Russia has started its expected major new offensive in eastern Ukraine, President Zelenskyy has said.
Vladimir Putin’s forces have attacked along a 300-mile front in eastern Ukraine as part of a full-scale ground offensive to take control of the Donbas region.
The stepped-up assaults began on Monday and focused on the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, with the Russian forces trying to advance in several sections, including from neighbouring Kharkiv.
“The occupiers made an attempt to break through our defences along nearly the entire frontline,” Ukraine’s General Staff said in a statement.
Russia’s defence ministry has claimed its anti-aircraft forces downed a Ukrainian MiG-29 jet in the Donetsk region in Donbas overnight.
The ministry said the jet was brought down as Russian missile and artillery forces struck 1,260 targets in Ukraine.
Moscow’s forces have been repositioning and reinforcing for several weeks after being thwarted in their attempt to capture the capital Kyiv.
Russia has declared the capture of the Donbas to be its main goal in the war since its assault on the capital failed.
The Kremlin has said it wants to “liberate” the region and pro-Russian separatist fighters have been battling Ukraine’s military in the area – which includes Donetsk and Luhansk – since 2014.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address on Monday: “The Russian troops have begun the battle for the Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time.
“A significant part of the entire Russian army is now concentrated on this offensive.
“No matter how many Russian troops are driven there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves. We will do it every day.”
Oleksiy Arestovych, an aide to the Ukrainian president, has said Russia’s new offensive in eastern Ukraine will fail because Moscow’s forces lack the strength to break through Ukrainian defences.
He said Russian forces were trying to find “sensitive spots” in Ukraine’s defences but added: “Their offensive will fail – I give you a 99% guarantee – they simply do not have enough strength.”
“The battle for Donbas, which was announced and apparently began yesterday, is under way and is going very cautiously. The battle will not go in Russia’s favour,” he said on national television.
Mr Arestovych’s spoke after several senior Ukrainian officials said a new stage of the war had begun.
Presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak wrote on the Telegram messaging app that “the second phase of the war has started” but urged people to stay resolute.
“Believe in our army, it is very strong,” he said.
That came after a message from Ukraine’s top security official that the “active phase” of a new offensive had started on Monday morning.
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Oleksiy Danilov, the security council secretary, said Russia had attempted to break through defences “along almost the entire front line of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions”.
He added: “Fortunately, our military is holding out. They passed through only two cities. This is Kreminna and another small town.”
There were street battles in Kreminna and Russian forces took control of the city, according to Luhansk regional military administrator Serhiy Haidai.
He told Ukrainian TV that heavy artillery fire set seven residential buildings on fire and targeted a sports complex where the nation’s Olympic team trains.
Mr Haidai said that before advancing, Russian forces “just started levelling everything to the ground”. He said his forces retreated to regroup and keep fighting.
It comes as there are fears Russia’s attempt to take Donbas will be more successful than its failed push to take Kyiv.
Former head of the British Army Lord Dannatt told Sky News it would have been “meticulously prepared”, as opposed to the “haphazard” attempt to capture the capital.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces have struck a village near Russia’s border with Ukraine, the governor of the Russian province of Belgorod has said.
It was not immediately clear whether the strike referred to by governor Vyacheslav Gladkov in posts on messaging app Telegram was carried out by artillery, mortars, missiles or was an aerial attack.
Mariupol on the brink of falling under Russian control
It comes as the city of Mariupol, which has been pummelled for weeks, appears on the brink of finally coming under total Russian control.
The last remaining pocket of resistance in the city is made up of a few thousand Ukrainian fighters holed up in the sprawling Azovsta steel plant with a network of underground tunnels.
Russia has called on Ukrainian forces and foreign mercenaries to leave the plant by midday Moscow time (10am UK time).
“All who lay down their arms are guaranteed to remain alive,” the defence ministry said.
Ukrainian fighters had already rejected a “surrender-or-die” ultimatum on Sunday, just as they had rejected previous ultimatums.
Upwards of 1,000 civilians have taken refuge in the underground shelters at the plant but Russia continues to bomb the factory, said Mariupol’s council.
Bunker-busting bombs are now being dropped, according to the commander of the Azov Regiment of the National Guard.
“Russian occupational forces, and their proxy… know about the civilians, and they keep willingly firing on the factory,” said Denys Prokopenk.
Deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk has demanded an “urgent humanitarian corridor” for women, children and civilians.
If Russia takes the city it could free up even more troops for the battle in the east and crucially achieve one of its key aims – creating a land corridor from Crimea, through Mariupol, to Donbas.
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Russia’s defence ministry also claimed to have hit hundreds of military targets in Ukraine overnight into Monday.
At least seven killed in western city as explosions heard overnight
At least seven people were killed in the western city Lviv, near the Polish border, which has been a relatively safe haven so far and attracted refugees from across the country.
Three military infrastructure facilities that weren’t in use were hit, as well as a “barbaric” attack on a civilian service station, said regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy.
Lviv’s proximity to Poland and the EU has made it a major gateway for the large amounts of weaponry donated by the US and European allies.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Ukrainian media reported a series of explosions along the front line in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, with shelling taking place in nearby Marinka, Slavyansk, and Kramatorsk.
Local officials also said explosions were heard in Kharkiv in the northeast of Ukraine, Mykolaiv in the south, and Zaporizhzhia in the southeast.