Vladimir Putin is gearing up for a renewed offensive in the East of Ukraine as the town of Mariupol braces for what could be its last stand against Russian forces.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky today said “we are ready” for Russia’s push to take the entire Donbas region, which the Kremlin hopes will rejuvenate its disastrous war effort.
Putin’s main objective now is to capture and retain the Donbas region, which has been the site of an eight-year long war between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists.
Mariupol, a Donbas port city in the South-East, is the centre of the new offensive after a six week-long siege by Russian forces.
A Ukrainian marine brigade based in Mariupol posted on Facebook that “today will probably be the last battle, as the ammunition is running out” and that it will be “death for us, and captivity for the rest”.
Mariupol became encircled by Russian troops shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, with food, energy supplies and routes to escape cut off.
The city has faced near non-stop shelling by Russian forces, including on civilian targets, and is the site of what is considered to be the biggest humanitarian disaster of the war.
Zelensky today said: “Mariupol has been destroyed.
“There are tens of thousands of dead, but even despite this, the Russians are not stopping their offensive”.
Ukraine’s military commander-in-chief, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi said his troops were still holding off the Russian invaders in Mariupol and that “we are doing the possible and impossible for the victory and the preservation of the lives of personnel and civilians in all directions”.
The UK government now believes Putin’s army is in the process of re-equipping itself for the renewed eastern offensive, after failing to meet any of its major military goals in the first seven weeks of the war.
Western sources say it is unlikely for the Donbas to be taken in the next month by Russia, as the Kremlin plans, and that it is “unclear how they’re going to overcome the morale issue – a number of soldiers are now unwilling to fight”.