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Russia pours in more troops and presses the attack to the east

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said Moscow forces bombed many Ukrainian military sites, including troop concentrations and missile warhead storage depots, in or near several towns or villages. These claims could not be independently verified.

In what both sides have described as a new phase of the war, the Russian assault began on Monday along a front stretching more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) from northeastern Ukraine to southeast of the country. The Ukrainian military said Russian forces tried to “break through our defenses along almost the entire front line”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Russian military was throwing everything it had into the battle, with most of its combat-ready forces now concentrated in Ukraine and just across the Russian border.

“They pushed almost everyone and everything capable of fighting us against Ukraine,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation.

Despite Russian claims that they only strike military sites, they continue to target residential areas and kill civilians, he said.

“The Russian army in this war will forever go down in world history as the most barbaric and inhumane army in the world,” Zelenskyy said.

A few weeks ago, after Russia’s failed attempt to take kyiv, the Kremlin said its main objective was the capture of the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbass, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years.

A Russian victory in the Donbass would deprive Ukraine of the industrial assets concentrated there, including mines, metallurgical plants and heavy equipment factories.

A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessments of the war, said the Russians had added two more combat units, known as battalion battle groups, in Ukraine in the previous 24 hours. This brought the total number of units in the country to 78, all located in the south and east, from 65 last week, the official said.

That would translate to about 55,000 to 62,000 troops, from what the Pentagon said at the start of the war, that was the typical strength of a unit of 700 to 800 troops. But accurately determining Russia’s combat capability at this stage is difficult.

A European official, also speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said Russia also had 10,000 to 20,000 foreign fighters in Donbass. According to the official, it is a mixture of mercenaries from the private Russian Wagner Group and Russian proxy fighters from Syria and Libya.

While Ukraine described Monday’s attacks as the start of the dreaded offensive in the east, some observers noted that an escalation had been underway there for some time and wondered if it it was really the beginning of a new offensive.

The US official said the offensive in Donbass started in a limited way, mainly in an area southwest of the city of Donetsk and south of Izyum.

Justin Crump, a former British tank commander now with strategic consultancy Sibylline, said the Ukrainian comments could, in part, be an attempt to persuade allies to send in more weapons.

“What they’re trying to do by positioning this, I think, is … focus people’s minds and efforts saying, ‘Look, the conflict started in Donbas,'” Crump said. “Part of it puts pressure on NATO and EU suppliers to say, ‘Guys, we’re starting to fight now. We need it now.

European and American weapons played a key role in enabling the outnumbered Ukrainians to repel the Russians. The Dutch Prime Minister told Zelenskyy on Tuesday that the Netherlands would send “heavier equipment”, including armored vehicles.

Associated Press reporters in Kharkiv said at least four people were killed and three injured in a Russian attack on a residential area of ​​the city. The attack came as residents tried to maintain a sense of normalcy, with city workers planting spring flowers in public spaces.

An explosion also rocked Kramatorsk, killing at least one person and injuring three, according to AP reporters at the scene.

In Bashtanka, an unknown number of people were injured when Russian forces shelled the hospital, destroying the reception area and the dialysis unit, regional council head Hanna Zamazeeva said on Facebook. Bashtanka is about 70 kilometers (40 miles) north of Mykolaiv, a southern city regularly bombed by the Russians.

Eyewitness accounts and reports from officials gave an overview of the extent of the Russian advance. But independent reporting in parts of Donbass held by Russian forces and separatists is very limited, making it difficult to know what is happening in many places on the ground.

Military experts said the Russians’ objective was to encircle Ukrainian troops from the north, south and east.

The key to the campaign is the capture of Mariupol, the now devastated city in Donbass which the Russians have besieged since the early days of the war. Taking Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, seized from Ukraine in 2014.

It would also free up Russian troops to move elsewhere in the Donbass.

A few thousand Ukrainian soldiers, according to the Russians’ estimate, remained locked in a sprawling ironworks in Mariupol, representing what was believed to be the city’s last major pocket of resistance.

On Tuesday, Russia issued a new ultimatum to Ukrainian defenders to surrender, saying those who come out would “keep their lives”, and said a ceasefire was being declared in the region to that the fighters can leave the factory.

The Ukrainians ignored these previous offers and there was no immediate confirmation of a ceasefire.

Kremlin-backed Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov, whose forces took part in the fighting in Mariupol, said on a messaging app that Russian forces would eliminate Ukrainian resistance within hours and take full control of the country. steelworks on Tuesday. Kadyrov is known for his bluster and has predicted the downfall of the city many times in the past.

Zelenskyy said the situation in Mariupol remains “as difficult as possible”, with the Russian military blocking all attempts to establish humanitarian corridors out of the city.

He said the Kremlin did not respond to a proposal to exchange Viktor Medvedchuk, the imprisoned leader of a pro-Russian party, for Mariupol defenders.