-The city of Sloviansk in the Donetsk region will be the next objective for Russian forces operating in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Russian forces are closing on the city with units from the Western and Eastern Groups of Forces now just 10 miles from there. Ukrainian forces in and around Sloviansk are digging in and preparing for the enemy assault, which is expected to begin within two days. The city’s mayor has ordered an evacuation of all remaining residents. The effort to clear out Sloviansk began rather later than expected, partly owing to the widening gap between events on the ground and how they are being reported by the Ukrainian and Western medias. The articles and reports coming from a number of media groups and journalists are borderline pro-Ukrainian propaganda, based on reports from Ukrainian government officials and the military instead of facts.
-Revised forecasts by economists indicate Russia is heading towards a less severe recession than forecasters had originally expected. Rising oil production in Russia has done much to offset the economic sanctions put in place by the United States and Europe as well as by other nations around the world. It also speaks volumes for the degree of preparedness Russia had gone to in order to make its economy as sanction-hardened as possible. In the months leading up to war there was a considerable amount of speculation that Russia’s economic security had been fortified to an extent. A fair number of US and European economists and analysts rejected the notion and continued forward with their belief that the weight of global sanctions would do severe damage to the Russian economy and deter Moscow from embarking upon a course of belligerence for very long.
Twenty-four hours after the fact, the Ukrainian military confirmed on Sunday that the city of Lysychansk is now entirely under Russian control. The news was released as reports from third-party and independent sources made it clear Ukrainian forces were withdrawing from the city as Russian troops entered in large numbers. “After heavy fighting for Lysychansk, the defense forces of Ukraine were forced to withdraw from their occupied positions and lines,” read a statement released by the Ukrainian general staff. “In order to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders, a decision was made to withdraw.” The general staff’s statement also spoke of Russian advantages in aircraft, artillery, troop numbers and other forces.
The capture of Lysychansk comes one week after Russian forces captured its sister city of Severodonetsk. Ukraine no longer has a foothold in the Luhansk province. It is now effectively under the control of Russia. With the situation in the east looking bleak for Ukraine, the United States and European nations will be under pressure to provide more powerful weapons to Ukraine in even greater numbers. At this point in the conflict, however, Western unity is starting to sag under the weight of the economic fallout. Behind the scenes, a new push for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to reach a negotiated settlement with Russia will be getting underway soon.
Unfortunately, Zelenskiy is not likely to cave into any potential Western demands on negotiations anytime soon. For whatever reasons, the Ukrainian leader still seems to think he is holding a handful of trump cards and has the upper hand despite the battlefield setbacks. He is also appearing more and more out of tune with real world events when he makes public appearances. For example, earlier today Zelenskiy denied that Lysychansk was completely in Russian hands. While giving a news conference with Australia’s prime minister, who was visiting Kiev, the Ukrainian leader said fighting was taking place on the outskirts of the city. His remarks came as the Ukrainian military was releasing the statement discussed above.
The badly timed comments make Zelenskiy seem either out of touch or reluctant to publicly admit bad news to the people of his country. It is important to keep public morale up, but not by repeating outright lies and propaganda. On this topic, Ukraine’s president has much to learn yet.
It has been some time since I posted an update on events in Ukraine. Quite honestly, it was becoming tedious to cover nothing but the conflict in Ukraine for weeks on end. Especially once the Russian offensive in the north was spent. From then it was clear this war was fated to drag out relentlessly for months. Possibly even beyond a year. As it stands at the moment, Russia’s offensive in the east is making gains. Although Western media attempts to water down this news, the fact of the matter is that Russian forces are advancing and capturing territory in Luhansk and Dontesk, as well as north of Crimea where a rejuvenated southern front is now active.
As the war continues on, Ukraine finds its military in need of more resupply. Although little is mentioned openly about Ukrainian military losses and consumption, it is clear the need for fresh ammunition and weapons systems is increasing. To help, the United States has committed to supplying a limited amount of HIMARS rockets and launch vehicles to Ukraine’s army. The HIMARS rockets are very capable and have a long range that could enable them to reach targets in Russia. Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy assured the US that he will not target Russian territory with HIMARS.
On Sunday, Russian leader Vladimir Putin warned Ukraine and the West that if long range weapons are sent to Ukraine, Russian forces will expand their target list. To back up the warning, explosions rocked Kiev as the capital city was attacked for the first time in weeks. Russia claims it attacked tanks supplied by European nations, while Ukrainian government spokesmen said a railway repair plant.
With the possibility of the conflict in Ukraine expanding as a result of Putin’s warning, Today’s DIRT will be going back to providing a Ukraine Update once every 2-3 days, as well as entries on other events in the world.
Following a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kiev, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin were expressive in declaring that the United States is committed to assisting Ukraine win the war and repel Russian forces from its territory entirely. Austin also said that along with preserving Ukraine, another US desire is to see Russia “weakened to the point where it can’t do things like invade Ukraine.” Blinken also confirmed the US will be opening its embassy back in Kiev within the coming weeks.
Russia is continuing to focus on attacking Ukraine’s infrastructure. Today, a number of rail stations and facilities in central and western Ukraine were attacked, as well as other targets labeled by Ukrainian officials as ‘critical infrastructure.’ Civilian casualties were reported.
Following a fairly quiet Orthodox Easter Sunday, the tempo of fighting in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian positions on the eastern outskirts of Kharkov began taking artillery fire early Monday morning and there are indications of fighting taking place in other areas of the east. This fighting is responsible for the destruction of a substation in the town of Kreminna which has knocked out power for the entire province of Luhansk.
The British government today has said Russian combat losses in the Ukraine War have topped 15,000. U.K. Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace also informed Parliament that over 2,000 Russian armored vehicles were destroyed or captured, including 530 tanks, 530 armored personnel carriers and 560 infantry fighting vehicles, as well as 60 helicopters and fighter jets.
In Mariupol, organized Ukrainian resistance in much of the city had ended. Practically speaking, Russian forces now control most of the port city, but with the notable exception of the Azovstal Steelworks, one of Europe’s largest. Ukrainian troops and civilians are now holing up there. The vast complex is now the center of Ukrainian resistance inside of Mariupol. How long it will hold out remains to be seen. However, it could be a prolonged period of time before resistance comes to an end. The Ukrainian troops there are now fighting to protect the lives of civilians who have gathered at the plant. Their presence gives the Ukrainian soldiers there added incentive to continue fighting fiercely for as long as possible.
Lviv was again targeted by Russian missile strikes on Monday. Five ballistic missiles landed within the city limits. City officials claim seven civilians were killed in the attacks. Russia has increased the pressure on Lviv and other military targets in western Ukraine as its forces continue to prepare for a major offensive in the Donbas region.
In the east, Russia seems to be applying the lessons learned in its failed offensive in northern Ukraine as it undertakes preparations for an attack in the east. Russia is moving in heavy artillery, command and control headquarters, and attack helicopters to support the coming operation. Also in the last five days, 11 full-strength battalion tactical groups have arrived in Luhansk and Donetsk.
The United Nations does not foresee a ceasefire on the horizon in Ukraine. Though Martin Griffiths, UN undersecretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief has indicated he believes one could be possible in the coming weeks. The UN has been working to play a greater role in negotiations between Ukraine and Russia and to bring about humanitarian ceasefires honored by both sides.