Russian troops advanced into eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, hitting major cities and aiming to “destroy everything there”, President Volodymyr Zelensky said, adding that Moscow had indicated it was digging for a long war against its neighbor.
Three months after Russia launched its invasion, Zelensky has mourned the deaths of thousands of Ukrainian men and women and renewed his call for heavy weapons from foreign partners that arms for Kiev be “the best investment for world stability.”
Sergei Gaidai, the governor of eastern Lugansk, said Russian forces were bombing the industrial city of Severodonetsk with airstrikes, rockets, artillery and mortars in an attempt to tighten control over the province and advance further into Ukraine.
“The situation is very difficult and unfortunately it is only getting worse. It is getting worse every day and even with every hour,” Gaidai said in a video on Telegram. “The Russian army has decided to completely destroy Severodonetsk.”
He added: “They are only removing Severodonetsk from the face of the earth.”
In Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Sergei made it clear that Russia was ready for a long war in Ukraine.
Using Moscow’s name for the war, Shoigu said, “We will continue special military operations until all objectives are achieved.”
In his daily address to the nation late on Tuesday, Zelensky called the situation in Donbass “extremely difficult” and said Russian forces were launching massive attacks on Severodonetsk and several other cities.
“All the forces of the Russian army that they still have were thrown there to attack,” Zelensky said. “The occupiers want to destroy everything there.”
Zelensky said the supply of rocket-propelled grenades, tanks, anti-ship missiles and other weapons to Ukraine was “the best investment in maintaining stability in the world and preventing the many serious crises that Russia is planning or has already provoked.”
“The longer this war lasts, the greater the cost of defending the independence of the whole free world, not just Ukraine.”
– Intense bombing –
Western funding and arms have helped Ukraine block the progress of its neighbors in many areas, including the capital Kyiv.
Russia is now concentrating on expanding its profits in the eastern Donbass region, near the border and home to pro-Russian separatists, as well as on the southern coast.
In the village of Yakovlevka, Andrei, a 55-year-old Ukrainian soldier, hid in a ditch because he had been attacked by Russians in the past.
“Our boys have stopped firing back,” he said, whispering as he looked up and down the street.
“We don’t want to provoke them because then the Russians will shoot harder at us.”
Lugansk governor Gaidai said Russia had sent thousands of troops to occupy its territory and that Severodonetsk, with an estimated 15,000 civilians, was under heavy attack.
The bombing was so intense it was too late for them to leave, he said.
According to the United Nations, more than six million people have fled Ukraine and 8 million have been internally displaced since the war began.
– ‘Three months of mass heroism’ –
Speaking to regional opponents of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, Russia’s defense chief, Shoigu, blamed his country’s slow progress for “deliberate” efforts to avoid civilian casualties.
Russia’s Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev added in an interview that “we are not in a hurry to meet the deadline.”
Zelensky rejected Moscow’s claim, saying Russia had suffered heavy losses in the war, with about 30,000 troops.
“These three months have been war crimes by the Russian occupiers. Three months of shelling, destruction, siege. And three months of mass heroism by the people who are defending their land, their country.”
But Kiev says it needs more help.
Kirill Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, said delays in getting weapons on the frontline had left Kiev “catastrophicly short of heavy weapons”.
He did say that he expected a “turning point” by August, in an interview with the news outlet Ukrainenska Pravda.
Speaking to political and business elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, Zelensky called for an international oil embargo on Russia, as well as punitive measures against all its banks and a stay away from its IT sector.
The EU has proposed a ban on Russian oil imports, although Hungary – which declared a state of emergency on Tuesday citing the war challenge in Ukraine – is blocking the measure.
In a letter to AFP, Prime Minister Victor Urban said in a letter to Brussels that Hungary had not yet agreed to support the oil embargo and that it would be pointless to bring it to next week’s European summit.
The United States has announced that a waiver to allow Moscow to repay foreign loans in dollars to Russia will expire on Wednesday, 0401 GMT, two days before the country’s next loan service repayment.
– Kharkiv Metro reopens –
Meanwhile, some signs of normalcy have returned to Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, where the metro was reopened on Tuesday after months of use as a bomb shelter.
“We have decided to resume services because we need to restart our economy,” Mayor Igor Terekhov told reporters. “Train travel will be free for the next two weeks.”
The Kharkiv Metro, with 30 stations, has sheltered thousands of residents in the city bordering Russia to escape indiscriminate shelling.
Three stations are closed in areas where there is occasional shelling.
Russia’s Defense Ministry says the waters off the port of Mariupol – a strategic southern city that collapsed after a devastating blockade – have been cleared and operations are under way to “restore port infrastructure”.
But Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko warned that 100,000 people were without water, food or electricity.
Speaking to Davos via video-link, he accused Russia of acting as a “state terrorist” and warned that the disease was at risk of becoming more deadly.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)