Russia’s full-scale offensive in the eastern Donbass region has begun, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on April 18.
“We can now confirm that Russian troops have started the Battle of Donbass, which they have been preparing for a long time. A large part of the Russian army is now dedicated to this offensive,” he said on Telegram on April 18. .
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“No matter how many Russian soldiers are taken there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves. We will do that every day,” he said.
He thanked all the Ukrainian defenders, all the cities of Donbass, including Mariupol, as well as the cities of the Kharkiv region, which hold and “protect the fate of the whole state”.
Ukrainian military officials said earlier that Russia appeared to have launched the new offensive after a series of Russian missile strikes in the western city of Lviv.
The Ukrainian general staff said it had seen “signs of the start of an offensive in the eastern theater of operations”, and the focus seemed to be on the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions.
“This morning, on almost the entire front line of the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions, the occupiers tried to break through our defences,” Ukrainian Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said in televised comments. “They started their attempt to start the active phase this morning.”
Serhiy Hayday, the governor of Luhansk, also reported offensives.
“We just lost control of the city of Kreminna. There is street fighting,” he said, noting that evacuations were no longer an option. “Every hour sees the situation getting worse.”
Meanwhile, Russian missile strikes have killed at least seven people in Lviv, which has so far been spared heavy fighting in nearly two months of war.
Eleven people were injured and are hospitalized, government officials said in Lviv. Three of them are in intensive care units fighting for their lives.
“Unfortunately, the patients were admitted in very serious condition,” said Dr Andriy Tokarsky. The youngest patient is a 3 year old boy.
Residents said they saw thick plumes of black smoke rising over Lviv after the blast, as anti-aircraft sirens sounded across the city.
Regional Governor Maksym Kozytskiy said six people had been killed and eight others, including a child, injured by four Russian missile strikes.
He said three missiles hit military installations and one hit a tire store. He said infrastructure was “severely damaged” and rescue teams were putting out fires caused by the strikes.
A hotel housing Ukrainians who had fled fighting in other parts of the country was among the badly damaged buildings, Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said.
Russia claimed that the strikes on Lviv destroyed a major foreign arms depot recently delivered to Ukraine.
Russian planes struck a Ukrainian logistics center containing “large consignments of foreign weapons, delivered to Ukraine over the past six days from the United States and European countries” and “destroyed” them, it said. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.
Konashenkov also said that an ammunition store was destroyed in the Kyiv region. The claims could not be independently confirmed.
Multiple explosions were also reported in the capital, kyiv, and in the Dnipropetrovsk region on April 18. Ukrainian media Suspilne reported that two people were injured in the Dnipropetrovsk attacks.
Russia said its forces bombed more than 100 targets where Ukrainian military equipment and troops were concentrated.
WATCH: The port city of Mariupol was home to 400,000 people before the Russian invasion. It has been besieged by Russian troops and continuously bombarded for more than 50 days. The city has been reduced to rubble, amid claims from Russia that it now has almost complete control. Thousands of civilians are believed to have died and tens of thousands remain trapped in the city.
Konashenkov also said on April 18 that the Russian military had destroyed eight Ukrainian tanks and other armored vehicles, shot down three fighter jets and destroyed four military armories. Konashenkov’s claim could not be independently verified.
Military experts say Russia is stepping up strikes against arms factories, railways and other infrastructure targets across Ukraine to reduce kyiv’s ability to withstand a major ground offensive in Donbass , the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CBS April 17 that the port city of Mariupol no longer exists due to massive destruction caused by relentless shelling.
Kyiv estimates that at least 21,000 people were killed in Mariupol by airstrikes and street fighting. About 100,000 people remain in the city — out of a prewar population of 450,000 — trapped without food, water, heat or electricity, according to Ukrainian officials.
WATCH: Instead of running for safety, a Ukrainian paramedic comforted an injured civilian as shells rained down on the eastern city of Kharkiv. At least five people were killed and a dozen were injured on April 17 when buildings were shelled by Russian forces.
Ukraine has vowed to fight and defend Mariupol, defying a Russian ultimatum issued on April 17 that called on the remaining Ukrainian soldiers inside the surrounded Azovstal steel plant to lay down their arms and surrender.
The Mariupol city council said at least 1,000 civilians were hiding in underground shelters under the vast Azovstal factory. Those in hiding are mainly women with children and the elderly, the city council wrote on Telegram.
The White House said on April 18 that President Joe Biden had no plans to visit Kyiv. Zelenskiy urged Biden to demonstrate American support for the fight against Russia by visiting the beleaguered capital, but White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said such a trip was not planned.
Zelenskiy said on April 17 he believed Biden would surrender, but said the decision was up to the US president and would depend on the security situation.
The White House has said that instead of Biden, it would be more likely to send a top official like Secretary of State Antony Blinken or Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.