Ukraine warned that Russia is preparing to intensify fighting for cities in the country’s eastern Donbas region where the death toll from a Russian missile attack on a residential building over the weekend increased to 31 and rockets killed six in the country’s second-biggest city, Kharkiv.
Eastern Ukraine continued on Monday to be the main focus of a weeks-long grinding Russian offensive where 31 people were confirmed dead after a Russian missile raid on the town of Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a nightly address.
The missile attack late on Saturday destroyed three buildings in a residential quarter of Chasiv Yar, a town inhabited mostly by people who work in nearby factories.
Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed on Monday that “more than 300” Ukrainian combatants had been killed in a Russian attack near Chasiv Yar, without giving a date or further details.
In Chasiv Yar, rescuers made voice contact with two people still alive beneath the rubble of the five-storey apartment building on Monday and emergency services released a video of workers pulling survivors from the concrete debris, where up to two dozen people had been trapped.
Having fought long battles to capture areas of eastern Ukraine in the Luhansk region, Russian troops are now turning their focus to neighbouring Donetsk as they look to take control of the whole of Donbas.
Military experts say Russia is using artillery barrages to pave the way for a renewed push for territory by ground forces.
The eastern region of the country was under persistent shelling on Monday but Russian ground attacks were all but paused, the Ukrainian army said.
Russian troops are likely planning to launch some of their heaviest attacks yet in the Donetsk region, the army said.
“There are signs of enemy units preparing to intensify combat operations in the direction of Kramatorsk and Bakhmut,” the army said, referring to two main cities still under Ukrainian control.
Moscow’s slow, artillery-led advance into the east – despite fierce Ukrainian resistance emboldened by recent deliveries of Western-supplied artillery – contrasts with the failure of Russian forces to capture the capital Kyiv at the start of the invasion.
“This is absolute terrorism!”
In Ukraine’s Kharkiv, in the northeast of the country, the regional chief Oleg Synegubov said Russian rocket fire on Monday hit “a shopping centre and civilian residences”.
Six civilians were killed including a 17-year-old and his father who were “driving past” at the time of the rocket fire, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency quoted prosecutors as saying.
“Only civilian structures – a shopping centre and houses of peaceful Kharkiv residents – came under the fire of the Russians. Several shells hit the yards of private houses. Garages and cars were also destroyed, several fires broke out,” Synegubov wrote on instant messaging app Telegram.
“This is absolute terrorism!” he said.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte during a visit to Kyiv on Monday said his country would supply Ukraine with more long-range artillery and predicted that the war would likely drag on for some time.
“This war may last longer than we all hoped or expected,” Rutte told a news conference with President Zelenskyy.
“But that does not mean we can sit back and passively watch how it unfolds. We have to stay focused and continue to support Ukraine in every way,” he said.
Zelenskyy lamented Russia’s “big advantage” in artillery despite Western offers of help and already receiving billions in Western military aid.
“(Russia) indeed unfortunately has a big advantage in artillery,” Zelenskyy told reporters in Kyiv on Monday alongside the Dutch prime minister.
“With all the partners who are ready to give support, I talk about artillery. There is indeed not enough,” he said.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s International Legion, a fighting unit of foreign troops, said Ukraine’s heavy artillery was outnumbered roughly eight to one by Russian guns.
Zelenskyy also said Russia had carried out 34 air raids since Saturday, while his chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said Moscow should be designated a state sponsor of terrorism over the apartment bombing.
Signs are being sent that Ukraine is preparing a counterattack in the south of the country where Russia seized territory early in the war.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk warned civilians in the Russian-occupied Kherson region in the south on Sunday to urgently evacuate. She gave no timeframe for the coming counterattack but urged people to leave the region.
Ukraine’s Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council Oleksiy Danilov also said on Monday that Western weapons – in particular, precision, long-range artillery – were “already changing the course of the war”.