Rescuers clear the rubble of a house destroyed after a Russian attack in a residential area in downtown Kharkiv, Ukraine, Saturday, July 9, 2022. AP
After enduring protracted battles to seize towns in the neighboring Lugansk region, Russia is now looking to push deeper into Donetsk to consolidate its hold over the entire Donbass region.
Air raid sirens sounded overnight across the east and south of the country.
Residents of the small town of Druzhkivka, south of the industrial city of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, woke up on Saturday to a suspected missile attack that destroyed a supermarket and left a huge crater in the outside.
Ukrainian officials said on Saturday that five people had been killed in the Donetsk region in the past 24 hours and seven had been injured.
“The whole front line is under constant shelling,” Donetsk military administration chief Pavlo Kyrylenko said in a Telegram message on Friday evening.
He said the city of Sloviansk, which Moscow troops have now set their sights on, is “bombarded day and night”.
He also accused Russian forces of burning agricultural fields, saying they were “trying to destroy the crop by all means”.
Luhansk Governor Sergiy Gaiday said on Saturday that the Russians were attacking Donetsk from bases in his region.
“We try to contain their armed formations along the entire front line… Where it is difficult for them to advance, they create a real hell, bombarding the territories on the horizon,” he said.
Kyrylenko warned that the Russians were replenishing troops in the area to prepare for further assaults.
Oleksandr Vilkul, the mayor of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine, said on Saturday that Russia attacked the town with cluster munitions, killing at least one person and in hurting two.
Zelensky said in his Friday evening speech that he spent the day on the front lines in the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region, where he met with civilian and military leaders.
“The eyes of all political movements and aggressive regimes in the world are now on what Russia is doing against us, against Ukraine,” Zelensky said in an Instagram post on Saturday.
“Will the world be able to bring real war criminals to justice? he asked, warning that failure to do so would lead to “hundreds more assaults”.
But in a Telegram message on Saturday, an official with the region’s military administration warned that Russia had “intentionally bombed residential areas” and continued to “terrorize” towns and villages.
The Ukrainian General Staff said the majority of the shelling took place in eastern Ukraine and the second-largest city of Kharkiv, but there was no ground offensive.
In the south, the mayor of Mykolaiv pleaded with citizens not to leave the shelters, as he said explosions had been heard throughout the night.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has been quoted by Ukrainian media as urging residents of occupied areas to evacuate by any means possible.
“Massive fighting is going to take place,” she said.
Kharkiv Governor Oleg Sinegubov said on Saturday four people were injured in attacks on the area, adding that the Russians were “engaged in defensive actions”.
“Continued evolution of support”
In a boost to Kyiv, Washington announced an additional $400 million in military aid, including a type of artillery ammunition with “greater accuracy”, which had not been sent before.
“This is a new development in our support for Ukraine in this battle in the Donbass,” said a senior defense official quoted by the US Department of Defense.
The aid package also includes four additional high-mobility artillery rocket systems to add to the eight already in place.
“From a security assistance perspective, it’s a steady drumbeat now, and it’s a long-term commitment to Ukraine,” the same official said.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Saturday that the first batch of 10,000 inexperienced Ukrainian military recruits had started training in England under a UK-led scheme.
US urges China to condemn ‘aggression’
The United States also lobbied Russia diplomatically during a meeting of the Group of 20 foreign ministers in Indonesia.
Washington and its allies condemned Russia’s assault ahead of the rally before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov faced what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called a barrage of Western criticism during the talks in behind closed doors.
Blinken on Saturday called on China to distance itself from Russia after talks with his Chinese counterpart in Indonesia.
Blinken said he told Wang Yi “this is really a time when we all have to stand up, as we have heard country after country in the G20, to condemn the aggression, to demand among other things that Russia allow access to food that is stuck in Ukraine”.
He added that there was “no sign” that Moscow was willing to engage after the G20 talks.
“If there is an opportunity for diplomacy, we will seize it,” he said.
Lavrov was defiant on Friday and accused Western nations of avoiding “talking about global economic issues” instead of war.