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.
“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 two people were killed and seven 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.
At least 44 people were killed in January when a Russian missile hit an apartment building in the city of Dnipro.
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 from its pro-Western neighbour.
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 on Wednesday, just days before senior European Union officials visit Kyiv.
The Ukrainian leader said he is prepared to make more personnel changes to fight corruption.
“Unfortunately, in some areas, the only way to guarantee the rule of law is to change the leadership … there will be as many changes as is necessary,” he said in a video address.