The battle for the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine has reached a devastating climax as Russian forces attempt to encircle the two main cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. Though they haven’t succeeded yet, Russia seemed closer than ever to meeting its short-term goal of overrunning the region.
Ukrainian President Zelensky accused the Kremlin of wanting to “destroy” the Donbas region in his overnight speech.
He said: “There were massive air and artillery attacks in Donbas. The aim of the occupying forces here is unchanged, they want to destroy all of Donbas step by step.”
Zelensky again pleaded for the West to accelerate the delivery of heavy weapons to the Ukrainian armed forces.
He added: “We emphasize again and again the acceleration of arms deliveries to Ukraine. What is needed quickly is equality on the battlefield to stop this diabolical armada and push it beyond Ukraine’s borders.”
The comments come as a senior adviser to the president, Oleksiy Arestovych, warned that the conflict had reached a “terrifying climax” as the Russians continue to focus their efforts on the key cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.
He told the BBC: “The threat of a tactical Russian victory is there, but they haven’t done it yet.”
Russia has bombarded the cities with artillery and rocket attacks in recent weeks and has reportedly taken much of Severodonestsk.
The city was a major flashpoint in the Eastern Theater and has been largely taken by Russian forces. However, the Ukrainians held out in some areas.
Civilians reportedly hid in the sprawling Azot chemical plant in a situation that could be reminiscent of the weeks-long siege of the Azov steel plant in Mariupol.
Lysychansk, further south, is probably the next city in Moscow’s sights and is increasingly hit by artillery attacks.
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However, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) predicted that Russian troops would likely encounter stiff resistance as they advanced.
In a Twitter update, It said: “This Russian advance is a clear setback for Ukrainian defenses in the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk area, but Russian forces will likely need further sustained fighting with Ukrainian forces, similar to the block-by-block fighting in Mariupol and Severodonetsk to take Lysychansk.”
Repeating the update, Mr Arestovych said fighting in the cities had slowed down after Ukraine inflicted heavy casualties on Russian troops. He also claimed that the Russians were using conscripts to fight in the region – a claim Russia denies.
He said: “It’s like two boxers wrestling in the 18th round of a fight and barely able to move things forward. This operation started on April 14 and has been going on for almost 80 days.”
The news comes as fighting intensifies on other fronts and behind Russian lines. Shelling was reported in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, while Moscow accused Kiev of using kamikaze drones to attack an oil refinery in Russia, close to the border with Ukraine.
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Refinery officials said in a statement: “As a result of terrorist actions from the western border of the Rostov region, two unmanned aerial vehicles have hit the Novoshakhtinsk technological facilities.”
Images appeared on social media of the aircraft slamming into the refinery.
Near the Russian-occupied city of Kherson, the pro-Russian government accused “Ukrainian saboteurs” of a failed assassination attempt on an official there.
Russian state television said Chernobaevka’s head, Yuri Turulev, was injured in a car bomb attack by Ukrainian partisans.
There have been several reports of partisan activity in the region as Russia has reportedly forced the population to start using the ruble and Russia’s internet infrastructure.