Russian forces have stepped up their assault on the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk as Moscow now appears focused on securing and expanding its gains in Donbass and the southern coast.
As the conflict entered its fourth month, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned in his May 24 address that the period ahead will be “extremely difficult”, especially in the eastern region of Donbass.
“All the power of the Russian army, which still remains in them, was thrown into the attack,” Zelenskiy said.
Russian forces aim to destroy everything in Lyman, Popasna, Severodonetsk and Sloviansk, he said.
Live briefing: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
RFE/RL Live briefing gives you all the major developments on the invasion of Russia, how kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians and the Western reaction. For all of RFE/RL’s coverage of the war, click here.
“But in the intercepts of their conversations, we hear that they are well aware that this war does not make sense for Russia and that strategically their army does not stand a chance,” he said.
It will take time and “a lot of extraordinary effort” for the Ukrainians to break their advantage in equipment and weapons, Zelenskiy said, as he again called on Western countries to provide more heavy weapons.
Providing rocket-propelled grenades, tanks, anti-ships and other weapons to Ukraine is the best investment to maintain stability in the world and prevent many “serious crises” that he says Russia is planning still.
Zelenskiy spoke earlier on May 24 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, saying Russia had carried out nearly 1,500 missile strikes and more than 3,000 airstrikes against Ukraine in the first three months. of the war.
British intelligence said in their daily report on May 24 the Russians sought to encircle Severodonetsk, a city of around 100,000, but also concentrated their attacks on Lysychansk and Rubyzhne in the same area.
The report says that Russian forces have achieved localized successes in the area with the help of intense artillery fire, but Ukrainian resistance is strong and the command structure of the Joint Force kyiv operation has kept control of this segment of the forehead.
The capture of Severodonetsk by Russia would see the entire Luhansk region fall under Russian occupation, according to the report.
Amid the fighting, two senior Russian officials appeared to acknowledge that Moscow’s advance had been slower than expected, despite swearing the offensive would achieve its objectives.
Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, said the Russian government “is not chasing deadlines”. And Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of a Russian-led security alliance of former Soviet states that Moscow was deliberately slowing its offensive to allow residents of encircled towns to evacuate.
Russian officials also announced that Moscow forces have completed clearing the waters off Mariupol and that a safe corridor will open on May 25 for the exit of as many as 70 foreign ships from the southern coast of the Ukraine.
With the Russian military campaign now in its most active phase, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said the battles fought in eastern Ukraine could determine the country’s fate.
In the Donetsk region, Muscovite troops took control of the industrial city of Svitlodarsk, which houses a thermal power plant, and raised the Russian flag there, Serhiy Goshko, head of the local Ukrainian military administration, told the Ukrainian radio Vilny.
Goshko said armed units were patrolling the streets of Svitlodarsk, checking residents’ documents.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Hayday said the Russian army was advancing in all directions in the region at once. The Russians reinforced their forces with some 12,500 troops trying to seize Luhansk, he said.
“They brought an insane number of fighters and equipment,” Hayday said on Telegram. “The invaders are killing our cities, destroying everything around.” He added that Luhansk was becoming “like Mariupol”.
Mariupol has been pounded relentlessly during a nearly three-month siege that ended last week after some 2,500 Ukrainian fighters abandoned a steel mill where they had fought their last battle.
Workers digging through the rubble of a building in Mariupol found 200 decomposing bodies in the basement, Ukrainian authorities announced on May 24.
Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor, did not say when they were discovered, but the number of casualties made them one of the deadliest known attacks of the war.
If the Russians were successful and the Donbass front line moved further west, British intelligence believed that Russian lines of communication would be overloaded and likely lead to further logistical resupply difficulties.
Zelenskiy earlier warned the World Economic Forum in Davos that slowly arriving military aid was causing unnecessary deaths as Ukrainians “pay dearly for freedom and independence”.
He said 87 people were killed in a Russian attack earlier this month on a military base at Desna in the north, in what would be one of the biggest strikes on record of the war.
kyiv was ready for a prisoner swap with Russia “even tomorrow”, Zelenskiy said, calling on his allies to put pressure on Moscow.
WATCH: A team exhumes the bodies of Russian soldiers near the village of Mala Rohan on May 18, in the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine. Together with Lithuanian colleagues, they were looking for evidence of war crimes, but also identifying bodies to be sent back to Russia.
Zelenskiy also reiterated his demand that Moscow be cut off from the global economy, calling for an international oil embargo against Russia, as well as punitive measures against all its banks.
Many of the EU’s 27 member states rely heavily on Russian oil and gas, prompting criticism from kyiv that the bloc has not acted quickly enough to halt supplies.
But Germany said on May 22 that the European Union would likely agree to an embargo on Russian oil imports “within days”, despite opposition from Hungary, which is sticking to its demands for energy investment. before accepting such an embargo.
“We will achieve a breakthrough in a few days,” German Economy Minister Robert Habeck told ZDF television.
However, Habeck warned that a ban would not hurt Moscow anytime soon, as soaring global oil prices mean it earns more for less crude.
Habeck said the EU and US were considering a proposal to cap global oil prices – an “unusual measure” for “unusual times”.
Russia supplies 40% of the EU’s natural gas and 27% of its oil imports and receives around 400 billion euros ($426 billion) a year for this supply.