Russia’s new attacks in eastern Ukraine are what the Pentagon believes to be a prelude to a major offensive in the Donbas region, a senior U.S. Defense Department official said Tuesday.
The attacks, southwest of Donetsk and south of Izyum, have come as Russia continues to add to its forces in Ukraine and resupply those already inside the country, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence findings.
The Russians inserted two battalion tactical groups into Ukraine in the last day, to increase the number to 78, the official said. Russian battalions vary in size from about 800 to 1,000 troops.
Both Ukrainian and Russian officials acknowledged Tuesday the war had entered a new phase. Ukraine’s military said “the occupiers made an attempt to break through our defenses along nearly the entire frontline,” while Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said the goal was “full liberation” in Donetsk and Luhansk.
The Russians, who invaded Feb. 24, have faced spirited, effective resistance from Ukrainian troops and have lost about 25% of the combat force Vladimir Putin deployed, the official said.
The renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine has involved Russian ground units supported by artillery, and about 80% of Russia’s artillery forces have been available for the fight, the official said.
While outnumbered and outgunned, the Ukrainians will not be easily defeated in the east, the official said. The Ukrainians know the terrain and have good supply lines and the ability to reinforce and resupply their forces, the official said.
Russian pilots, the official said, have shown a reluctance to fly into Ukrainian airspace, fearing attack from effective air defenses.
The Russians appear trying to learn from the failures they had in supporting their invading forces that the Ukrainians shredded, the official said. They have moved supplies in advance of their main assault.
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►Luhansk regional military administrator Serhiy Haidai said Tuesday that about 70,000 civilians remain in the region as Russian attacks have ratcheted up this week.
►Russians took control of Kreminna on Monday after “leveling everything to the ground,” and evacuations are impossible, Luhansk regional military administrator Serhiy Haidai said on Ukrainian TV.
►Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday awarded honors to a military brigade Ukraine has accused of committing war crimes in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, CNN and the Washington Post reported.
►For a third consecutive day Tuesday, no humanitarian corridors for civilians to flee the fighting were open in Ukraine, the country’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
►Nearly 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, according to the U.N.’s refugee agency. The U.N. Security Council will meet Tuesday to discuss refugees, human trafficking and foreign citizens’ difficulties.
►The Greek coast guard said it seized a Russian oil tanker with 19 Russian crew members on board in the Aegean Sea as part of European Union sanctions.
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UN chief calls for ‘humanitarian pause’ for Orthodox Easter
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called for a four-day pause in hostilities in Ukraine to observe Holy Week in the Orthodox Christian tradition.
Guterres said the pause should begin Thursday and said it was even more necessary given the intensified attacks in eastern Ukraine this week.
“The onslaught and terrible toll on civilians we have seen so far could pale in comparison to the horror that lies ahead. This cannot be allowed to happen,” Guterres told reporters, urging Russians and Ukrainians “to silence the guns and forge a path to safety for so many at immediate risk.”
Battles ongoing in eastern towns; several dead in Kharkiv strike
Fighting in the eastern towns of Rubizhne and Popasna in the Luhansk region was ongoing Tuesday, regional military administrator Serhiy Haidai said in a report by state news agency Ukriniform.
Haidai said stronger shelling and air attacks have occurred along the eastern frontline, but Russian troops were being held in the two towns as of Tuesday.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk region military, said Russian troops were moving toward Kramatorsk and Sloviansk after capturing the town of Kreminna, CNN reported.
Meanwhile, in the city of Kharkiv, the Associated Press reported at least four people were killed and three others wounded after a Russian strike in an residential area. Kharkiv regional Gov. Oleh Synyehubov previously said Tuesday that five civilians were killed and another 17 wounded in Russian rocket attacks in the center of Kharkiv and its outskirts over the past day.
More than 5,000 Ukrainian refugees detained in US, CBP says
More than 5,000 Ukrainian refugees were detained while entering the United States at land, sea or air borders last month, according to new data from Customs and Border Protection.
Specifically, 5,071 Ukrainian people were detained in March, up from 1,146 Ukrainians who were detained in February. Some of the refugees who were detained were part of the larger 221,303 individuals that CBP encountered along the southwest land border.
Most Ukrainians that were detained have been released to the United States under humanitarian parole, which allows individuals to temporarily stay in the country, according to the Washington Post,
The Biden administration on Monday extended the eligibility for Ukrainians for temporary protected status. Those who arrived by April 11 are now able to apply for TPS, which allows them to stay in the United States for 18 months and apply for work permits. The Department of Homeland Security initially announced TPS for Ukrainians in early March.
As Russia continues to attack Ukraine, more than 4.9 million refugees have fled Ukraine. The United States in March pledged to accept 100,000 Ukrainians and individuals who have been displaced due to the war.
However, the Biden administration has yet to lay out a specific plan on how they are planning to accept the Ukrainian refugees to the country. The administration has said they are looking into options such as humanitarian parole or refugee programs.
– Rebecca Morin
Russian forces in Mariupol give new deadline for troops to surrender
The Russian military attacking Ukrainian forces holed up in the giant Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol gave the group a new deadline of midday Tuesday to surrender.
Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev gave the new surrender demands to the Ukrainian forces in the steel mill. The besieged city of Mariupol has been bombarded by Russian forces since the invasion began, and the forces in the steel mill are the last major pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the port city.
Denys Prokopenko, the commander of the Azov Regiment of the National Guard whose soldiers have been holding out, said Monday that Russian forces had started dropping bunker-buster bombs on the mill. Civilians are also sheltering in the mill.
Treasury secretary to meet with Ukraine PM, avoid Russia during G-20
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she will meet with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal this week during G-20, the annual gathering of some of the world’s largest economies.
However, she’ll be trying to avoid most contact with Russian officials, echoing her comments from earlier this month. During a congressional hearing on April 6, Yellen said “I’ve made clear to my colleagues in Indonesia that we will not be participating in a number of meetings if the Russians are there.”
President Joe Biden has previously said Russia should be removed from the G20.
– Celina Tebor