Russia steps up offensive in Ukraine's east

Updated on May 23, 2022 12:06 AM IST
  • Kyiv’s stance has become increasingly uncompromising in recent weeks as Russia experienced military setbacks while Ukrainian officials grew worried they might be pressured to sacrifice land for a peace deal.
Ukrainian flags in the military section of the Kharkiv cemetery number 18 in Bezlioudivka. AFP
Ukrainian flags in the military section of the Kharkiv cemetery number 18 in Bezlioudivka. AFP
Agencies |

Ukraine ruled out a ceasefire or any territorial concessions to Moscow as Russia stepped up its attack in country’s the east and south, pounding the Donbas and Mykolaiv regions with air strikes and artillery fire.

Kyiv’s stance has become increasingly uncompromising in recent weeks as Russia experienced military setbacks while Ukrainian officials grew worried they might be pressured to sacrifice land for a peace deal.

As many as 100 Ukrainian soldiers may be dying each day in severe fighting in the Donbas, currently the main focus of Russia’s invasion, President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

“The war must end with the complete restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Ukraine’s presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak said in a Twitter post on Sunday.

Polish President Andrzej Duda offered Warsaw’s backing, telling lawmakers in Kyiv on Sunday that the international community had to demand Russia’s complete withdrawal and that sacrificing any of it would be a “huge blow” to the entire West.

“Worrying voices have appeared, saying that Ukraine should give in to (President Vladimir) Putin’s demands,” Duda said, the first foreign leader to address Ukrainian parliament in person since Russia’s February 24 invasion.

“Only Ukraine has the right to decide about its future,” he said.

Duda said he “will not rest until Ukraine becomes a full-fledged member” of the European Union. Hours later, a French official said it may take Ukraine 20 years to join the EU, consistent with recent comments from Emmanuel Macron.

“We have to be honest. If you say Ukraine is going to join the EU in six months, or a year or two, you’re lying,” France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune told Radio J. “It’s probably in 15 or 20 years, it takes a long time.”

Speaking to the same parliamentary session, Zelensky renewed a plea for stronger sanctions against Moscow.

“Half-measures should not be used when aggression should be stopped,” he said. Shortly after Zelensky and Duda finished speaking, an air raid siren was heard in the capital, a reminder that the war raged on even if its front lines were now hundreds kilometres away.

Russia is currently waging a major offensive in Luhansk, one of two provinces in Donbas, after ending weeks of resistance by the last Ukrainian fighters in the strategic southeastern port of Mariupol.

The heaviest fighting focused around the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, interior ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko told Ukrainian television on Sunday.

The cities form the eastern part of a Ukrainian-held pocket that Russia has been trying to overrun since mid-April after failing to capture Kyiv and shifting its focus to the east and south of the country.

Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday its forces pummeled Ukrainian command centres, troops and ammunition depots in Donbas and the Mykolaiv region in the south with air strikes and artillery. Reuters was unable to independently verify those battlefield reports.

Russian-backed separatists already controlled parts of Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk before the invasion, but Moscow wants to seize the remaining Ukrainian-held territory in the region.

Ukraine’s lead negotiator, Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak ruled out any territorial concessions and rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire, saying it meant Russian troops would stay in occupied territories, which Kyiv could not accept.

“The (Russian) forces must leave the country and after that the resumption of the peace process will be possible,” Podolyak said on Saturday, referring to calls for an immediate ceasefire as “very strange.”

Concessions would backfire because Russia would use the break in fighting to come back stronger, he said.

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