Ukraine: strike against a civilian building in Kramatorsk, Kyiv expects a major Russian offensive

Rescuers were active at dawn on Thursday to try to find survivors in the rubble of an apartment building in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, destroyed by a Russian assault that killed at least two people. First anniversary of the invasion.

Donetsk police said on their Facebook account that the strike occurred at around 9:45 pm (7:45 pm GMT) on Wednesday against eight buildings in central Kramatorsk, one of which completely collapsed. Around 100 policemen were deployed to search the debris.

The governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kirilenko, said two people were killed and 21 wounded in the attack, eight of whom were hospitalized and two in serious condition. Mr Kyrylenko has revised down an initial toll which had reported three deaths. He said two people were still trapped in the ruins of the building on Thursday morning.

Russia on Thursday marks the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad, a turning point in World War II and a symbol of patriotism. The celebration takes on additional symbolic significance as we approach the first anniversary of the outbreak of the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Russian forces recently scored their first success in months by capturing Soledar, a town in eastern Ukraine. And many observers believe Moscow is preparing a new major offensive around February 24.

“We also need to be ready as soon as possible, and therefore we need weapons to contain the enemy,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov invited on Wednesday evening on the French channel BFMTV.

– “Two-axis offensive” –

“We do not underestimate our enemy. We see that he is preparing very seriously for the offensive,” continued Mr. Reznikov. “We think that since they live in symbolism, they will try to do something around February 24,” he continued. According to him, “they may attempt a two-axis offensive”, in Dombas and to the south.

After a series of humiliating setbacks in the fall, Russia mobilized hundreds of thousands of reservists. Allied with the paramilitary group Wagner, Russian forces have also stepped up fighting, particularly to capture Bakhmut, a town in the east that has been intensifying since the summer.

Further south, Russia also invaded Vogeldar. “The more time passes, the worse the situation gets,” Oleksandre, a 45-year-old Ukrainian soldier who fired mortars from his post five kilometers from the town, told AFP.

Faced with this threat, Ukraine is in a race against time to acquire more powerful weapons. Specifically, it wants high-precision missiles with a range of over 100 kilometers to destroy Russian supply lines to address its shortfalls in manpower and armaments.

Rescue workers in the rubble of a building destroyed by Russian airstrikes in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, February 1, 2023 (AFP – Yasuyoshi Chiba)

So far, the West has refused to deliver these systems and fighters for fear of escalating tensions with Russia. US President Joe Biden, however, said on Tuesday that he would discuss it with his Ukrainian counterpart.

A US defense company said on Wednesday it is looking to supply Ukraine with two sophisticated combat drones for just a token dollar, subject to US government approval. And Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has declared himself ready to send F-16 type fighters if there is a consensus on the subject within NATO.

Already, after long delays, the Europeans and Americans have given the green light for deliveries of modern heavy tanks, even though their numbers still fall short of Ukraine’s demand.

– Anti-corruption campaign –

While Kyiv is due to host a summit with the European Union on Friday, Ukrainian authorities launched a sweeping anti-corruption campaign on Wednesday targeting the administration, civil servants and personalities.

Ukrainian soldiers dig a trench near Bakhmut on February 1, 2023 (AFP - YASUYOSHI CHIBA)
Ukrainian soldiers dig a trench near Bakhmut on February 1, 2023 (AFP – YASUYOSHI CHIBA)

“Justice will be done,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily Internet message, “reporting dozens of searches and other actions against various people in various regions and in criminal proceedings.”

The raids came a week after a series of senior officials were sacked over corruption charges over army supplies, the first major scandal since the Russian invasion nearly a year ago.

The European Union has made the fight against corruption a condition for Ukraine’s entry into the European bloc. And Kyiv, whose war effort largely depends on support from Europe and the United States, is challenged to curb financial fraud so as not to antagonize allies.

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