Following a reported weekend buildup of Russian troops in the eastern Ukrainian city of Izyum, on Monday Russian forces have initiated a major Donbas offensive, resulting in President Zelensky charging that the Kremlin is seeking to destroy the whole eastern region.
At the same time, an estimated 100 missiles were fired on targets across the country, including cruise missiles launched on locations as far away as Lviv. According to The Moscow Times' account of the current battlefield set-up:
Having dispersed from both sides of the Dnieper river north of Kyiv earlier this month, Russian troops appear to be planning a “pincer movement” down from Izyum in the north, and up from Mariupol in the south, in an attempt to push Ukrainian forces out of the Donbas region and deliver a key victory to Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of May 9 when Russia marks the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany.
Ukraine's military leaders have said it's their assessment that Russian troops will now attempt to assert full control over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which have been center of the running conflict and standoff going back to 2014, after which they're expected to launch deeper into the Donbas region.
And Zelensky warned in a Monday video message that "Russian soldiers are preparing for an offensive in the east of our country in the near future. They literally want to finish off and destroy the Donbas."
"Just as the Russian military is destroying Mariupol, they want to destroy other cities and other communities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions", he continued. He said Ukraine's military will do everything to defend the area - this days after he told Western media that he's not willing to concede any Ukrainian territory, even in the far east.
At the same time, Ukraine's security council has stated that its forces in Donetsk and Luhansk are capable of withstanding the new Russian assault.
NEW: Russia’s military brass is “concerned” by the time it is taking to seize Mariupol: British Defense Intelligence assessment— Jack Detsch (@JackDetsch) April 18, 2022
Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol has forced has Russia to divert more troops and supplies to hold their positions, slowing 🇷🇺 advance elsewhere in 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/z1obqBcWzU
The Moscow Times notes, however, that holdout Ukrainian fighters still in Mariupol, even as Russian troops have final pockets of resistance totally surrounded. It's believed that the slow grind of final Mariupol operations is forcing the Russian military to divert valuable resources away from other vital locales.
"Despite Russian troops encircling the city of Mariupol shortly after the beginning of the war, they have made little headway along the Izyum axis because of issues with supply and morale, according to a report published Monday by the Institute for the Study of War," Moscow Times writes.