Russia has launched a full-scale ground offensive to take control of Ukraine’s east, according to authorities in Kyiv, with explosions reported all along the front lines and one local official describing the situation as “hell” amid “constant fighting”.
The “Battle for Donbas” began on Monday, according to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, with a “very large part of the entire Russian army now focused on this offensive”.
The Donbas is Ukraine’s primarily Russian-speaking industrial heartland in the east, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for the past eight years. Pro-Russian leaders there have declared two independent republics, which Russia recognised before launching its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
In recent weeks, the Kremlin declared the capture of the Donbas its main goal of the war after its attempt to storm Kyiv failed. After withdrawing from the capital, Russia began regrouping and reinforcing its ground troops in the east for an all-out offensive.
Zelenskyy, in a video address, pledged to fight back, saying: “No matter how many Russian troops are driven there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves. We will do it every day.”
The president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, called the offensive “the second phase of the war” and assured Ukrainians their forces could hold off the attack.
“Believe in our army, it is very strong,” he said.
A Ukrainian military official reported “constant fighting” in several cities in Luhansk and said street battles had begun in Kreminna, making evacuation impossible.
“It’s hell on earth. The offensive has begun, the one we’ve been talking about for weeks,” Serhiy Hadai, the regional military administrator for Luhansk, wrote on Facebook. “There’s constant fighting in Rubizhne and Popasna, fighting in other peaceful cities.”