Zelensky says Russia has started ‘battle for Donbas’

Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP
In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a meeting with Slovenia Prime Minister Janez Jansa, Czech Republic Prime Minister Petr Fiala, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski on behalf of the European Council, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 15, 2022. At right is Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday that Russia has begun its battle for the Donbas after regrouping ahead of an expected offensive on the country’s eastern region.

“It can now be stated that Russian troops have begun the battle for Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time,” Zelensky said in an address.  “A very large part of the entire Russian army is now focused on this offensive.”

“No matter how many Russian soldiers are driven there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves,” the president added, saying he was grateful to all Ukrainian fighters, especially in hard-hit areas such as the Donbas and Mariupol. 

Also on Monday, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry tweeted that Moscow’s “genocidal army is concentrating its forces in eastern Ukraine.” 

“Rocket attacks, bombings, and artillery shelling are widespread,” it said. “Mariupol is being destroyed by multiton air bombs.”

“Our warriors are beating and will continue to beat the enemy,” the ministry added.

Ukraine has been preparing for a possible attack on its eastern region since Russian forces moved their focus away from the capital city of Kyiv earlier this month.

Following peace talks, the number of Russian forces in the cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv decreased, a move that the U.S. and Ukraine both claimed was an effort to refocus on the Donbas region. 

“We don’t actually see any withdrawal of Russian forces. What we see is that they are repositioning them and that they are planning for a more broad offensive in the Donbas region,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the time.

Around that time, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that Russia was “trying to resupply and reinforce their efforts in the Donbas.”

“It does seem to be a mix of personnel carrying vehicles as well as armored vehicles and maybe some artillery, maybe some enabling capabilities,” Kirby said.

Since 2014,  Ukrainian forces have been fighting with Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region. 

Updated: 5:54 p.m.

Tags Donbas Russia-Ukraine war Volodymyr Zelensky Volodymyr Zelensky

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