Ukrainian defenders fought desperately to resist a major Russian offensive in the Donetsk region, with the enemy launching heavy artillery fire to clear the way for advancing ground forces, a senior Ukrainian official said on Wednesday.
After Russian forces took control of Lysychansk, the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in Lugansk, on Sunday, the Ukrainian military prepared for an assault on Donetsk, with the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in their sights Russian.
Donetsk and Luhansk comprise Donbass, the industrialized eastern part of Ukraine that has seen Europe’s greatest battle in generations.
There was heavy fighting on the outskirts of the Luhansk region, its governor Serhiy Haidai told Ukrainian television, saying Russian regular army and reserve forces had been sent there with the apparent aim of cross the Siverskiy Donets river.
Haidai said earlier that Russian forces were engaged in widespread shelling as they launched their assault on Donetsk.
Russia says it wants to wrest control of all of Donbass from Ukraine on behalf of Moscow-backed separatists in two self-declared people’s republics.
On Tuesday, Russian forces struck a market and residential area in Sloviansk, killing at least two people and injuring seven others, local officials said.
A Reuters reporter at the scene saw yellow smoke billowing from a car supply store and flames engulfing rows of market stalls as firefighters tried to put out the blaze.
Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said Sloviansk and nearby Kramatorsk came under heavy shelling overnight. “There is no safe place without shelling in the Donetsk region.”