Chris Lange, FISM News
Russian forces unleashed a massive artillery and rocket barrage in eastern Ukraine overnight along a front of more than 300 miles in what Ukrainian officials called a “new phase of the war” to take control of the Donbas region of Ukraine.
“Russian forces have started the battle for the Donbas that they have been getting ready for a long time,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address Monday.
Russia’s enhanced ground offensive is currently focused on the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as neighboring Kharkiv.
“The occupiers made an attempt to break through our defenses along nearly the entire frontline,” Ukraine’s General Staff said in a statement early Tuesday.
Moscow reported that it struck numerous military targets in eastern and central Ukraine, including command headquarters, ammunition depots, and Ukrainian troops and vehicles. The claims, however, could not be independently verified.
Russia seizes Kreminna
Russian forces were able to gain control of the city of Kreminna in Luhansk following intense street fighting Monday night. Luhansk Regional Military Administrator Serhiy Haidai said the Russians “just started leveling everything to the ground” before advancing into the city. Ukrainian defenders were forced to retreat, Haidai said, adding that they will regroup and continue fighting.
With control of Kreminna, Russia is moving closer to Slovyansk, which was captured by pro-Russian fighters in 2014. Ukraine managed to regain control of the city months later following a period of intense fighting. The humiliating defeat has led military analysts to believe Slovyansk is one of Moscow’s prized targets. Russia has already taken control of the city of Izyum just north of Slovyansk.
The expected major offensives by 🇷🇺 in Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Donetsk front appear to have started
🇷🇺 forces began much heavier shelling of 🇺🇦 positions than they have in recent days
🇷🇺 carried out attacks all along the front pic.twitter.com/Y0sD6nmY9O
— Ukraine War Map (@War_Mapper) April 19, 2022
Ukraine’s national security council Secretary Oleskiy Danilov said that, apart from Russia’s advances overnight, Ukraine’s defensive line remains intact elsewhere in the region.
“Fortunately, our military is holding out,” Danilov told Ukrainian media.
A senior U.S. defense official said Monday that Russia now has 76 combat units in eastern and southern Ukraine, which amounts to roughly 50,000 to 60,000 troops.
Russia strikes Mariupol’s Azovstal factory
The commander of the Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s National Guard reported that Russia unleashed bunker-buster bombs on the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Reuters reported. The regiment has been holed up for weeks in the sprawling plant said to be the last point of resistance in the now unrecognizable port city. An unknown number of civilians – mostly women and children – have been sheltering in the plant which houses a network of tunnels.
The final frontier.
The Mariupol garrison is now confined to the city’s main fortress, the Azovstal industrial complex.
It’s a giant and very complicated maze of steel and concrete, with lots of fortified underground shelters.
It will be very hard to get. pic.twitter.com/MiPpT3eWvZ
— Illia Ponomarenko 🇺🇦 (@IAPonomarenko) April 19, 2022
Elsewhere, at least seven people were killed in the western Ukraine city of Lviv near the Polish border following missile strikes, according to officials. Lviv has served as a depository for weapons supplied by NATO and had been considered a safe haven for Ukrainians fleeing attacks in other parts of the country.
The region’s governor, Maksym Kozytskyy, said the assault struck three military infrastructure facilities as well as an auto shop.
“The nightmare of war has caught up with us even in Lviv,” said Lyudmila Turchak, who fled with her two children from Kharkiv in the east, where shelling killed at least three people overnight.
Pentagon says Russia is ‘shaping’ for major offensive in the east
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Monday that Russia has increased its combat units in Eastern Ukraine by about 10, amounting to roughly 50,000 to 60,000 additional troops.
“It’s been, just over the last several days, you can see … the Russians are doing what we call shaping,” Kirby said at a press briefing. “They’re trying to set the conditions for more aggressive, more overt, and larger ground maneuvers in the Donbas,” he said.
Both Russia and Ukraine have been increasing artillery in the east and south, according to Kirby. Ukraine’s arsenal will include 18 American 155mm Howitzers provided by the U.S. as part of a recent $800 military aid package announced last week. The U.S. will also provide “light training” on how to operate the long-range weapons to Ukrainian artillerymen within the next few days. The Pentagon has not specified where the training will occur, beyond saying it will take place “outside of Ukraine.”
“It’ll be more of a ‘train-the-trainer’s’ kind of environment,” Kirby told reporters. “It’ll be a small number of Ukrainians that will be trained on the Howitzers and then they will be reintroduced back into their country to train their colleagues.”