KYIV, Ukraine: As Ukrainian forces dug in on Sunday, Russia fielded more firepower and called in a decorated general to take centralized control of the war ahead of a potentially decisive showdown in eastern Ukraine that could start in a few days.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned in his late-night address to the nation on Sunday that the coming week would be as crucial as any in the war, saying “Russian troops will be moving into even bigger operations in the is of our state”.
He also accused Russia of trying to evade responsibility for war crimes in Ukraine.
Ukrainian authorities on Sunday found more than 1,200 bodies in the kyiv region, the scene of atrocities believed to have been committed by Russian troops, as residents of the country’s east prepared – or fled – ahead of an expected massive offensive. Heavy shelling hit Ukraine throughout the weekend, adding to mounting casualties six weeks after Russia invaded its neighbor.
“When people don’t have the courage to admit their mistakes, to apologize, to adapt to reality and to learn, they turn into monsters. And when the world ignores them, monsters decide that the world has to adapt to them,” Zelensky said.
“The day will come when they will have to confess everything. Accept the truth,” he added.
Experts said the next phase of the battle could begin with a full-scale offensive. The outcome could determine the course of the conflict, which has leveled cities, killed thousands and isolated Moscow economically and politically.
Questions remain about the ability of the exhausted and demoralized Russian forces to conquer much ground after their advance on the capital, Kyiv, was repelled by determined Ukrainian defenders. The British Ministry of Defense reported on Sunday that Russian forces were trying to make up for mounting losses by recalling veterans discharged over the past decade.
In Washington, a senior US official said Russia had appointed General Alexander Dvornikov, one of its most experienced military leaders, to oversee the invasion. The official was not authorized to be identified and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Until now, Russia had no central war commander on the ground.
The new direction of the battlefield comes as the Russian military prepares for what is expected to be a large and targeted push to extend control into eastern Ukraine. Russian-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbass region since 2014 and declared an independent territory there.
Dvornikov, 60, rose to prominence as the leader of Russian forces deployed to Syria in 2015 to bolster the government of President Bashar Assad during the country’s devastating civil war. US officials say he has a record of brutality against civilians in Syria and other theaters of war.
Russian authorities generally do not confirm these appointments and have not said anything about a new role for Dvornikov, who received the Hero of Russia Medal, one of the country’s highest honors, from President Vladimir Putin in 2016.
“Ukraine will never be subject to Russia”
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, downplayed the significance of the appointment.
“What we learned in the first weeks of this war is that Ukraine will never be subjugated to Russia,” Sullivan said. “It doesn’t matter which general President Putin tries to appoint.”
Western military analysts say Russia’s assault has increasingly focused on a sickle-shaped arc of eastern Ukraine – from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, to the north in Kherson to the south.
The smaller effort could solve Russia’s problem earlier in the war of spreading its offensive too broadly over too large a geographic area.
“You just have to look at it on a map to see that they will be able to bring a lot more power in a much more concentrated way,” focusing mainly on eastern Ukraine, the spokesperson said on Friday. of the Pentagon, John Kirby.
Recently released satellite images from Maxar Technologies showed an 8-mile (13-kilometer) convoy of military vehicles heading south through Ukraine into Donbass, reminiscent of images of a convoy that got stuck on the roads of kyiv for weeks before Russia gave up trying to take the capital.
Do his best
On Sunday, Russian forces shelled government-controlled Kharkiv and sent reinforcements towards Izyum in the southeast in a bid to break through Ukraine’s defenses, the Ukrainian military command said. The Russians also maintained their siege of Mariupol, a key southern port which was attacked and surrounded for nearly a month and a half.
A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said the Russian military used air-launched missiles to strike Ukraine’s S-300 air defense missile systems in the south of the Mykolaiv region and at an airbase in Chuhuiv, a town not far from Kharkov.
Sea-launched Russian cruise missiles destroyed the headquarters of a Ukrainian military unit stationed further west in the Dnipro region, Konashenkov said. Neither Ukrainian nor Russian military allegations could be independently verified.
The airport in Dnipro, Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, was also hit by missiles twice on Sunday, according to the regional governor.
On Sunday evening, Zelensky again called on Western countries to provide more aid to Ukraine. During his talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Zelensky said he discussed “how to strengthen sanctions against Russia and…force Russia to seek peace.”
“I am happy to see that the German position has recently changed in favor of Ukraine. I consider this absolutely logical,” Zelensky said.
The President of the European Commission said on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ on Sunday that Ukraine’s response to a questionnaire she recently delivered to Zelensky will allow her to decide whether or not to recommend the nation as a candidate for EU membership.
The process normally takes years, but EU leader Ursula von der Leyen said Ukraine’s bid could take just a few weeks.
“Someone said to me yesterday: ‘You know, when our soldiers die, I want them to know that their children will be free and will be part of the European Union,'” von der Leyen said.
Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian forces of committing war crimes against civilians, including airstrikes on hospitals, a missile attack that killed at least 57 people at a train station and other violence uncovered as Russian soldiers were retreating from the outskirts of kyiv.
Shelling killed two in northeast Kharkiv on Sunday morning, regional governor Oleg Synegubov said, a day after 10 civilians, including a child, were killed in shelling southeast of the city.
“The Russian army continues to wage war on civilians due to the lack of victories at the front,” Synegubov said on Telegram.
In Dnipro, an industrial city of about one million people, a rain of Russian missiles nearly destroyed the local airport, causing an uncertain number of casualties, local authorities said.
Austria on the sidelines
The day after his meeting with Zelensky in kyiv, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer announced that he would meet Putin in Moscow on Monday. Austria, a member of the European Union, is militarily neutral and is not a member of NATO.
Ukraine has accused Russia of killing civilians in Bucha and other towns outside the capital where hundreds of bodies, many with their hands tied and showing signs of torture, were found after the withdrawal of Russian troops. Russia denied the allegations and falsely claimed that Bucha’s scenes were staged.
Borodyanka resident Maria Vaselenko, 77, said her daughter and son-in-law were killed, leaving her grandchildren orphans.
“The Russians were shooting. And some people wanted to come and help, but they were shooting at them. They were putting explosives under the dead,” Vaselenko said. “That’s why my children have been under the rubble for 36 days. It was not allowed to remove the bodies.
In Mariupol, Russia deploys Chechen fighters, reputed to be particularly ferocious. Capturing the city on the Sea of Azov would give Russia a land bridge to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine eight years ago.
Residents have been short of food, water and electricity since Russian forces surrounded the town and hampered evacuation missions. Ukrainian authorities believe an airstrike on a theater that served as a bomb shelter killed hundreds of civilians, and Zelensky said he expects more evidence of atrocities to be found once that Mariupol will no longer be blocked.
The Institute for the Study of War, an American think tank, predicted that Russian forces would ‘renew offensive operations in the coming days’ from Izyum, a town southeast of Kharkiv, in the campaign to conquer Donbass. , which includes the industrial heartland of Ukraine.
But in the opinion of analysts at the think tank, “the outcome of the next Russian operations in eastern Ukraine remains very uncertain”.