April 11 (UPI) — Ukrainian officials said on Monday that they’re bracing for a new Russian military offensive that will concentrate on the eastern region of Ukraine that’s mostly controlled by pro-Moscow separatist rebels.
A long column of Russian military vehicles heading south to the Donbas region spotted over the weekend is one sign of the new offensive, officials say. The concern over a new offensive comes as Western intelligence officials say that the Kremlin has tapped Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, known for leading brutal operations in Syria, to lead operations in Ukraine.
“I’m afraid the Russian troops are massing on the east to launch an attack on the Donbas,” said Josep Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, according to The Washington Post.
Denis Pushilin, leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, said military operations will intensify.
“The more we delay, the more the civilian population simply suffers, being held hostage by the situation,” Pushilin said, according to The Guardian. “We have identified areas where certain steps need to be accelerated.”
Ukrainian military officials said they expect Russia to continue hitting transportation structures “to disrupt the supply of goods to the places of hostilities,” the Guardian report said.
Chechnyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov said that Russia is renewing the offensive in the east as well as Mariupol in the south, near Kyiv in central Ukraine and other major Ukrainian points.
There have been repeated efforts to create humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to escape Mariupol and Donetsk and Luhansk, with limited success. Ukrainian officials says Russia has repeatedly violated cease-fire agreements that would have allowed more citizens to leave. A missile attack last Friday on a train station in Kramatorsk, near Donetsk, killed more than 50 civilians waiting to evacuate.
Meanwhile, Moscow said on Monday that Russian forces have made “territorial” gains in the port city of Mariupol, a strategic city that’s been under constant Russian attack since the invasion began Feb. 24.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an address Monday to South Korean lawmakers that Mariupol has been destroyed and tens of thousands of people there have been killed.
“We need much more to survive in this war against such a prepared adversary as the Russian Federation,” he said according to his office’s translation of his speech.
“We need air defense systems, aircraft, tanks and other armored vehicles, artillery systems and ammunition. And you have something that can be indispensable for us. Armored vehicles, anti-aircraft, anti-tank, anti-ship weapons.”
Zelensky also renewed calls on Monday for more weapons and defense equipment from allies in the fight against Russian aggression.
“There is no hope that Russia will simply stop on its own,” he said. “There is no hope that reason will prevail, and the Russian leadership will simply refuse to continue this war. Russia can only be forced to do so.”
Before Zelensky’s speech, however, South Korea’s defense minister said there are limits on providing lethal aid to Ukraine, according to Yonhap.
Russia’s defense ministry said over the weekend that it destroyed a S-300 anti-aircraft missile system near Dnipro, which was given to Ukraine. Slovakia Prime Minister Eduard Heger, which delivered a similar weapon to Ukraine last week, denied the Kremlin’s claim as disinformation.