THE Russia has intensified its attacks in eastern and southern Ukraine, Kiev said on Thursday, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened swift retaliation against any Western countries that engage on Ukraine’s behalf.
More than two months after an invasion that destroyed cities but failed to seize the capital Kiev, Russia mounted an effort to seize two eastern provinces in a battle that the West sees as a decisive turning point in the war.
“The enemy is increasing the pace of the offensive operation. The Russian occupiers are exerting intense fire in almost all directions,” Ukraine’s military command said of the situation on the eastern front.
The command said Russia’s main attack was near the towns of Slobozhanske and Donets, along a strategic frontline highway linking Kharkiv – Ukraine’s second-largest city – to Russian-occupied Izyum. The regional governor of Kharkiv said Russian forces were stepping up attacks from Izyum, but Ukrainian troops were holding their ground.
Although Russian forces were driven out of northern Ukraine last month, they are heavily entrenched in the east and still retain a swath of the south they took in March.
Ukraine said there were strong explosions overnight in the southern city of Kherson, the only regional capital Russia has occupied since the invasion. Russian troops used tear gas and stun grenades on Wednesday to quell pro-Ukrainian demonstrations, and were now bombing the entire surrounding region and attacking Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih, the hometown of President Volodmyr Zelensky, the government said. Ukrainian.
Kiev accuses Moscow of planning a fake independence referendum in the occupied south. According to Russian state media, an official of a self-styled pro-Russian “military-civilian commission” in Kherson said on Thursday that the area would start using the ruble, Russia’s currency, from May 1.
Western countries have increased arms deliveries to Ukraine in recent days as fighting in the east intensified. More than 40 countries gathered this week at a US airbase in Germany and pledged to send in heavy weapons, such as artillery, for what is expected to be a vast battle of enemy armies along a fortified front line.
Washington now says it hopes Ukrainian forces can not only repel Russian attacks in the east, but weaken its armed forces so they can no longer threaten their neighbors. Russia says this amounts to a “proxy war” by NATO against it.
“If anyone intends to intervene from the outside in the ongoing events and create strategic threats to Russia that are unacceptable to us, they should know that our retaliatory attacks will be lightning quick,” Putin told lawmakers in St Petersburg.
“We have all the tools for that, things that no one else can brag about right now. And we’re not going to brag, we’re going to use them if necessary. And I want everyone to know that.”
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