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Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Says Battle for Eastern Ukraine Has Begun

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Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy speaks during his nightly address on April 18, 2022, in Kviv, saying that the "battle of Donbas" has begun. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service via Reuters)

Ukraine says Russia has begun its offensive to take control of eastern Ukraine while a Russian missile attack hit the western city of Lviv, killing at least seven people.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address Monday, "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 a "significant part of the entire Russian army is now concentrated on this offensive." The Donbas region includes Luhansk and Donetsk, two provinces that are already partly held by Russian-backed separatists, along with the port city of Mariupol to the south. Capturing the region would allow Russia to control a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized in 2014.

Russia’s withdrawal of its forces from areas around Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and other parts of the north in recent weeks prompted assessments from Western military officials that Russia was reinforcing and redeploying those assets to eastern Ukraine.

In the western city of Lviv, regional Governor Maksym Kozystkiy said three missiles hit military infrastructure sites, while another struck a car tire repair shop. Lviv, which is about 60 kilometers from Poland, had previously escaped the worst of the violence of the Russian invasion that began nearly two months ago.

Firefighters work at the site of military strikes on buildings as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Lviv, Ukraine April 18, 2022.
Firefighters work at the site of military strikes on buildings as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Lviv, Ukraine April 18, 2022.

The city is a major transportation hub in Ukraine, which has been receiving weapons from Western allies.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States has no indication that any Western aid was targeted in Lviv.

The new barrage came as Russian President Vladimir Putin contended during a video call with economic officials that the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies had failed.

He said the West “expected to quickly upset the financial-economic situation, provoke panic in the markets, the collapse of the banking system and shortages in stores.” However, he added, “the strategy of the economic blitz has failed.”

Western officials say the sanctions have pushed Russia into a sharp recession that will hurt its economy for years.

Putin acknowledged that Russian consumer prices this month had risen by 17.5% compared to a year ago, which is slightly more than twice the current 8.5% annualized inflation rate in the U.S. He directed his government to index wages and other payments to minimize the inflationary impact on personal incomes.

Aside from the attack on Lviv, Russian troops hit numerous other targets across Ukraine, including in the eastern part of the country.

Efforts to evacuate Ukrainian civilians from conflict areas were halted for a second consecutive day Monday.

“In violation of international humanitarian law, the Russian occupiers have not stopped blocking and shelling humanitarian routes," Deputy Ukrainian Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk posted in a statement on social media.

People walk past a residential building, which was heavily damaged in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, April 18, 2022.
People walk past a residential building, which was heavily damaged in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, April 18, 2022.

In the southern city of Mariupol, Ukrainian forces continued to fight, defying a Russian deadline to lay down their arms.

Russia has called on the remaining fighters in Mariupol to surrender, saying it controlled urban areas of the city, while an estimated 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers and 400 mercenaries remain at the sprawling Azovstal steel mill.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told ABC’s “This Week” Sunday the country’s forces will “fight to the end” in Mariupol.

"The city still has not fallen,” he said, hours after the expiration of Russia’s declared deadline.

Asked about reports that Putin believes Moscow is winning the war, Shmyhal noted that while several cities are under siege, only Kherson in the south has fallen under Russian control.

“More than 900 cities, towns and villages … are freed from Russian occupation,” Shmyhal said, adding that Ukraine has no intention of surrendering in the eastern Donbas region.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in an interview Monday with Antena3 TV that his government will soon reopen its embassy in Kyiv as a show of support to the Ukrainian people.

“Spain is with Ukraine, and we are against Putin,” Sanchez said.

The Russian invasion prompted numerous countries to suspend diplomatic operations in Kyiv, with many relocating to Lviv. Italy, France and the Czech Republic are among those that have already reopened their Kyiv embassies or announced plans to do so.

Russian state television on Monday broadcast a video showing two men identified as Britons who were captured by Russian forces in Ukraine asking to be exchanged for a pro-Russian politician in Ukrainian custody. The men requested that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson work to make the exchange for Viktor Medvedchuk happen and bring them home.

Ukraine’s security services also published a video Monday show Medvedchuk asking to be exchanged for Ukrainian troops and civilians in Mariupol. Medvedchuk, who has close ties to Putin, was captured last week after escaping house arrest in Ukraine, days ahead of Russia’s invasion.

Last week, the Kremlin rejected a Zelenskyy offer to swap Medvedchuk for Ukrainians being held by Russia.

Russia initially described its aims as disarming Ukraine and defeating nationalists there. Kyiv and its Western allies say those are bogus justifications for an unprovoked war of aggression that has driven a quarter of Ukraine's 44 million people from their homes.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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