Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine has begun, says Zelenskyy

LVIV, Ukraine — Russia has launched its dreaded full-scale offensive to take control of Eastern UkraineUkrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Monday.

“Now we can already say that Russian troops have started the battle for Donbass, for which they have been preparing for a long time,” he said in a video address. Zelenskyy said that a “significant part of the entire Russian army is now focused on this offensive”.

Donbas is the industrial heartland of mostly Russian-speaking Ukraine to the east, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years and have declared two independent republics recognized by Russia.

In recent weeks, the Kremlin has declared that the capture of Donbass is its main objective of the war after his failed attempt to storm kyiv.

“No matter how many Russian soldiers are taken there, we will fight,” Zelenskyy promised. “We will defend ourselves. We will do it every day.

Zelenskyy’s announcement came as Russia shelled the western city of Lviv and numerous other targets across Ukraine in what appeared to be an intensified attempt to crush the country’s defences. At the same time, the Kremlin continued to build up its forces in the east.

At least seven people are believed to have been killed in missile strikes on Lviv, a city near the Polish border that has seen only sporadic attacks for nearly two months of war and has become a haven for civilians fleeing fighting elsewhere . To the growing anger of the Kremlin, Lviv has also become a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons.

In other developments, a few thousand Ukrainian troops, according to Russia’s estimate, remained locked in a gigantic steelworks in Mariupol, the last known pocket of resistance in the devastated southern port city.

And Zelenskyy submitted a completed questionnaire in the first step towards joining the European Union – a desire that has been a source of tension with Moscow for years.

The Russian attack on Lviv hit three military facilities and a car shop, according to the region’s governor, Maksym Kozytskyy. He said among the injured was a child.

A Lviv hotel housing Ukrainians who had fled fighting in other parts of the country was also badly damaged, Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said. The city saw its population swell with old people, mothers and children trying to escape the war.

“The nightmare of war caught up with us even in Lviv,” said Lyudmila Turchak, who fled the eastern city of Kharkiv with two children. “There is no longer anywhere in Ukraine where we can feel safe.”

Lviv, the largest city and an important transportation hub in western Ukraineis about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from NATO member Poland.

Russia has complained loudly about the growing flow of Western weapons to Ukraine and warned that such aid could have consequences. In Russian state media, some presenters claimed the supplies amounted to direct Western engagement in the fight against Russia.

A powerful blast also rocked Vasylkiv, a town south of the capital of kyiv that is home to an air base, residents said. It was not immediately clear what had been hit.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, was hit by a bombardment that killed at least three people, according to Associated Press journalists on the spot. One of the dead was a woman who appeared to be going out to fetch water in the rain. She was found with a can of water and an umbrella by her side.

Military analysts say Russia was increasing its strikes against arms factories, railways and other infrastructure ahead of its assault on Donbass.

Moscow said its missiles hit more than 20 military targets in eastern and central Ukraine over the past day, including ammunition depots, command headquarters and groups of troops and vehicles .

He also reported that his artillery hit 315 additional Ukrainian targets and that fighter jets carried out 108 strikes against troops and military equipment. The claims could not be independently verified.

General Richard Dannatt, the former head of the British army, told Sky News that Russia was carrying out a “softening up” campaign ahead of the Donbass offensive.

A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss Pentagon assessments on the war, said there were now 76 Russian combat units, known as battalion battle groups, in eastern and southern Ukraine, up from 65 last week.

That could translate to around 50,000 to 60,000 troops, based on what the Pentagon said at the start of the war, a typical unit strength of 700 to 800 troops, but the numbers are hard to pin down at this point. battle stage.

The official also said that four American cargo flights arrived in Europe on Sunday with a first delivery of weapons and other materials for Ukraine as part of an $800 million package announced by Washington last week. And training of Ukrainian personnel on US 155mm howitzers is expected to begin in the coming days.

Taking Mariupol, where Ukraine estimates 21,000 people were killed, is seen as essential, and not just because it would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and complete a land bridge between Russia and the peninsula of Crimea, seized by Moscow eight years ago.

The US defense official said if Russian forces succeed in taking full control of Mariupol, it could free up nearly a dozen battalion tactical groups for use elsewhere in Donbass.

Associated Press reporters Nico Maounis and Philip Crowther in Lviv, Ukraine, Adam Schreck in Vasylkiv, Ukraine, and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report, as did other AP staff in the world.

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