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“Now we can already state that the Russian troops have begun the battle for the Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time,” he said in a video address. Zelenskyy said a “significant part of the entire Russian army is now concentrated on this offensive.”
The Donbas is Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking industrial heartland in the east, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for the past eight years and have declared two independent republics that have been recognized by Russia.
In recent weeks, Kremlin declared the capture of the Donbas its main goal of the war after its attempt to storm Kyiv failed.
“No matter how many Russian troops are driven there, we will fight,” Zelenskyy vowed. “We will defend ourselves. We will do it every day.”
The announcement from Zelenskyy came as Russia bombarded the western city of Lviv and numerous other targets across Ukraine in what appeared to be an intensified bid to grind down the country’s defenses. At the same time, the Kremlin continued building up its forces in the east.
At least seven people were reported killed in the missile strikes on Lviv, a city close to the Polish border that has seen only sporadic attacks during almost two months of war and has become a haven for civilians fleeing the fighting elsewhere. To the Kremlin’s increasing anger, Lviv has also become a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons.
In other developments, a few thousand Ukrainian troops, by Russia’s estimate, remained holed up at a mammoth steel mill in Mariupol, the last known pocket of resistance in the devastated southern port city.
And Zelenskyy submitted a filled-out questionnaire in the first step toward obtaining membership in the European Union — a desire that has been a source of tension with Moscow for years.
The Russian attack on Lviv hit three military infrastructure facilities and an auto shop, according to the region’s governor, Maksym Kozytskyy. He said the wounded included a child.
A Lviv hotel sheltering Ukrainians who had fled the fighting in other parts of the country was also badly damaged, Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said. The city has seen its population swell with elderly people, mothers and children trying to escape the war.
Russia has strongly complained about the increasing flow of Western weapons to Ukraine and warned that such aid could have consequences. On Russian state media, some anchors have charged that the supplies amount to direct Western engagement in the fight against Russia.
A powerful explosion also rocked Vasylkiv, a town south of the capital of Kyiv that is home to an air base, according to residents. It was not immediately clear what was struck.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, was hit by shelling that killed at least three people, according to Associated Press journalists on the scene. One of the dead was a woman who appeared to be going out to collect water in the rain. She was found with a water canister and an umbrella by her side.
Military analysts say Russia was increasing its strikes on weapons factories, railroads and other infrastructure ahead of its assault on the Donbas.