Russian forces expand Donbass offensive and bear heavy losses

Kyiv, Ukraine – Russian forces were pressing to encircle two cities in eastern Ukraine On Wednesday, part of an all-out offensive to seize the Donbass region, which is making progress but at a cost to Moscow.

The fighting centered around two cities on both sides of the Siverskyi Donets, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. The two cities are among the eastern parts of Donbass still controlled by Ukrainian forces.

Speaking to Ukrainian television on Wednesday morning, Serhiy Heyday, governor of Luhansk Province, where both cities are located, said the situation is for Ukrainian forces. In Severodonetsk It was awesome.

“The city is being destroyed,” said Mr. Hayday. Yesterday, fights broke out on the outskirts of the city. Our youth are sticking, but [Russian President Vladimir] Putin set a goal for his army to capture the Luhansk region, no matter the cost. ”

In another television interview, he said that the bombing of Severodonetsk was so violent that the city could soon be reduced to rubble.

Russia’s focus on Severodonetsk, a city of 100,000 people, shows how much its ambitions have declined since World War II. start of war.

Pro-Russian forces in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, on Tuesday.


Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters

Shelling on Wednesday hit a village north of Kharkiv recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces.


Dimitar Delkov/AFP/Getty Images

In the first weeks of the invasion, Russian forces pressed for control of Kyiv and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s two largest cities. But Kyiv never fell, and now Kharkiv is back under Ukrainian control. Kharkiv reopened the subway system earlier this week, after pushing Russian forces largely out of artillery range. Russia is now focused on Donbass, the industrial region on Ukraine’s eastern edge, where fighting has been going on since 2014.

Russian forces are making progress in the Donbass. Ukrainian military units withdrew from Svetlodarsk, another Donbass city, and earlier this week Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said up to 100 Ukrainian soldiers could be killed each day in the battle for the region.

But Russia is paying a heavy price for its gains. The Kremlin is sending units from southern Ukraine to fight in the Donbass, according to Ukrainian officials, and losing so many men that the Ukrainian resistance has continued may eventually force it to change strategies again.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday morning that nine attacks were repelled in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which together make up Donbass. The ministry said dozens of Russian vehicles were destroyed, including three tanks.

Mr. Haiday said the capture of Severodonetsk would be critical to Ukraine’s efforts to stem any further Russian advance, adding that the heavy losses would eventually force Moscow to moderate the offensive.

“They are no more bulletproof than anyone else,” he said of the Russian soldiers. “If they don’t succeed during this week – by Saturday, Sunday – they will be tired, and for us at least things will be settled.”

Today in Russia, carrying a book “War and Peace” or a piece of paper with printed asterisks can lead to arrests. The Wall Street Journal examines the extent to which the Kremlin will restrict free speech and control the narrative of the war in Ukraine. Photos: Maxim Saleh, Sota via The Associated Press, Konstantin Goldman

at A video was posted on Twitter Early on Wednesday, fighters claiming to be from the Donetsk People’s Republic, a pro-Russian breakaway region, said they had already suffered heavy losses, and did not want to fight for Russia in Luhansk, having already fought to capture the port of Mariupol. A city on the Sea of ​​Azov, adjacent to the Black Sea.

“We refuse to go to the massacre,” one of the fighters said in the video. “We don’t want to be cannon fodder.”

As Moscow seeks to raise morale and replenish its manpower for its offensive, Mr. Putin visited the wounded soldiers In a Moscow hospital, his first known visit since the start of the war, the Russian parliament adopted a bill raising age limits for joining the army.

Elsewhere on Wednesday morning, four rockets landed on the outskirts of the area Ukrainian city of Zaporizhizhiawhich has remained relatively safe since the invasion began, even after the surrounding areas came under Russian control. Local Ukrainian officials said at least one person was killed in the attack. Moscow said this week that it would focus on expanding its occupation of southeastern Ukraine.

Putin signed a decree on Wednesday to enable residents of occupied areas of Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions in southern Ukraine to apply for a Russian passports. An area of ​​southern Ukraine, including almost all of the Kherson region and the majority of the Zaporizhzhya region, was under Russian military rule Since early March. Russia has already distributed passports to residents of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and a similar area in the Luhansk region.

As the fighting continues, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said Moscow is ready to consider a possible prisoner exchange with Kyiv, but only after the end of legal proceedings against Ukrainian prisoners.

“We will look into all matters as soon as the surrender is convicted and judged, and then there may be some further steps,” Mr. Rudenko said Wednesday in comments carried by Russian state media. “Before that, talk of an exchange is premature.”

A possible trade-off could include Vadim Shishimarin, a Russian soldier recently convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in First war crimes trial in Ukraine Since the invasion began in February.

Mr. Rudenko’s comments come just days after the Russian Defense Ministry announced that a group of 531 Ukrainian soldiers, the last battalion to withstand a Russian blockade of an industrial complex in Mariupol, surrendered. In all, 2,439 soldiers surrendered to Russian forces in Azovstal steel plantRussia said.

Speaking via video conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday morning, Mr. Zelensky said that Ukraine would continue to fight until it regained all the territory seized from it, even the land lost in 2014, the year Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday via video link.


Fabrice Cofferini/AFP/Getty Images

Mr. Zelensky said he does not believe Mr. Putin is fully aware of what is going on in Ukraine and only when he “understands reality” can there be a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that Putin is in full control of the events in Ukraine. In March, the presidential spokesperson said that it was Washington that lacked real information about Mr. Putin and the Kremlin, and this misunderstanding could lead to “wrong decisions, careless decisions with very serious consequences.”

Meanwhile, European leaders are looking for ways to export Ukraine’s grain supply, which has been trapped in the country, leading to bread shortages in countries like Egypt.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Poland is pushing the United States and the European Union to help rapidly expand rail infrastructure needed for export. Grain harvest in Ukraine loomscircumventing the strangling of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres seeks a high-stakes deal With Russia, Turkey and other countries to open Ukrainian food exports to world markets and avoid it Possible global food shortage.

Humanitarian aid was distributed in Mochon, outside Kyiv, on Tuesday.


Alexei Fuhrman / Getty Images

Mr. Rudenko, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, said that Russia stands ready to establish a humanitarian corridor that will provide safe passage for ships transporting foodstuffs from Ukrainian ports, but only if some sanctions are lifted.

“Solving the food problem requires a comprehensive approach, including the lifting of sanctions that have been imposed on Russian exports and financial transactions,” Mr. Rudenko said.

Mr. Rudenko said that Moscow is in contact with the United Nations on this issue. However, he did not explain how a possible passage would work in practice, and seemed to rule out the involvement of Western ships, saying “this would seriously aggravate the situation in the Black Sea region.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stressed the importance of finding a way to ease the Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain shipments to avoid an international food catastrophe, but also warned against concluding an agreement with Moscow.

“We cannot allow the agricultural cycle to be disrupted in Ukraine because it could mean a multi-year global food crisis,” Mr. Kuleba said on Wednesday. “But in the end, the problem is that you can’t trust Russia even when they sign a paper that guarantees safe passage.”

Russia said it opened Mariupol port. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told the official RIA news agency that the port and the sea around it had been cleared of mines before the opening of the so-called humanitarian corridor for foreign ships on Wednesday. The report said five foreign ships sailed from the port using a two-nautical-mile lane.

A destroyed building in Kramatorsk, in the Donbass region of Ukraine, on Wednesday.


Aris Messines/AFP/Getty Images

write to Ian Lovett at [email protected]

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