The van converted into an ambulance of the Ukrainian forces arrives full of soldiers. Some with huge open wounds. On occasion, several have arrived without a hand or without legs. On Monday, the vehicle full of wounded brought to Dr. Andrei’s emergency post a soldier with his head almost hanging; practically dead. It was one of the worst days, acknowledges the doctor, blond and stocky, as he shows the interior of the van, with the floor covered with cardboard that is soaked with blood. Disposable cardboard. Russia launched brutal attacks from helicopters against Ukrainian positions on the Lugansk front and the Andrei emergency post, in a trench in the rear, treated a hundred wounded that day. Furious at slow progress, the Kremlin has launched vicious attacks on Donbas in eastern Ukraine in recent days. And very bloody. “Artillery and aviation are horrible for us. This is a nightmare, but they, the Russians, are worse off,” says the doctor.
Russia’s war against Ukraine has entered its fourth month without the Kremlin being able to claim the great victory it hoped for. After the failed offensive to take kyiv and being forced to withdraw troops from the north of the country, Russian President Vladimir Putin is now focusing on the Donbas area. In the eastern region, the fighting, which has increasingly turned into artillery duels, has progressively intensified, according to a report from the British intelligence service, which notes that Moscow is reinforcing its troops in Donbas, albeit barely. The Russian offensive in that eastern area of the country, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmitro Kuleba, assured on Tuesday, is “the largest on European soil since the Second World War.”
The loss of life in the decisive battle to the east is enormous. In three months of war against Ukraine, a similar number of Russian soldiers have died as Soviet soldiers in nine years of war in Afghanistan, estimates the British Ministry of Defense, which puts at least 14,000 soldiers killed on the Russian side (ten times more than the last official data published by Moscow, in March).
Ukraine has recognized that the decisive battle for Donbas is extremely difficult. kyiv does not publish its death figures, but the president, Volodymyr Zelensky, estimated on Sunday between 50 and 100 soldiers killed per day on the Lugansk and Donetsk fronts. Army sources estimate that there are many more, especially on the Lugansk front. “They organized a massacre there and are trying to destroy every living thing,” Zelensky said Monday night in an address to the nation. “Nobody destroyed Donbas as much as the Russian Army does now,” he added.
The Kremlin, which controls a thick strip of territory in southern Ukraine and has managed to block the European country’s outlets to the sea, intensified air and artillery attacks southeast of Izium, a town that it has taken as a logistics base and from which prepares for the assault on Sloviansk. Moscow now seeks to encircle the eastern cities of Severodonetsk and Lisichansk. In his offensive, he has pocketed several Ukrainian units stationed in villages around those coveted industrial towns of Lugansk. The commanders have lost contact with them for days. The Ukrainian forces also claim that Russian soldiers in civilian clothes have infiltrated the small town of Soledar, where after severe artillery attacks and shelling the fighting is now street by street, and access is not allowed for the press for now.
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Ten kilometers down the road (to the south) of that fierce urban fighting, in Bakhmut, the few people who remain try to make a living normal. There is a meeting of neighbors in a small grocery store, the gas station has a queue, as it has been for weeks, since the lack of fuel throughout the country, and there is even a flower shop open. But most of the city, like a high percentage of neighborhoods throughout Donbas, has no gas. Viktoria, a slender, dark-haired telephone salesperson who hasn’t worked for three months, has stopped by to buy a coffee at the service station and is trying to find out if the gas problem is general in the country. She is scared and wants to leave. “One can not live this way. Not only because of the bombing, soon the Russians will be here,” she says with a shrug.
The day, however, is relatively calm. And that worries Ukrainian soldiers, who fear that Moscow’s forces are repositioning themselves on other fronts or resupplying to attack again with force. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian troops also continue to receive reinforcements, relocating units and digging trenches. Also receiving a steady stream of Western weapons, including US howitzers and drones, Polish tanks and other heavy equipment that are immediately sent into combat and whose warehouses and convoys Moscow is systematically trying to destroy. kyiv is seeking to wear down Russian forces and buy time for its troops to continue training abroad to use new weapons systems, such as M777 Howitzer artillery pieces.
In Russia, meanwhile, concern about the slow pace of the offensive is beginning to become public. The most nationalist figures have criticized the failures of what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” and organizations such as the All-Russian Assembly of Officers – an independent association of veterans that seeks to reform Russian military strategy – called a few days ago on the President Putin and the Kremlin to declare war on Ukraine to decree a partial mobilization.
Among some of the names from the Kremlin orbit who have spoken of the invasion there is also a change of tone. Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, and one of Putin’s closest men, commented on Monday that the Russian military “is not chasing deadlines.” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stressed, however, that the pace has been deliberate to allow civilians to flee the bombed areas; even though Moscow has indiscriminately attacked civilian targets.
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