Russia’s advance has been slowed by a fierce Ukrainian resistance which forced Moscow to shift its aims towards capturing the east – Copyright AFP Hector RETAMAL
Blaise GAUQUELIN with Quentin TYBERGHIEN in the Donbas
Ukraine will emerge victor in the war started by Russia, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday as Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour entered its 100th day with Russian troops pounding the Donbas region.
Thousands of people have been killed, millions sent fleeing and towns turned into rubble, since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine on February 24.
Russia’s advance has been slowed by a fierce Ukrainian resistance which repelled them from around the capital and forced Moscow to shift its aims towards capturing the east.
Russia has since taken a fifth of Ukrainian territory — tripling the land under its occupation from 2014 when it seized Crimea and parts of Donbas.
Moscow assessed that “certain results have been achieved,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, pointing to the “liberation” of some areas from what he called the “pro-Nazi armed forces of Ukraine”.
But Zelensky said Russia will not prevail appearing in a video accompanied by the same key political leaders also shown in a video posted on February 24 when they vowed to defend their country.
“Our team is much bigger. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are here. The most important — the people, the people of our state are here. Defending Ukraine for 100 days already,” he said.
“Victory will be ours,” he declared in a show of defiance in the video with the presidential office building as a backdrop.
– ‘Levelling everything’ –
Putin’s troops are now concentrating their forces in the Donbas, in the east, where some of the fiercest fighting is centred on the industrial hub city of Severodonetsk.
Fighting continues in Severodonetsk’s city centre, the president’s office said, adding that the invaders were “shelling civilian infrastructure and Ukrainian military”.
Severodonetsk “is the toughest area at the moment,” Zelensky said late Thursday.
“For 100 days, they have been levelling everything”, Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said on Telegram.
Accusing the Russians of destroying hospitals, schools and roads, Gaiday said, however, that “we are only getting stronger.
“Hatred of the enemy and faith in our victory make us unbreakable.”
Ukrainian troops were still holding an industrial zone, Gaiday said, a situation reminiscent of Mariupol, where a steelworks was the south-eastern port city’s last holdout until Ukrainian troops finally surrendered in late May.
The situation in Lysychansk — Severodonetsk’s twin city, which sits just across a river — also looked increasingly dire.
About 60 percent of infrastructure and housing had been destroyed, while internet, mobile network and gas services had been knocked out, said the city’s mayor Oleksandr Zaika.
– ‘Getting worse’ –
“The shelling is getting stronger every day,” he said.
In the city of Sloviansk, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Severodonetsk, the mayor has urged residents to evacuate as bombing intensified and water and electricity are cut off.
Student Goulnara Evgaripova, 18 recounted heavy bombardments as she boarded a minibus to leave the city.
“The situation is getting worse, the explosions are stronger and stronger and the bombs are falling more often,” she told AFP.
And in Mykolaiv in the south, Russian shelling killed at least one person and injured several others, Ukrainian military officials said late Thursday.
“This war has and will have no winner,” Amid Awad, Assistant Secretary-General and United Nations Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine, said in a statement.
“Rather, we have witnessed for 100 days what is lost: lives, homes, jobs and prospects.”
Led by the United States, Western nations have pumped arms and military supplies into Ukraine to help it survive the onslaught.
Earlier this week, the United States announced that it was sending more advanced rocket launch systems to Ukraine, part of a $700 million package. The Kremlin accused Washington of “adding fuel to the fire”.
– Sall-Putin talks –
Western allies have also sought to choke off Russia’s financial lifeline in a bid to get Putin to change course.
Ramping up an already long list of embargoes, the United States on Thursday blacklisted Putin’s money manager and a Monaco company that provides luxury yachts to Moscow’s elite.
Across the Atlantic, EU nations agreed new sanctions that would halt 90 percent of Russian oil imports to the bloc by the end of the year.
Russia warned that European consumers would be the first to pay the price for the partial oil embargo.
Major crude producers agreed to boost output by about 50 percent more a month in an effort to calm an overheated market and ease pressure on inflation.
But the move disappointed investors, and prices rose following the announcement.
With a global food crisis also looming, the head of the African Union, Senegalese President Macky Sall, is due Friday in Russia for talks with Putin.
Sall will seek to get Putin to free up stocks of cereals and fertilisers blocked
Ukraine is one of the world’s top grain producers, and the war was already translating into higher costs for essentials from cereals to sunflower oil to maize, with the poorest among the hardest hit.