day after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in seizing an eastern Ukraine province essential to his wartime aims, a city in the path of Moscow’s offensive came under sustained bombardment, its mayor said Tuesday.
Mayor Vadim Lyakh said in a Facebook that “massive shelling” pummeled Sloviansk, which had a population of about 107,000 before Russian invaded Ukraine more than four months ago. Hours earlier, the mayor had urged citizens to flee and advised them to seek shelter in shelters.
The barrage targeting Sloviansk underscored fears that Russian forces were positioned to advance farther into Ukraine’s Donbas region, a mostly Russian-speaking industrial area where the country’s most experienced soldiers are concentrated.
Sloviansk has taken rocket and artillery fire during Russia’s war in Ukraine, but the bombardment picked up in recent days after Moscow took the last major city in neighboring Luhansk province, Lyakh said.
“It’s important to evacuate as many people as possible,” he warned Tuesday morning, adding that shelling damaged 40 houses on Monday.
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In order to prevent being surrounded by the Ukrainian troops, the Ukrainian military pulled its troops out of Lysychansk. Russia’s defense minister and Putin said the city’s subsequent capture put Moscow in control of all of Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the Donbas.
The office of Ukraine’s president said the Ukrainian military was still defending a small part of Luhansk and trying to buy time to establish fortified positions in nearby areas.
Now, the question is whether Russia has enough power to seize Donbas and take Donetsk. Putin acknowledged Monday that Russian troops who fought in Luhansk need to “take some rest and beef up their combat capability.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared Tuesday that Russia would not relent on the conflict in Ukraine until the goal set forth by Putin is achieved. However, Shoigu said “the main priorities” for Moscow at the moment were “preserving the lives and health” of the troops, as well as “excluding the threat to the security of civilians.”
When Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, his stated goals were defending the people of the Donbas against Kyiv’s alleged aggression, and the “demilitarization” and “denazifaction” of Ukraine.
Pro-Russian separatists held much of Donbas since 2008, when they fought Ukrainian forces. Putin acknowledged the independence of two separatist republics within the region before the invasion. He also sought to portray the tactics of Ukrainian forces and the government as akin to Nazi Germany’s, claims for which no evidence has emerged.
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The General Staff of the Ukrainian military said Russian forces also shelled several Donetsk towns and villages around Sloviansk in the past day but were repelled as they tried to advance toward a town about 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the city’s north. The Russians were pushing southward towards two additional towns, and trying to shell areas close Kramatorsk.
Meanwhile, Moscow-installed officials in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region on Tuesday announced the formation of a new regional government there, with a former Russian official at the helm.
Sergei Yeliseyev, the head of the new Moscow-backed government in Kherson, is a former deputy prime minister of Russia’s western exclave of Kaliningrad and also used to work at Russia’s Federal Security Service, or the FSB, according to media reports.
It wasn’t immediately clear what would become of the “military-civic administration” the Kremlin installed earlier. The administration’s head, Vladimir Saldo said in a Telegram statement that the new government was “not a temporary, not a military, not some kind of interim administration, but a proper governing body.”
“The fact that not just Kherson residents, but Russian officials, too, are part of this government speaks clearly about the direction the Kherson region is headed in the future,” he said. “This direction is to Russia.”
Ukrainian officials did not respond immediately.
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