Russia launches 'Battle of Donbas' in eastern Ukraine

Seven killed by Russian missiles in Lviv • Zelensky: World should be prepared for Russia to use tactical nuclear weapons

 Service members of pro-Russian troops drive an armoured vehicle during Ukraine-Russia conflict near the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 17, 2022 (photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)
Service members of pro-Russian troops drive an armoured vehicle during Ukraine-Russia conflict near the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 17, 2022
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

Ukraine said Russia had started an anticipated new offensive in the east of the country, with explosions reported all along the front lines as well as attacks in other regions.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia had begun the "Battle of Donbas" in the east on Monday and a "very large part of the entire Russian army is now focused on this offensive."

"No matter how many Russian troops they send there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves," he vowed in a video address.

Zelensky's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, called it "the second phase of the war" and assured Ukrainians their forces could hold off the offensive. "Believe in our army, it is very strong," he said.

Ukrainian media reported a series of explosions, some powerful, along the front line in the Donetsk region, with shelling taking place in Marinka, Slavyansk and Kramatorsk. Ukrainian local officials and local media also said explosions were heard in Kharkiv in the northeast of Ukraine, Mykolaiv in the south and Zaporizhzhia in the southeast.

 Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the Ukrainian people, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 28, 2022. (credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS) Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the Ukrainian people, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 28, 2022. (credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS)

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the reports.

Ukraine's top security official, Oleksiy Danilov, said Russian forces attempted to break through Ukrainian defenses "along almost the entire front line of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions" on Monday morning.

Driven back by Ukrainian resistance in the north, Moscow has refocused its ground offensive in the two eastern provinces known as the Donbas, while launching long-distance strikes at other targets including the capital, Kyiv.

Donbas has been the focal point of Russia's campaign to destabilize Ukraine, starting in 2014 when the Kremlin used proxies to set up two separatist "people's republics" in the ex-Soviet state. It is also home to much of Ukraine's industrial wealth, including coal and steel.

Russia's defense ministry said it had hit hundreds of military targets in Ukraine overnight.

BIDEN TO HOST CALL WITH ALLIES

Western capitals and Kyiv accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of unprovoked aggression, and the White House said US President Joe Biden would hold a call with allies on Tuesday to discuss the Ukraine crisis, including on how to coordinate on holding Russia accountable.

French President Emmanuel Macron said his dialog with Putin had stalled after mass killings were discovered in Ukraine.

The United Nations said on Monday the war's civilian death toll had surpassed 2,000, reaching 2,072 as of midnight on April 17 from the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24.

About 4 million Ukrainians have fled the country.

Russia denies targeting civilians in what it calls a special operation to demilitarize Ukraine and eradicate dangerous nationalists. It rejects what Kyiv says is evidence of atrocities, saying Ukraine has staged them to undermine peace talks.

'HELL ON EARTH'

Russia has been trying to take full control of the southeastern port city of Mariupol, which has been besieged for weeks and which would be a huge strategic prize, linking territory held by pro-Russian separatists in the east with the Crimea region that Moscow annexed in 2014.

Video footage showed block after residential block in charred ruins. Shell-shocked residents in the Primorskyi district cooked on open fires outside their damaged homes.

"To be honest, we are not well," one resident named Olga told Reuters. "I have mental problems after airstrikes, that's for sure. I'm really scared. When I hear a plane I just run away."

The city council said at least 1,000 civilians were still hiding in underground shelters beneath the vast Azovstal steel plant, which contain myriad buildings, blast furnaces and rail tracks.

Major Serhiy Volyna, commander of Ukraine's 36th marine brigade which is still fighting in Mariupol, appealed for help in a letter to Pope Francis.

"This is what hell looks like on earth ... It's time (for) help not just by prayers. Save our lives from satanic hands," the letter said, according to excerpts tweeted by Ukraine's Vatican ambassador.

