Moscow eyes all of Ukraine’s east, south

Russian General says aim is to seize Donbas, link up with Crimea, and seize areas as far as Moldova

Published - April 22, 2022 09:14 pm IST - KYIV/MARIUPOL

Pro-Russian troops, including fighters of the Chechen special forces unit, standing in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal plant in Mariupol.

Pro-Russian troops, including fighters of the Chechen special forces unit, standing in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal plant in Mariupol. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

A Russian General declared on Friday that Moscow wants to seize all of southern and eastern Ukraine, far wider war aims than it had acknowledged as it presses on with a new offensive after its campaign to capture the capital Kyiv collapsed last month.

Ukraine said the comments by Rustam Minnekayev, deputy commander of Russia’s central military district, had given the lie to Russia’s previous assertions that it has no territorial ambitions.

“They stopped hiding it,” Ukraine’s Defence Ministry said on Twitter. Russia had “acknowledged that the goal of the ‘second phase’ of the war is not victory over the mythical Nazis, but simply the occupation of eastern and southern Ukraine. Imperialism as it is.”

Gen. Minnekayev was quoted by Russian state news agencies as saying Moscow aimed to seize the entire eastern Donbas region, link up with the Crimea peninsula, and capture Ukraine’s entire south as far as a breakaway, Russian-occupied region of Moldova. That would mean pushing hundreds of miles beyond current lines, past the major Ukrainian cities of Mykolaiv and Odessa.

Ukraine’s general staff said Russian forces had increased attacks along the whole frontline in the east and were trying to mount an offensive in the Kharkiv region, north of Russia’s main target, the Donbas.

In Kharkiv city, Russian shellfire hit the main Barabashovo market. Ambulance services said there had been casualties but no details were available yet. A wedding hall and a residential building were also struck.

Russia said on Thursday it had won the war’s biggest fight — the battle for the main port of the Donbas, Mariupol — after a nearly two-month siege. President Vladimir Putin decided not to try to root out thousands of Ukrainian troops still holed up in a huge steel works there.

In a Russian-held section of the city, the guns had largely fallen silent and dazed looking residents ventured out on streets on Thursday to a background of charred apartment blocks and wrecked cars. Some carried suitcases.

Volunteers in white hazmat suits and masks roved the ruins, collecting bodies from inside apartments and loading them on to a truck marked with the letter “Z”, symbol of Russia’s invasion.

Maxar, a commercial satelite company, said images from space showed freshly dug mass graves on the city’s outskirts. Ukraine estimates tens of thousands of civilians have died in the city during Russia’s bombardment and siege.

Kyiv says 1,00,000 civilians are still inside the city, and need full evacuation. It says Moscow’s decision not to storm the Azovstal steel works is proof that Russia lacks the forces to defeat the Ukrainian defenders.

The United Nations and Red Cross say the civilian toll is still unknowable but at least in the thousands. Russia says it has rescued the city from nationalists.

In Zaporizhzhia, where 79 Mariupol residents arrived in the first convoy of buses permitted by Russia to leave for other parts of Ukraine, Valentyna Andrushenko held back tears as she recalled the ordeal under siege.

“They (Russians) were bombing us from day one. They are demolishing everything. Just erase it,” she said of the city.

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