Russia’s offensive in the east of Ukraine continued with “active and heavy” fighting on Monday.
After failing to take the capital Kyiv in the first few weeks of the war, Moscow’s army has refocused on the east of Ukraine, notably the Donbas region, which includes the pro-Russian separatist areas of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Fighting is particularly intense around Izyum, Lyman and Rubizhne, as the Russians prepare their attack on Severodonetsk, the last easterly city still held by Kyiv, Ukraine’s general staff said.
“The situation in the Lugansk region can be described in a few words — active and heavy fighting continues,” the defence ministry added.
The governor of Lugansk has said he expected more intense battles ahead of May 9, the day Russia celebrates the 1945 surrender of Nazi Germany to allied forces, including the then Soviet Union.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Italian television late on Sunday that Moscow’s forces “will not artificially adjust their actions to any date, including Victory Day”.
Russia has moved to solidify its grip on areas it controls and from Sunday introduced the Russian rouble in the region of Kherson — initially to be used alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia.
“Beginning on May 1, we will move to the rouble zone,” Kirill Stremousov, a civilian and military administrator of Kherson, was cited as saying by Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti.
He said the hryvnia could be used during a four-month period, but then “we will completely switch to settlements in roubles”.
On the frontline in the east, Russian troops helped by massive use of artillery have advanced slowly, but steadily.
But Ukrainian forces have also recaptured some territory in recent days, including the village of Ruska Lozova, which evacuees said had been occupied for two months.
“It was two months of terrible fear. Nothing else, a terrible and relentless fear,” Natalia, a 28-year-old evacuee from Ruska Lozova, said after reaching Kharkiv.
Evacuation from Azovstal
In coordinated efforts between Ukraine, Russia and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), over 100 Ukrainians stranded at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, now under Russian control, were evacuated on Sunday. Another evacuation had been hoped to start first thing on Monday, but there was no sign of movement when we went to press.
Several hundred Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been sheltering in the maze of Soviet-era underground tunnels underneath the steelworks, many of whom require medical attention.
“For the first time, there were two days of real ceasefire on this territory. More than 100 civilians have already been evacuated — women and children first of all,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late on Sunday.