ZELENSKY'S WARNING

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that there was a possibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin would use a tactical nuclear weapon because "he does not value Ukrainian lives," adding that the world should be prepared for it, in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday.

Zelensky also said that he is not willing to give up the eastern part of Ukraine in order to end the war with Russia, and expressed his certainty that Ukraine would be victorious in its war against Russian forces.

Despite his confidence, Zelensky also stressed the urgency for extra supplies to fend off enemy forces. He went on to say that the fight against Russian forces in the Donbas region could influence the war's course, CNN reported Monday morning. 

Zelensky agreed with US President Joe Biden about the Bucha Massacre being a genocide, as opposed to war.

"They just killed people. Not soldiers, people. They just shot people in the streets. People were riding bicycles, taking the bus or just walking down the street. There were corpses lining the streets," Zelensky told CNN.

He also said he wished for Biden to come to visit Ukraine, but US officials are still debating on whether he should, despite the US president saying that he wanted to go. Zelensky also invited French President Emmanuel Macron to his country after he responded to Biden's statement on genocide that it's not "constructive to raise the rhetoric."

Read more on The Jerusalem Post's coverage of the Ukraine-Russia War:

FIGHTING IN UKRAINE

Russian shelling in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region killed four people on Monday, regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko said on his Telegram channel.

Russia has intensified attacks on several Ukrainian cities, but says it is concentrating its efforts on securing full control over eastern Ukraine's Donbas region -- made up of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Russian air forces carried out airstrikes at a logistics center of the Ukrainian army near the city of Lviv and destroyed a large number of foreign-made weapons stored there, TASS news agency quoted the Russian defense ministry as saying on Monday.

The Russian forces have also destroyed a repair center for Tochka U ballistic missiles in the city of Dnipro, the ministry said, according to TASS.

Two people were killed by shelling in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Monday, the local prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Authorities in Ukraine's western and southern regions of Lviv and Dnipropetrovsk reported multiple explosions on Monday, while a Reuters reporter heard a series of blasts in Kyiv, as Russia's invasion of the country continues.

Seven people were killed and eight wounded in Lviv where missiles struck military facilities and a car tire service point, regional governor Maksym Kozystkiy said.

Four civilians were shot dead while trying to flee by car from the town of Kreminna in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region during a Russian attack, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said in a post on messaging app Telegram on Monday.

Separately, authorities said some of the missiles hit areas close to a railway station and other railroad facilities, briefly disrupting normal traffic.

According to media outlet Suspilne, two people were wounded in the Dnipropetrovsk attacks.

In Kyiv, a Reuters reporter heard a series of blasts on the left bank of the Dnipro river. Local authorities were yet to provide any official information on their cause.

Ukrainian forces in the besieged city of Mariupol are continuing to engage with the Russian military, Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the interior minister, told national television on Monday.

PUTIN ALLY HELD IN UKRAINE SUGGESTS PRISONER SWAP

Pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk appealed in a video released by Ukraine's security service on Monday to be handed over to Moscow in a prisoner swap for Ukrainian forces and civilians trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol.

Medvedchuk made the appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a video published by the SBU security service on Facebook. It was unclear how freely Medvedchuk was speaking in the video.

He said was making a "plea for the Ukrainian side to exchange me for the defenders of Mariupol and its citizens who are there today have no opportunity for a safe exit through a humanitarian corridor."

Medvedchuk, the leader of the Opposition Platform - For Life party, is an ally of Putin.

Medvedchuk had been placed under house arrest last year to face treason and terrorism financing charges, which he denies. He escaped a few days after the Russian invasion began in February, but was later captured by Ukraine.

 People walk near buildings damaged in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 18, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO) People walk near buildings damaged in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 18, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

CASUALTIES

Russia said it had launched mass strikes overnight on the Ukrainian military and associated military targets, using its air force, missile forces, artillery and air defense systems to hit hundreds of targets across its southern neighbor.

