Ukrainian unit digs for Russian attack on eastern city

Ukrainian military personnel are strengthening their positions around the eastern city of Sloviask in hopes of a new Russian attempt to seize a fiercely contested strategic point in the Donetsk region.

Heavy ground fighting continues on the front line only miles to the east, southeast and north of Sloviask, with members of the Dnipro-1 regiment digging in after a week of relative calm.

The last Russian attack on the city took place on 30 July.

While regular shelling between April and July provided relief to the remaining residents of Sloviansk, some unit members say it may have been a prelude to renewed attacks.

“I think it won’t be quiet for long. Eventually, there will be an attack,” Colonel Yuri Bereza, the head of the Volunteer National Guard regiment, told the Associated Press, adding that he expects the area to “warm up” in the coming days. ” Will be done.

Slovak is considered a strategic target in Moscow’s ambitions to seize Donetsk province, a largely Russian-speaking region in eastern Ukraine where Russian forces and pro-Moscow separatists control about 60% of the region.

Donetsk and the neighboring Luhansk province, which has been almost entirely annexed by Russia since Ukrainian forces withdrew from the remaining cities under its control in early July, together make up the industrial Donbass region.

Separatists have claimed the region as two independent republics since 2014, and Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized their sovereignty before sending troops to Ukraine.

The capture of Sloviansk would bring much of the region under Russian control, but it would also be a symbolic victory for Moscow.

The city was first occupied by separatists in 2014 during the outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, although it was later brought back under Ukrainian control.

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Ukrainian soldier Serhi Artemyev rests outside his tent during a period of relative peace around his position near Sloviansk in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine (David Goldman/AP)

In addition, Russia’s military wants to take control of nearby water treatment facilities to serve Russian-occupied cities such as Donetsk in the southeast and Mariupol in the south, said Sergeant Major Artur Shevtsov of the Dnipro-1 regiment.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think-tank, said in an assessment that the Russian military had rapidly moved personnel and equipment from the Donbass to southern Ukraine to conduct a Ukrainian counter-offensive around the occupied port city of Kherson. be able to push back.

Analysts at the institute said efforts to secure Kherson “come at the cost of (Russian) attempts to seize Sloviansk … which they have abandoned”.

But Colonel Bereza said he thought the muddy conditions after the recent rainy season in the region, not the abandonment of Sloviansk as a target, were responsible for the stagnation in Russian artillery attacks.

“In two or three days, when it dries up, they will move on,” he said.

There are only 20,000 residents left in Sloviask, up from 100,000 before the Russian invasion.

The city has been without gas or water for months, and residents have only been able to manually pump drinking water from public wells.

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Members of the Dnipro-1 regiment carry logs to reinforce their positions near Sloviask (David Goldman/AP)

From the outskirts of the city, troops of the Dnipro-1 regiment expanded a network of trenches and dug bunkers against mortar attacks and phosphorus bombs.

At the checkpoint, Sergeant Major Shevtsov said that the provision of heavy weapons from Ukraine’s Western allies, including several US-supplied rocket launchers, helped keep some Donbas cities such as Sloviansk relatively safe since delivery in June. Was.

But such weapons are only likely to provide time for Ukrainian forces, he said, adding that the lack of attacks in the past week “worried me”.

In his experience, a lull means the Russians are preparing to go on the attack.

Another officer, Commander Ihor Krylchatenko, said he doubted the silence could be broken within a few days.

“We were warned that there could be an attack on August 7 or 8”, he said.

“We’ll see, but we’re ready.”