want to destroy everything there.”
Providing Ukraine with rocket-propelled grenades, tanks, anti-ship missiles and other weapons is “the best investment” to prevent future Russian aggression, Zelensky said.
“The longer this war lasts, the higher the price of protecting freedom will be, not only in Ukraine, but also in the whole free world.”
“Three months of mass heroism”
Western funds and weapons have helped Ukraine delay its neighbor’s advances in many areas, including the capital kyiv.
Russia is now focused on expanding its gains in eastern Donbass, home to pro-Russian separatists, as well as on the southern coast.
In the village of Yakovlivka, 55-year-old Ukrainian soldier Andriy hid in a ditch as shells fired by the invading Russians hissed.
“Our guys stopped fighting back,” he whispered after glancing up and down the road.
“We don’t want to provoke them, because then the Russians will start shooting at us even harder.”
Speaking to his regional counterparts in the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, Russian defense chief Shoigu blamed his country’s slow progress on a “deliberate” attempt to avoid the civilian casualties.
“We are not rushing to meet deadlines,” Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev added in an interview.
Zelensky dismissed Moscow’s claims, saying Russia suffered heavy losses during the war, including nearly 30,000 troops.
“Three months of war crimes committed by the Russian occupiers. Three months of bombardment, destruction, siege. And three months of mass heroism by the people defending their own land, their country.”
But kyiv says it needs more help.
Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said delays in getting weapons to the frontline had left kyiv “catastrophically short of heavy weapons”.
However, he expected a “turning point” by August, he told news outlet Ukrainska Pravda.
The United States, meanwhile, announced that an exemption allowing Moscow to pay foreign debts with dollars in Russia would end on Wednesday at 04:01 GMT, two days before the deadline for the next debt service payment. country.
“It’s just war”
The Russian Defense Ministry said the waters of the port of Mariupol – a strategic southern city that fell after a devastating siege – had been cleared of mines and operations were underway to “restore port infrastructure”.
But Mayor Vadym Boychenko, speaking in Davos via video link, warned that 100,000 people were without water, food and electricity, and warned that the disease could lead to further deaths.
About 400 kilometers (240 miles) west of Mariupol, the capital of Ukraine’s Kherson region – which bears the same name – appears to have been largely spared the ravages of a war that has left much of the country in ruins.
The region has been fully controlled by Russian forces since the start of the war, and Moscow-backed officials have continued to push for formal annexation – even as locals voice concerns about the future.
“People are very worried,” trolleybus driver Alexander Loginov, 47, told AFP from the cabin of his vehicle during a press trip organized by the Russian Defense Ministry.
But daily life remains marked by uncertainty, as Loginov told AFP of “instability” – notably over the payment of wages as “Ukrainian banks close”.
“To be honest, it’s just war,” Loginov added, using a term that Russia has banned in favor of a “special military operation.”
“A lot of people still don’t understand what happened.”