The Russian defense ministry said in a statement that air-launched missiles had destroyed 16 Ukrainian military facilities overnight, including five command posts, a fuel depot and three ammunition warehouses, as well as Ukrainian armor and forces.

It said those strikes took place in the Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk regions and in the port of Mykolayiv, and that the Russian air force had launched strikes against 108 areas where it said Ukrainian forces and armor were concentrated.

In the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Ukrainian forces fought off Russian attacks, destroying ten tanks, fifteen armored units and five vehicles, as well as five enemy artillery systems. Ukrainian air forces managed to hit five Russian air targets: one plane, three helicopters and one UAV, the Ukrainian military claimed.

Russia's defense ministry said on Monday it had destroyed four arms and military equipment depots in Ukraine overnight with Iskander missiles, the TASS news agency reported on Monday.

The defense ministry said Russian artillery had also struck 315 Ukrainian military targets overnight and that air defense systems had been used to bring down three Ukrainian army helicopters, two MiG-29 fighters and one SU-25 plane.

The same day, images were released on social media showing the Russian Navy Cruiser Moskva on fire. Ukraine had previously said that fired two missiles that caused the ship to sink, Russia's Defense Ministry said that a fire on the ship caused ammunition to blow up, and a senior US official stated that there were Russian casualties. Russian Navy Head Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov said that crew members of the sunken missile cruiser would be allowed to continue to serve in the Navy.

Eighteen people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in shelling in the past four days in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday.

Around 200,000 people risk losing their jobs in the Russian capital because foreign companies have suspended operations or decided to leave the Russian market, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on Monday.

Moscow authorities are ready to support people who lose their jobs by providing training and temporary and socially-important work, Sobyanin wrote on his blog.

EVACUATIONS AND RETURN TO UKRAINE

Over one million people have returned to Ukraine since the start of the war, according to the State Border Guard Service, whose spokesman told Ukrainian news outlet Pravda that on Saturday, more people entered the country than those who left for the first time since the start of the war.

Ukraine and Russia have failed to agree on humanitarian convoys for the evacuation of civilians from war-affected areas for the second day, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

"For security reasons, it was decided not to open humanitarian corridors today," Vereshchuk said on the Telegram app.

Firefighters evacuated civilians from their homes in the Luhansk region after eliminating fires from dozens of apartments.

Spain will reopen its embassy in Kyiv in the coming days, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in an interview with the Antena3 TV network on Monday.

The move comes after several other European countries, including France, recently announced they would move back their embassies to Kyiv.

KREMLIN SAYS UKRAINE INCONSISTENT REGARDING PEACE TALKS

The Kremlin on Monday accused Ukraine of constantly changing its stance when it comes to issues that have already been agreed upon at peace talks.

"Contacts continue at an expert level within the framework of the negotiation process", Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

"Unfortunately the Ukrainian side is not consistent in terms of the points that have been agreed", he said.

"It is often changing its position and the trend of the negotiating process leaves much to be desired."

ZELENSKY SEEKS QUICK EU ACCESSION

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky formally submitted a completed questionnaire on European Union membership to an envoy on Monday and said he believed this step would lead to his country gaining candidate status within weeks.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen handed the questionnaire to Zelensky during a visit to Kyiv on April 8, pledging a speedier start to Ukraine's bid to become a member of the EU following Russia's invasion of the country.

Zelensky submitted the completed document to the EU's envoy to Ukraine, footage released by his government of the meeting showed.

"We strongly believe that this procedure (granting of candidate status) will take place in the coming weeks and that it will be positive for the history of our people, given the price they paid on the path to independence and democracy," the Ukrainian leader said during the meeting.

The deputy head of Zelensky's office said earlier on Monday that he expected Ukraine would be granted candidate status in June during a scheduled meeting of the European Council, which comprises leaders of EU member states.

The European Commission, the EU executive body, will need to issue a recommendation on Ukraine's compliance with the necessary membership criteria, he added.

As a candidate country, Ukraine would start negotiations on aligning its laws with the legal framework of the European Union.