The long-expected major Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine is now underway, with Russian forces trying to push forward along a front around 300 miles long, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday. "We can now say that Russian forces have started the battle of the Donbas, for which they have long prepared," Zelensky said, per Reuters. Ukrainian forces have been bracing for an attack in the area since Moscow started withdrawing its troops from northern Ukraine, including the Kyiv area, last month. "The second phase of the war has started," said Andriy Yermak, Zelensky's chief of staff.
"This morning, along almost the entire front line in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv regions, the occupiers attempted to break through our defenses," Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, said Monday, per the New York Times. "Our servicemen are holding out" and the Russians have only been able to break through in two places, Danilov said. The Donetsk and Luhansk regions make up the Donbas. Shortly before Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Ukraine in February, Vladimir Putin said Moscow was recognizing two breakaway pro-Russia republics in the area—and their claims to larger areas of Ukrainian territory.
"A large part of the Russian army is now dedicated to this offensive," Zelensky said Monday. "No matter how many Russian troops are driven there, we will fight." A senior US defense official, speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity, said there are now 76 Russian combat units in eastern and southern Ukraine, up from 65 last week. The official said that could work out to 50,000 to 60,000 troops based on typical unit size before the invasion, but the number is harder to determine after weeks of heavy Russian losses. Before the Monday offensive, Russian strikes hit dozens of targets across Ukraine. Some strikes hit the western Ukraine city of Lviv, killing civilians in a city that had been considered relatively safe. (Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)