Russian bombards cities as eastern offensive begins

Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, has said Russia has launched an assault to seize the eastern Donbas region.

Russian and Ukrainian forces clashed on Tuesday along the eastern front line,after Mr Zelensky said the battle for the Donbas had begun.

Ukraine’s top security official, Oleksiy Danilov, said Russia was trying to break through Ukrainian defensive positions throughout Ukraine’s east.

The offensive had been expected after Russia failed to seize Kyiv.

After its push to overrun the capital stalled, Moscow announced its military would focus instead on eastern Ukraine where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.

Luhansk was one of the most fiercely contested regions, and on Tuesday its Governor, Serhiy Hayday, said it had come under attack from all sides.

He announced that street fighting in the city of Kreminna had forced Ukrainian troops to withdraw and regroup, leaving Russian forces in control of the eastern city of 18,000.

“They moved in but our defenders had to retreat,” Mr Hayday said. “The enemy was shelling every metre of our defence line.”

The strategic port city of Mariupol, meanwhile, has come under intense bombardment.

Pro-Russian forces have reportedly begun an attempt to storm the city’s Azovstal steelworks, where Mariupol’s final defenders have been holding out for days.

Ukraine says civilians and children were among those holed up in the complex, but pro-Russian officials in the city have disputed this.

Mariupol is a key Russian target which if captured would allow its troops to complete a land-bridge between the occupied Crimean peninsula and separatist held regions of eastern Ukraine.

In Kharkiv, whichis 400km (249 miles) away in Ukraine’s north-east, officials said three people had been killed and 21 injured in a new wave of attacks on the city.

“The intensity of the shelling of Kharkiv has increased,” the regional governor, Oleg Sinegubov, said in a post on Telegram.

Russia initially appeared to want to capture major Ukrainian cities and topple the country’s government.

But after facing stiff resistance, Russian defence officials said that its main objectives in the “first stage of the operation” had been “generally accomplished” and its forces were moved from areas around the capital. -BBC

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