Moscow/Kyiv, Apr 18 (EFE).- The Russian army has launched its “final” offensive in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine three weeks after withdrawing its forces from the area to the north of Kyiv, but it is also continuing its bombardment of other parts of the country, including Lviv, where seven civilians were reported killed in a cruise missile strike.
“During the night a big offensive took place. The situation has changed radically,” said Serhiy Gayday, the governor of the Lugansk region, on Telegram.
In addition, Russian troops raised their country’s tricolor flag on the City Hall building in the port of Berdiansk as they continue trying to gain control of more territory and create a land corridor along the Sea of Azov coastline between Russia proper and the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
Russia has used the past three weeks to regroup and resupply its forces, including deploying reinforcements, and that effort is now almost completed, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said.
The Kremlin seems to have decided to accelerate its military operations in eastern Ukraine, reportedly upping the number of its air attacks by 50 percent.
“We can report that the offensive has begun,” added Gayday, who said shortly thereafter that “the invaders took Kreminna.”
Controlling that town of 20,000 residents – prior to the war, at least – will enable Russian troops to attack the Ukrainian rearguard of the strategic city of Severodonetsk, a Ukrainian bastion in Lugansk.
The Russian army’s objective is to take Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, where some 10,000 Ukrainian troops are said to be deployed, after which they could advance toward the Donetsk region in the direction of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
According to the Ukrainian military administration, the Russians have also pounded towns like Vugledar and Marinka with missile strikes, these cities being near the line of separation of forces, which runs through the outskirts of the city of Donetsk.
Meanwhile, at least 1,000 civilians, including women and children, from the besieged port city of Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, have taken refuge in the installations of the Azovstal steelworks plant, a metallurgical factory complex build in the 1930s.
According to Ukrainian Deputy Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, those civilians “are living in terrible conditions, without medications, food or water.”
The former minister said that the Russians “to cover their crimes,” are using the civilian population that remains in Mariupol to dig through the ruins, collect bodies and dig mass graves.
“The people are working for food,” which they can obtain from the Russian army, said Avakov, adding that the invaders are forcing local residents to act as “combatants and are intentionally sending them to firing positions, where people can die.”
In that regard, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Moscow of “wanting to erase from the face of the earth” all the cities in the Donbas, “all that which brought renown to that industrial region.”
The Ukrainian president said Monday in his daily video address that “We can now say that Russian troops have begun the battle for Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time. A very large part of the entire Russian army is now focused on this offensive.”
“No matter how many Russian soldiers are driven there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves. We will do this every day. We will not give away anything Ukrainian,” he added.
According to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, another of the Kremlin’s objectives in the Donbas is to guarantee the stability of the land corridor between that zone and the Crimea.
Russian public television on Monday showed images of how Russian soldiers raised their country’s flag over the Berdiansk City Hall, where they had also removed the shield of the Ukrainian state from its facade.
Zelenskyy went on to denounce Russian actions in the region, saying that the invading forces are kidnapping local officials, blackmailing teachers, stealing money allocated for retirement pensions and blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid.
“Sabotage the orders of the occupiers. Don’t cooperate with them. Protest. We have to resist so that Russia isn’t able to disfigure the life of more cities in Ukraine, as it has done in Donetsk and Lugansk,” the president said, directing his words at residents in the occupied zones.