KYIV/BAKHMUT, Ukraine, Dec 27 – Russian forces shelled and bombed towns and cities in eastern and southern Ukraine on Tuesday, a day after Russia’s foreign minister said Kyiv must accept Moscow’s demands for ending the war or else suffer defeat on the battlefield.
Those demands include Ukraine recognising Russia’s conquest of a fifth of its territory. Kyiv, armed and supported by the United States and its NATO allies, has vowed to recover all occupied territory and to drive out all Russian soldiers.
Britain’s defence ministry said in its latest update of the military situation in Ukraine that fighting was particularly intense around the strategic eastern city of Bakhmut in Donetsk province and Svatove, further north in Luhansk province. Donetsk and Luhansk, which make up the industrial Donbas, are both claimed, along with two southern Ukrainian regions, by Russia.
“Russia continues to initiate frequent small-scale assaults in these areas (of Bakhmut and Svatove), although little territory has changed hands,” the British ministry tweeted.
Reuters footage showed fires burning in a large residential building in Bakhmut, while debris littered the streets and most buildings had had their windows blown out.
“Our proposals for the demilitarization and denazification of the territories controlled by the regime, the elimination of threats to Russia’s security emanating from there, including our new lands, are well known to the enemy,” TASS news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying late on Monday.
“The point is simple: Fulfil them for your own good. Otherwise, the issue will be decided by the Russian army.”
In his nightly video message on Monday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the situation along the frontline in Donbas “difficult and painful”.
After suffering a series of defeats in its “special military operation,” Russia is now seeking a battlefield victory by capturing Bakhmut, an industrial city with a pre-war population of 70,000, now reduced to about 10,000 mostly elderly residents.
Gaining control of the city could give Russia a stepping stone to advance on two bigger cities, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
“Our building is destroyed. There was a shop in our building, now it’s not there anymore,” said Oleksandr, 85, adding he was the only remaining resident there.
Nearby, 73-year-old Pilaheia said she had long got used to the “constant explosions”.
“Now you just scratch yourself, and don’t even look or listen carefully to what is happening and where. That’s how we are now. But still, I want to live a normal life,” she said, while feeding the chickens of neighbours who had fled.
Over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian forces have repelled Russian attacks in the areas of two settlements in Luhansk province and six in Donetsk, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Tuesday.
It also reported more Russian shelling of Kherson city, in the Zaporizhzhia region and of settlements in the Kharkiv region of northeast Ukraine near the border with Russia.
Oleh Zhdanov, a military analyst based in Kyiv, also cited heavy fighting around elevated areas near Kreminna in Luhansk region as well as around Bakhmut and Avdiivka in Donetsk.
“The arc of fire in Donetsk region continues to burn,” Zhdanov said in a social media video post.
Zelenskiy said as a result of attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure nearly nine million people were currently without power – equal to about a quarter of Ukraine’s population.
Sergey Kovalenko, head of YASNO, which supplies electricity to Kyiv, said late on Monday that while the power situation has been improving in the capital, blackouts will continue.
President Vladimir Putin had planned a swift operation to subdue Ukraine when he ordered the invasion on Feb. 24, but Russia has suffered many embarrassing battlefield setbacks.
In the latest attack to expose gaps in Russia’s air defences, a drone believed to be Ukrainian penetrated hundreds of kilometres through Russian airspace on Monday, causing a deadly explosion at the main base for its strategic bombers.
Moscow said it had shot down the drone at its Engels air base, where three service members were killed. Ukraine did not comment, under its usual policy on incidents inside Russia.
A suspected drone struck the same base on Dec. 5.
The base, the main airfield for the bombers that Kyiv says Moscow has used to attack Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, is hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian frontier. The same planes are also designed to launch nuclear-capable missiles as part of Russia’s long-term strategic deterrent.
The Russian defence ministry said in a statement no planes were damaged, but Russian and Ukrainian social media accounts said several had been destroyed. Reuters was not able to independently verify the reports.
Putin repeated on Sunday that he was open to negotiations but only on Moscow’s terms, a stance Kyiv and the West have rejected. Kyiv and Western countries say Russia is engaged in a brutal, imperialist land grab.
The United States and its allies have imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia and sent billions of dollars in assistance to the Ukrainian government.
Just last week, as Zelenskiy visited Washington, the United States announced another $1.85 billion in military assistance for Ukraine, including a transfer of the Patriot Air Defense System, angering Moscow.
“It is no secret to anyone that the strategic goal of the United States and its NATO allies is to defeat Russia on the battlefield as a mechanism for significantly weakening or even destroying our country,” Lavrov told TASS on Monday.