Ukraine confirmed on Monday that Russia has started a massive offensive to establish full control over the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
“We can now confirm that Russian troops have begun the battle for the Donbas, which they have been preparing for a long time,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Telegram late Monday.
“No matter how many Russian soldiers are brought here, we will fight. We will defend ourselves,” he added.
“The second phase of the war has started,” Kyiv’s presidential chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said.
Russia’s offensive aims at creating a southern corridor in Ukraine
Control of Donbas would allow Moscow to create a southern corridor to the occupied Crimean peninsula.
In the south of the region, Russia continued its push to capture the besieged port city of Mariupol, where the last remaining Ukrainian forces have taken a final stand.
Shortly before Zelensky’s address, the regional governor of the Luhansk region, Sergiy Gaiday, also announced the beginning of Russia’s much-anticipated attack.
“It’s hell. The offensive has begun, the one we’ve been talking about for weeks. There’s constant fighting in Rubizhne and Popasna, fighting in other peaceful cities,” he said on Facebook.
Civilian evacuation from Donbas
Ahead of the widely anticipated Russian advance, Ukrainian authorities had urged people in Donbas to flee west to escape.
But, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said no evacuation routes for civilians had been agreed with Russian forces on Tuesday.
The Russians had refused to open an evacuation route for civilians in the besieged city of Mariupol to leave for the port city of Berdyansk, Vereshchuk said, while talks on other routes were ongoing.
“We continue difficult negotiations on the opening of humanitarian corridors in Kherson and Kharkiv regions,” Vereshchuk added.
Related: The History of Donbas’s Donetsk and Luhansk Regions
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