Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday announced the start of Russia’s offensive against eastern Ukraine, part of which is in the hands of pro-Russian separatists and where deadly fighting has intensified.
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“Now we can say that the Russian troops have started the battle for Donbass, for which they have been preparing for a long time. A very large part of the entire Russian army is now devoted to this offensive,” he said in a speech broadcast on Telegram.
“No matter how many Russian soldiers are brought here, we will fight. We will defend ourselves,” he said.
Shortly before, the Ukrainian governor of the Lugansk region, Serguiï Gaidaï, had announced the start of the offensive by Russian troops against eastern Ukraine.
“It’s hell. The offensive has started that we’ve been talking about for weeks,” he said on Facebook. “There are fighting in Roubizhne and Popasna, incessant fighting in other peaceful towns.”
At least eight civilians were killed by Russian fire and attacks on Monday, according to regional authorities.
Four people died in Kreminna, a small town in the Lugansk region that fell to the Russians on Monday, Gaidai said on Telegram.
And four more in the neighboring Donetsk region, according to the Ukrainian governor of that region, Pavlo Kyrylenko. “Two in Torske, one in Chandrigalove and one in Razdolne. Five other people were injured,” he said on Telegram.
Since announcing the withdrawal of its troops from the Kyiv region, Russia has concentrated its forces in eastern Ukraine, which has been the target of frequent bombing since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24.
A few weeks ago, the Ukrainian army had announced a massive Moscow offensive against Donbass, which is largely under the control of pro-Russian separatists from the self-proclaimed republics of Lugansk and Donetsk.
Russian President Vladimir Putin claims he is conducting a military operation in Ukraine to save the Donbass Russians from a “genocide” orchestrated by Ukrainian “neo-Nazis”.