Slovenia, Ukraine (AFP) – Ukrainian military personnel fortify their positions around the eastern city of Sloviansk in anticipation of a new Russian attempt to seize the strategic point in heavy fighting. Donetsk region.
With fierce ground fighting continuing on the front line just miles to the east, southeast and north of Sloviansk, personnel from the Dnipro-1 Regiment are digging in after a week of relative calm. The last Russian strike on the city took place on 30 July.
While the calm gave the remaining Sloviansk residents a respite after regular bombing between April and July, some members of the unit say it may be a prelude to renewed attacks..
“I think it won’t be quiet for long. He expects the area to become ‘hot’ in the coming days,” Colonel Yuri Briza, head of the National Guard Volunteer Regiment, told The Associated Press on Friday.
Sloviansk is a strategic target in Moscow’s ambitions to capture the entire Donetsk provincea largely Russian-speaking region in eastern Ukraine where Russian forces and pro-Moscow separatists control about 60% of the territory.
Donetsk and the neighboring Luhansk Province, which Russia has almost completely captured since the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces in early July from the remaining cities under its control, together constitute the Donbass industrial region. The separatists have claimed the region as two independent republics since 2014, and Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized their sovereignty before sending his troops to Ukraine.
The capture of Sloviansk would bring more of the region under Russian control, but it would also be a symbolic victory for Moscow. The city was the first to be captured by separatists during the outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine in 2014, although it was later returned to Ukrainian control.
Moreover, the Russian military would like to control nearby water treatment facilities to serve Russian-occupied cities such as Donetsk in the southeast and Mariupol in the south.Sgt. said Major Artur Shevtsov of the Dnipro-1 Regiment.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said in an assessment Friday that Russian forces were increasingly moving personnel and equipment from Donbass toward southern Ukraine to respond in a Ukrainian counterattack around the occupied port city of Kherson.
The institute’s analysts said these attempts to secure Kherson come “at the expense of (Russian) efforts to seize Slovenia… which they seem to have abandoned.”
But Col. Bryza said he believed the muddy conditions after recent rainy weather in the area, not abandoning Sloviansk as a target, were to blame for the halt in Russian artillery strikes.
“In two or three days, when it dries up,” he said, “they’ll go to work.”
Only about 20,000 residents remained in Sloviansk, down from more than 100,000 before the Russian invasion. The city has been without gas or water for months, and residents can only manually pump drinking water from public wells.
From a location on the outskirts of the citySoldiers of the Dnipro Regiment-1 expanded a network of trenches and dug bunkers against mortars and phosphorous bombs.
At the outpost, Sgt. Major Shevtsov said the provision of heavy weapons from Ukraine’s western allies, including multiple rocket launchers provided by the United States, had helped keep some Donbass cities like Sloviansk relatively safe since their delivery in June.
But he said such weapons likely only made time for the Ukrainian forces, adding that the lack of strikes in the past week “worries me”. In his experience, calm means the Russians are preparing to attack.
Another officer, Commander. Ihor Krylatenko, said he suspected that the silence could be broken in a matter of days.
“We were warned of the possibility of an attack on August 7 or 8,” he said. “We’ll see, but we’re ready.”
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