Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday congratulated troops for “liberating” Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk province after several weeks of brutal fighting. A huge proportion of the area’s infrastructure, including residential buildings, is destroyed, and numerous civilians have been killed, though the full death toll is not yet known.
Russian forces are now turning their attention to capturing more parts of the neighboring Donetsk region of the Donbas, with the province coming under heavy shelling on Sunday, according to local officials.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk province, said it was a “difficult Sunday in Donetsk region [with] rocket strikes and shelling throughout the region” and described multiple civilian casualties.
Luhansk’s regional governor Serhiy Haidai expects Russian forces to concentrate their attacks on Sloviansk, a city in Donetsk with a pre-war population of roughly 100,000 that was the first to be seized by Russian-backed forces in 2014. It was retaken by Ukrainian troops three months later.
Haidai also named the city of Bakhmut as a key target for Russia.
Luhansk and Donetsk, known collectively as the Donbas, have been the site of sporadic fighting between Ukrainian and pro-Russian troops for many years. Moscow has called capturing the Donbas an “unconditional priority.”
Russia has said its main aim in the war is to “liberate” the Donbas region in east Ukraine where two breakaway pro-Russian, self-styled “republics” are located.
‘We will return’
Ukrainian soldiers defending this eastern territory say they are outmatched by Russian firepower. The past several weeks have seen Russia gain a significant advantage in the Donbas, as Ukraine gradually conceded key cities and towns.
Still, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed that his country will reclaim its lost land.
“If the commanders of our army withdraw people from certain points at the front, where the enemy has the greatest advantage in fire power, and this also applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Sunday.
“That we will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increase in the supply of modern weapons.”
Zelenskyy said Russia had enough multiple rocket launch systems to destroy “city after city in Ukraine” and that the reality is that “they have gathered most of their firepower in Donbas.”
The president defended the decision to prioritize lives over land, noting: “The fact that we protect the lives of our soldiers, our people, plays an equally important role. We will rebuild the walls, we will win back the land, and people must be protected above all else.”
A ‘Marshall Plan’
Several international government, private sector and NGO leaders met in Switzerland on Monday to discuss the creation of a “Marshall Plan” for Ukraine’s reconstruction.
The embattled country will need a massive $750 billion for its recovery following Russia’s invasion, the county’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said while speaking to international leaders in Switzerland gathered for the Ukraine Recovery Conference.
Shmyhal also said that Russia’s invasion has so far resulted in more than $100 billion in damage to Ukrainian infrastructure. The war has been going on for five months; the longer it continues, the more likely that figure will rise.
Zelenskyy, who spoke to the conference attendees via video call, warned that there was “really colossal” work needed to reconstruct the areas that have already been taken back from Russian troops. In addition to that, “we will have to free over 2,000 villages and towns in the east and south of Ukraine,” he said.