After having moved Russian forces away from the two largest cities in the country, the capital kyiv at the end of March and the beginning of April then Kharkiv in May, the Ukrainians have recognized for a few days “difficulties” in the Donbass, formed by the oblasts of Lugansk and Donetsk.
“The next weeks of war will be difficult,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Monday evening in his daily televised address.
“The Russian occupiers are trying to show that they will not abandon the occupied areas of the Kharkiv region (north-east), that they will not return the Kherson region (south), the occupied territories of the region Zaporizhia (southeast) and Donbass (east). They are advancing somewhere. They are strengthening their positions elsewhere,” he continued.
The situation is even “extremely difficult” in the Donbass: the Russians are trying to “eliminate everything that is alive”, accused President Zelensky.
Moscow concentrates its firepower precisely on the Ukrainian redoubt of the Lugansk region, trying to surround the cities of Severodonetsk and Lyssytchansk. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense also reported heavy fighting in progress nearby, near the localities of Popasna and Bakhmout, which draws a strategy of encirclement.
– “Mandatory evacuations” –
The fall of Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast would give the Russians control of a crucial crossroads that currently serves as an impromptu command center for much of Ukraine’s war effort.
The inhabitants, in any case, are reluctant to flee, despite the risks: “People do not want to leave”, laments the deputy mayor of Bakhmout, Maxim Soutkovyï, in front of a half-empty bus ready to take civilians to territories safer.
“We have reached a point where we are in the process of making evacuations compulsory”, even advances the head of the military administration of Bakhmout, Serguiï Kalian.
However, in this sector, “the enemy has improved its tactical position, on the territory of Vasylivka”, wrote Tuesday morning the staff of the Ukrainian army on Facebook, which ensures that “the greatest hostile activity” is observed “near Lysychansk and Severodonetsk”.
According to him, the Russians aim “to encircle the cities of Lyssytchansk and Severodonetsk, with subsequent access to the administrative border of the Lugansk region” to perfect their hold there.
Severodonetsk is bombarded “24 hours a day” by the Russians, who “use the tactic of scorched earth, they deliberately destroy the city”, had alerted Sunday the Ukrainian governor of the oblast of Lugansk, Serguiï Gaïdaï.
The fate of Severodonetsk is inevitably reminiscent of that of Mariupol, the large port city in the south-east almost completely destroyed after several weeks of siege.
A southern fringe of this coal basin has been two pro-Russian separatist republics since 2014, and it was to defend them from an alleged “genocide” that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on February 24 a “special military operation”, a few days later having recognized the independence of these self-proclaimed republics, but within borders covering the whole of Donbass.
– Military aid from 20 countries –
The southern front appears stable, although the Ukrainians are claiming gains. The southern command reported, on the night of Monday to Tuesday, an “advance” of its divisions “through the Mykolaev region towards the Kherson region”, where the Russian ruble was introduced. He accused the Russian “occupiers” of killing civilians trying to flee by car, with a mined road, bombs and the execution of the survivors.
If Moscow increases the pressure in the Donbass, kyiv insists on supplying itself with weapons, and in this sense receives the support of the West.
During a virtual meeting of the “Contact Group for the Defense of Ukraine”, 44 countries discussed on Monday military assistance to be provided to Ukraine. Twenty of them have pledged to provide additional weapons to kyiv, and others will train the Ukrainian army, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has announced.
However, he refrained from specifying the armaments provided by the United States after the approval by Congress of additional aid to Ukraine of 40 billion dollars.
But among the Western equipment is notably the Harpoon anti-ship missile launcher system, promised by Denmark and which could allow Ukraine to counter the blockade imposed by the Russian navy on the port of Odessa, vital for wheat exports. of the country, themselves vital for many other countries. These missiles would even be likely to reach Crimea, occupied by Moscow since 2014.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiï Reznikov said “hope to be able to present the results of the use” of the weapons promised on Monday, “which should be a game-changer on the battlefield”.
– Eight million displaced –
In three months, thousands of people, civilians and soldiers, have perished, without there being a quantified toll. For the city of Mariupol alone, the Ukrainian authorities speak of 20,000 dead.
On the military level, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense estimates Russian losses at more than 29,200 men, 204 planes and nearly 1,300 tanks since the start of the invasion on February 24.
The Kremlin for its part admitted “significant losses”.
Western sources mention some 12,000 Russian soldiers killed, a good French military source confirmed to AFP an estimated figure of around 15,000. These losses over three months are close to those recorded in nine years by the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, underlines the British Ministry of Defence. Ukraine, for its part, has provided no indication of its own military losses.
The war has also turned the country’s demographics upside down: more than eight million Ukrainians have been displaced within their country, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ( UNHCR). Added to this are 6.5 million who have fled abroad, more than half of them – 3.4 million – to Poland.