By Reuters, published by Prothomalo.com, plus BBC
UKRAINE is ready for a tough battle with Russian forces amassing in the east of the country, President Volodymyr Zelensky said a day after a missile attack that officials said killed more than 50 civilians trying to evacuate.
Air-raid sirens sounded in cities across eastern Ukraine, which has become the focus of Russian military action following a withdrawal from areas close to the capital, Kyiv.
After Friday’s strike on a train station crowded with women, children and the elderly in the Donetsk region city of Kramatorsk, officials urged civilians in the neighbouring Luhansk region to flee.
“Yes, (Russian) forces are gathering in the east (of Ukraine),” Zelensky told a joint news conference with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer in Kyiv.
“This will be a hard battle, we believe in this fight and our victory. We are ready to simultaneously fight and look for diplomatic ways to put an end to this war,” Zelenskiy added.
“The UK will send more defensive weapons to Ukraine and will work with G7 partners to target every pillar of the Russian economy to ensure Putin fails,” Johnson tweeted earlier on Saturday.
Russia’s invasion, which began on February 24, has forced more than 4 million people to flee abroad, killed or injured thousands, left a quarter of the population homeless, and turned cities into rubble.
The civilian casualties have triggered a wave of international condemnation, in particular over the deaths in the town of Bucha, a town to the northwest of Kyiv that until last week was occupied by Russian forces.
Russia has denied targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its southern neighbour. Ukraine and Western nations have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war.
Johnson and Nehammer visited Ukraine a day after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – visits aimed at underlining the West’s support for Zelenskiy. In another such move, Italy said it would reopen its embassy in Kyiv after Easter.
Friday’s missile attack on the train station in Kramatorsk, a hub for civilians fleeing the east, left shreds of blood-stained clothes, toys and damaged luggage strewn across the station’s platform.
City Mayor Oleksander Honcharenko, who estimated 4,000 people were gathered there at the time, said on Saturday that the death toll had risen to at least 52.
Russia’s defence ministry denied responsibility, saying in a statement the missiles that struck the station were used only by Ukraine’s military and that Russia’s armed forces had no targets assigned in Kramatorsk on Friday.
Russian state television described the attack as a “bloody provocation” by Ukraine.
In Washington, a senior defence official said the United States did not accept the Russian denial and believed Russian forces had fired a short-range ballistic missile in the attack.
Reuters was unable to verify the details of the attack.
The Ukrainian military says Moscow is preparing for a thrust to try to gain full control of the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk that have been partly held by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
Air attacks are likely to increase in the south and east as Russia seeks to establish a land bridge between Crimea – which Moscow annexed in 2014 – and the Donbas but Ukrainian forces are thwarting the advance, the British Defence Ministry said in an intelligence update.
More than 10 billion euro pledged in Stand Up For Ukraine event
Global government and business leaders as well as banks have pledged 10.1 billion euro (£8.4bn; $11bn) to provide humanitarian support for Ukraine.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who co-hosted the event in the Polish capital Warsaw, announced the Commission itself pledged 1 billion euro.
Of this, 600m euro would go to the Ukrainian government and United Nations, and 400m euros would provide assistance to countries neighbouring Ukraine that have taken in refugees.
In a videotaped message, Zelensky said Russia, the largest country in the world by area, had attacked his nation, Ukraine, the largest country in the world by courage.
He made a call for further sanctions against all of Russia’s banks and a ban on buying Russian oil to starve the Kremlin’s war machine of funds.
Appearing on one of the event’s panels, Arina Bilai, a 16-year-old Ukrainian, urged European countries to stop buying Russian energy, saying they had sent 35 billion euro to the Kremlin since the war began.
Around 10 million Ukrainians have been displaced since the war began, six million of them inside Ukraine and 4 million of them have fled the fighting to other countries.
The event was held in the Polish capital in recognition of Poland’s leading role in accepting 2.6 million refugees from Ukraine – more than 60% of the total who have fled the country.
Russia has replaced war commander, says Western official
A Western official has confirmed Russia has reorganised the command of its operations in Ukraine, with the new general having had extensive experience in battle operations in Syria.
The source said the commander of Russia’s southern military district, Gen Alexander Dvornikov, now leads the invasion.
“That particular commander has a lot of experience of Russian operations in Syria. So we would expect the overall command and control to improve,” the source said.
Russia has so far struggled to achieve its war aims 44 days into the invasion, failing to capture major cities such as Kyiv before eventually turning its sights to the Donbas region in the east.
The official said Russian tactics had seen them held back by smaller numbers of Ukrainian units acting more intelligently and with surprise – despite Russia being thought to have a “substantial” force of slightly fewer than 100 operational battalion tactical groups,
“Unless Russia is able to change its tactics, it’s very difficult to see how they succeed in even these limited objectives that they’ve reset themselves,” the official said.
The official added political imperatives might take precedence over military priorities, with Russia pushing forward to get some kind of success ahead of 9 May, when the country marks victory in World War Two.
Top: People wait to be evacuated from the heavily shelled town of Derhachi outside Kharkiv, Ukraine, on April 6, 2022. Photo: Reuters and published by The Straits Times
First insert: Boris Johnson and Volodymyr Zelensky shake hands before a meeting Photo: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service and published by BBC
Second insert: Boris Johnson isn’t the only world leader Volodymyr Zelensky met today – earlier the president also held talks with Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer. Photo: EPA and published by BBC
Third insert: Gen. Alexander Dvornikov. Photo: Kremlin and published by BBC
Home Page: A Red Cross member delivers food and first aid to Irpin residents. Photo: Reuters and published by BBC