Russian troops advanced from Kharkiv to Donbassan important region to encircle Ukrainian positions in the north of Donetsk, while consolidating their control over the south of the country, on the border with the Crimean peninsula.
According to the Ukrainian General Staff, the enemy army has in recent hours concentrated troops and weapons in Izium, near Kharkiv, and intensified attacks to gain definitive control of the area.
In addition, Moscow reportedly transported air units and up to 500 pieces of military equipment to Izium, which is 70 km from Kramatorsk, a Ukrainian military stronghold in the Donbass.
Small Russian advances
The Institute for War Studies, an American research center, confirmed in a recent report that Russian forces had made minor but steady advances both in Izium and along the line of contact in eastern Ukraine.
Russian forces have also taken over several small villages west of Izium in the last 24 hours.
According to the report, the Russians intend to encircle Ukrainian positions up to these areas, on the roads to Barvinkove and at the Sloviansk communications crossing. The institute also said the growing concentration of artillery pieces is likely to allow Russian forces to achieve their objective.
In 2014, in the two biggest battles of the Donbass war, pro-Russian militias reinforced by Russian forces surrounded and crushed the Ukrainian army.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov on Thursday predicted “an extremely difficult week” due to the massive Russian offensive in Donbass. According to him, foreign aid to Ukraine will continue to grow, but its implementation, “preparation [dos militares] and logistical issues” will take some time.
“However, Russia has already built up forces for a major offensive in eastern Ukraine,” the minister wrote on Facebook.
The Russians also seem determined to keep the territories occupied. Some are already considering circulating the ruble and integrating it with the annexed Crimean peninsula, according to Kiev.
“From May 1, we will be in the ruble zone,” said Kiril Stremousov, representative of the new pro-Russian authorities in the Kherson region, neighboring Crimea.
According to the source, the transition period in which both rubles and Ukrainian hryvnias will be in circulation will last about four months.
“After that, transactions will only be in rubles,” he said, quoted by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
In Kherson, Russian forces on Monday entered the local town hall, which is the first major city captured in just over two months of the invasion, said the mayor, Igor Kolykhaiv.
The Russians announced that the mayor’s powers “are being delegated” and that the new head of the regional administration will be former mayor Vladimir Saldo.
On Thursday, the deposed mayor of Kherson commented that “possibly they [os russos] intend to unite [a região de Kharkov] to Crimea”.
Kolykhaiv denied reports of preparations for a possible referendum in the region to declare Ukraine’s independence, as Donetsk and Lugansk did eight years ago. “It makes no sense to create another quasi-republic. There are no preparations for a referendum,” he declared in an interview with Ukrainian NV.