President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and a senior defence official issued dire accounts of Russian forces shelling and advancing in Ukraine’s eastern province of Donetsk, the main focal point of the 11-month-long war.
Fierce fighting was unabated in eastern Ukraine, where Russian troops are trying to gain ground near the strategic logistics hub of Lyman, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said on Wednesday evening.
Bakhmut town and 10 communities around it came under Russian artillery and tank fire, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement on Wednesday night. Bakhmut has suffered relentless bombardment for months by Russian troops.
Separately, Avdiivka, another major target, and the nearby contested town of Maryinka and other settlements were also hit, the statement said.
“A definite increase has been noted in the offensive operations of the occupiers on the front in the east of our country. The situation has become tougher,” Zelenskiy said in a Wednesday evening video address.
The Russian forces were trying to make gains that they could show on the anniversary of their Feb 24, 2022 invasion, Zelenskiy said.
At least three people were killed and 20 wounded on Wednesday night after a Russian rocket strike destroyed a residential building in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, officials said.
“People are screaming under the rubble. Another terrorist act by Russia. The only way to stop it and save people’s lives is more weapons for Ukraine,” Ukrainian government minister Mykhailo Fedorov wrote on Twitter.
The United States and other Western allies of Ukraine have provided it a steady steam of weaponry, most recently also pledging modern battle tanks and long-range missiles.
Regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko posted a picture that appeared to show a four-storey building in Kramatorsk that had suffered major damage. Radio Free Europe’s Ukrainian outlet published a brief video clip that showed rescuers working under floodlights as snow fell on the rubble.
At least 44 people were killed in January when a Russian missile hit an apartment building in the city of Dnipro. In April 2022, Ukraine said 57 people died when a Russian missile hit the train station in Kramatorsk. Moscow denied responsibility, saying the missile was Ukrainian.
Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian forces of war crimes and targeting civilians, charges Russia rejects.
After a failed advance on the capital Kyiv early in the campaign, Russia said it was reorienting its military drive to secure control of the industrial eastern region known as the Donbas.
It is made up of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, which were declared annexed by Moscow in September following sham referendums denounced by most countries. Moscow-aligned fighters seized large areas of both in 2014, and in recent months after a slow advance south and east, Russian forces control most of Luhansk region. Local proxies say Russian forces have captured about half of Donetsk region.
“Fierce fighting rages in the east. The enemy is trying to expand the area of its offensive in the Lyman sector,” the deputy minister Mylar said on the Telegram messaging app. “It is making powerful attempts to break through our defences.”
Ukrainian troops drove Russian forces out of Lyman in October, a significant setback for a military with more troops and weapons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered what he called a “special military operation” to protect Russian security and Russian speakers nearly a year ago. The invasion has killed thousands of civilians, uprooted millions and reduced cities to rubble.
More recently Russia has characterized the conflict as confronting what it says is an aggressive and expansionist U.S.-led NATO military alliance. Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to grab territory.
A former commander of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group who fled to Norway in January told Reuters he wanted to apologise for fighting in Ukraine. The group has been locked in battle in Donetsk region.
“Many consider me to be a scoundrel, a criminal, a murderer,” Andrei Medvedev, 26, said in an interview. “First of all, repeatedly, and again, I would like to apologise, and although I don’t know how it would be received, I want to say I’m sorry.”
Medvedev said he wanted to speak out about his experiences so “the perpetrators are punished” for their crimes in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Zelenskiy is cracking down on corruption in his government, a campaign that appears to reflect determination to demonstrate that it can be a steward of billions of dollars in Western aid and shed a reputation for endemic graft.
Security services searched the home of one of Ukraine’s most influential businessmen, Ihor Kolomoiskiy, two days before senior European Union officials visit Kyiv on Friday. Ukraine sees the meeting as important to its hopes of one day joining the EU, a process that can take years.
A Ukrainian political shake-up has led to more than a dozen officials quitting or being dismissed.
Zelenskiy said he is prepared to make more personnel changes to fight corruption.