If there is no Ukrainian strong Army, there will be no Ukraine, and that will be the case when everyone will understand… it’s not the war in Ukraine, it’s the war in Europe. We are defending our country, our land. We are not attacking anyone, because that is immoral – Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov on 20 April said Kyiv faced “Some extremely difficult weeks lie ahead,” warning of a major ‘destruction’ in a developing Russian offensive in the east of the country. Russia has already gathered forces for a large-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine,” he added, saying Moscow “will try to inflict as much pain as possible.” Russia has pressed on with its invasion of Ukraine, re-focusing on the east and south of the country as the war enters its third month. Desperate with the stalemate in Ukraine, Russia has intensified attacks across Ukraine in a push to breakdown its defences ahead of an expected assault on the east. Russian forces have launched a barrage of attacks on targets across Ukraine in what appeared to be an intensified bid to grind down the country’s defences ahead of an all-out assault on the east.
At least seven people were killed in a series of Russian strikes on Lviv on Monday, which also ignited blazes in the western Ukraine city that has so far been spared fierce fighting during almost two months of war and has become a haven for internally displaced Ukrainians. To the Kremlin’s increasing anger, Lviv has become a major conduit for NATO-supplied weapons and foreign fighters joining Ukrainian forces in the battle against Russia. Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said on social media that Russian missiles had targeted Ukrainian military infrastructure and that an auto mechanic shop had also been struck.
Russia’s Army said it destroyed a large depot of foreign weapons recently delivered to Ukraine. Russian planes in the morning struck a Ukrainian logistics centre near Lviv holding “large batches of foreign weaponry, delivered to Ukraine over the past six days by the United States and European countries”, and “destroyed” them, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
Russia intensified strikes in and around the capital Kyiv further east, targeting a number of facilities that produce military hardware. Those bombardments come after Moscow pledged to respond to what it called Ukrainian attacks on Russian soil and the sinking of the Moskva warship. Military analysts say Russia is increasing its strikes on weapons factories, railways and other infrastructure targets across Ukraine to wear down the country’s ability to resist a major ground offensive in the Donbas region, Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking eastern industrial heartland. The Russian military said its missiles struck more than 20 military targets in eastern and central Ukraine in the past day, including ammunition depots, command headquarters and groups of troops and vehicles. General Richard Dannatt, a former head of the British Army, told Sky News the strikes were part of a softening-up campaign by Russia ahead of a planned ground offensive in the Donbas.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal pledged to ‘fight absolutely to the end’ in the strategically vital port city of Mariupol, where the last known pocket of resistance in the seven-week siege consisted of Ukrainian fighters holed up in a sprawling steel plant. The holdouts ignored a surrender-or-die ultimatum from the Russians on Sunday. Ukraine’s Government halted civilian evacuations for a second day on Monday, saying Russian forces were shelling and blocking the humanitarian corridors.
Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine had been negotiating passage from cities and towns in the east and southeast, including Mariupol and other areas in the Donbas. The Government of the Luhansk region in the Donbas said four civilians trying to flee were shot and killed by Russian forces. It appears that Russia could be prosecuted for war crimes over its refusal to allow civilians to leave Mariupol. “Your refusal to open these humanitarian corridors will in the future be a reason to prosecute all involved for war crimes,” she wrote on social media.
In conclusion, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said his organisation was doing all it could to help evacuate those trapped inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Speaking at a news conference in Kyiv with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the UN chief said he was in Ukraine to ‘zero in’ on needs on the ground and scale up operations. “During my visit to Moscow, President Putin agreed in principle to the involvement of the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross in the evacuation of civilians in the Azovstal plant in Mariupol. “Today, President Zelenskyy and I have the opportunity to address this issue and as we speak there are intense discussions to move forward on this proposal to make it a reality.”
The writer is an Attorney-at-Law with LLB, LLM, M.Phil. (Colombo)
By Lakshman I. Keerthisinghe