Russian forces have stepped up attacks in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region as Moscow now appears focused on securing and expanding its profits in the Donbas and the southern coast.
As the conflict enters its fourth month, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned in a speech every night on May 24 that the coming time will be “very difficult,” especially in the eastern Donbas region.
“All the strength of the Russian Army, which is still in his possession, has been thrown into the attack,” Zelenskiy said.
Russian forces aimed to destroy everything in Lyman, Popasna, Severodonetsk, and Slovyansk, he said.
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“But in the interceptions of the conversation, we heard that they knew that this war did not make sense for Russia and that the army strategically did not have a chance,” he said.
It will take time and “many extraordinary efforts” for Ukrainians to break their advantage in equipment and weapons, Zelenskiy said, as he again called on Western countries to provide more heavy weapons.
Providing grenades, tanks, anti-ships, and other weapons to Ukraine is the best investment to maintain stability in the world and prevent many of the “severe crises” that Russia says are still planned.
Zelenskiy said earlier on May 24 for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that Russia had carried out nearly 1,500 missile strikes and over 3,000 air strikes against Ukraine in the first three months of the war.
British intelligence speaks on a daily basis report on May 24 that Russia sought to encircle Severodonetsk, a city of about 100,000 people, but also directed attacks on Lysychansk and Rubyzhne in the same region.
The report states that Russian forces have achieved some local success in the region with the help of powerful artillery fire, but strong Ukrainian resistance and the command structure of the Kyiv Joint Forces Operation remain in control of this front segment.
The Russian capture of Severodonetsk would see the entire Luhansk region fall under Russian occupation, the report said.
In the midst of the fighting, two top Russian officials appeared to admit that Moscow’s advance was slower than expected, although they vowed the attack would achieve its goal.
Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said the Russian government was “not chasing deadlines.” And Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of the Russian-led security alliance of the former Soviet states that Moscow was deliberately speeding up the attack to allow the besieged city dwellers to flee.
Russian officials also announced that Moscow forces have completed clearing mines from Mariupol waters and a safe corridor will be opened on May 25 to evacuate 70 foreign ships from the southern coast of Ukraine.
With Russia’s military campaign now at its most active stage, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said that the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine could determine the country’s fate.
In the Donetsk region, Moscow forces seized the industrial city of Svitlodarsk, turned it into a thermal power plant, and hoisted the Russian flag there, Serhiy Goshko, head of the local Ukrainian military administration, told Radio Vilny Ukraine.
Goshko said that armed units were patrolling the streets of Svitlodarsk, checking citizen documents.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Hayday said the Russian military was advancing in all directions simultaneously in the region. Russia increased its forces with about 12,500 soldiers trying to capture Luhansk, he said.
“He brought a lot of fighters and equipment,” Hayday told the Telegram. He added that Luhansk was “like Mariupol.”
Mariupol was continuously pounded during a nearly three-month siege that ended last week after about 2,500 Ukrainian fighters left the steel plant where they had last stood.
Workers excavating the ruins of an apartment building in Mariupol found 200 bodies in a basement, Ukrainian authorities said on May 24.
Petro Andryushchenko, the mayor’s adviser, did not say when it was found, but the number of casualties makes it one of the deadliest attacks in the war.
If Russia succeeds and the Donbas front line moves to the west, British intelligence estimates that Russia’s communication lines will be overstretched and could lead to further logistical supply difficulties.
Zelenskiy previously reminded the World Economic Forum in Davos that the slow -coming military aid led to unnecessary deaths because Ukrainians “paid dearly for their freedom and independence.”
He said 87 people had been killed in a Russian attack earlier this month on a military base in Desna in the north, which would be one of the largest attacks recorded in the war.
Kyiv is ready to exchange prisoners with Russia “even tomorrow,” Zelenskiy said, calling on its allies to put pressure on Moscow.
WATCH: A team buried the bodies of Russian soldiers near the village of Mala Rohan on May 18, in the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine. Together with friends from Lithuania, they were looking for evidence of war crimes-but also identifying bodies that would be sent back to Russia.
Zelenskiy also stressed his demand for Moscow to be cut from the global economy, called for an international oil embargo on Russia, as well as punitive measures against all banks.
Many of the 27 EU member states are heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas, prompting criticism from Kyiv that the bloc has not moved quickly to cut supplies.
But Germany said on May 22 that the European Union would agree to a Russian oil import embargo “in a few days,” despite opposition from Hungary, which remained demanding energy investment before agreeing to the embargo.
“We’re going to get a breakthrough in a few days,” German Economy Minister Robert Habeck told ZDF broadcaster.
However, Habeck warns that the ban will not directly damage Moscow, as rising global oil prices mean getting more for cheaper crude oil.
Habeck said the EU and the United States are considering a proposal to close the global oil price – an “unusual move” for “an unusual era.”
Russia supplies 40 percent of the European Union’s natural gas and 27 percent of its oil imports and earns about 400 billion euros ($ 426 billion) annually for this supply.
With reports by Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, CNN, and BBC