Kyiv/SLATYNE, Ukraine — Russian forces stepped up their offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, using artillery, rocket launchers and planes to damage defenses around Donetsk, Ukraine’s general staff said on Friday.
“The Russian enemy conducted massive artillery fire on civilian infrastructure, including multiple rocket launchers,” the statement said.
Russian shelling in Luhansk, also in Donbass, has killed 13 civilians in the past 24 hours, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said.
Twelve were killed in the town of Sievierodonesk, where a Russian attack had been unsuccessful, he said.
According to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office, 232 children have been killed and 427 injured since the start of the Russian invasion.
Reuters has not been able to independently verify the reports and Russia denies attacking civilians.
The industrial Donbass region, the focus of recent Russian offensives, has been devastated, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, as some of the world’s richest countries pledged billions of dollars in aid to Kyiv.
Since turning its back on the Ukrainian capital, Russia has deployed massive artillery and armor to try to seize more territory in the Donbass, which consists of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts that Moscow is claiming on behalf of separatists.
“The occupiers are trying to exert even more pressure. Hell is there – and that’s no exaggeration,” said Zelenskyy in a speech on Thursday evening. There are also “constant strikes” in the Odessa region in the south, he said.
“Donbass is completely destroyed,” he said.
Moscow is calling its invasion a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of fascists, a claim that Kyiv and its Western allies see as a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.
Russia is likely to step up operations in the Donbass region once it secures the southern port city of Mariupol, the scene of a weeks-long siege, British military intelligence has said.
As the invasion nears the three-month mark, the US Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved nearly $40 billion in new aid to Ukraine, by far the largest US aid package to date.
The Group of Seven Rich Nations also agreed to provide Ukraine with $18.4 billion. Ukraine said the money would hasten victory over Russia and was just as important as “the weapons you provide”.
The White House is working to put advanced anti-ship missiles in the hands of Ukrainian fighters to help break Russia’s naval blockade, officials said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of weaponizing food by holding “hostage” supplies not only for Ukrainians but for millions around the world.
The war has pushed up world prices for grain, cooking oil, fuel and fertilizer.
The EU said it is studying ways to use the frozen assets of Russian oligarchs to finance Ukraine’s reconstruction, while the United States is not ruling out the possibility of imposing sanctions on countries buying Russian oil.
But divisions also emerged within NATO, with Turkey rejecting Sweden and Finland joining the alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a move that would reverse generations of military non-alignment.
Ankara accuses the two Nordic states of harboring Kurdish militants, but US President Joe Biden and European leaders said they were confident Turkey’s concerns could be addressed.
Last week, Russia won its biggest victory since the invasion began, when Kyiv announced it had ordered its garrison at a Mariupol steel mill to withdraw after a protracted siege.
British military intelligence said as many as 1,700 soldiers are likely to have surrendered at the Azovstal steel factory, according to a similar number released by Moscow on Thursday.
Ukrainian officials who have requested a prisoner exchange declined to comment on the number, saying it could jeopardize rescue efforts.
Late Thursday, Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy head of the Azov regiment defending the steel plant, released an 18-second video saying he and other commanders were still on the plant’s territory.
“A specific operation is underway, the details of which I will not disclose,” he said.
The Switzerland-based International Committee of the Red Cross said it had registered hundreds of prisoners from the facility who are now being held by Russia, but did not give an exact number.
The leader of the Russian-backed separatists who control the area said nearly half the fighters remained at the steel mill.
The wounded would be given medical attention, while the healthy would be taken to a penal colony and treated well, he said.
https://nypost.com/2022/05/20/ukraine-says-russian-attacks-on-donbas-intensifying/ Ukraine says Russian attacks on Donbass are intensifying