Ukrainians dig as Russians prepare to attack key eastern city

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian military personnel are strengthening their positions around the eastern city of Slovyansk in anticipation of another Russian attempt to seize strategically important locations in the fiercely fought Donetsk region.

Members of the Dnipro-1 regiment are digging after a week of relative calm as the front continues heavy ground fighting just a few miles east, southeast and north of Slovensk. The last Russian strike against the city took place on July 30.

While the remaining residents of Slovensk were given a temporary break following regular shelling from April to July, some unit members said it could be a prelude to another attack.

“I don’t think it will be quiet for long. There will eventually be an attack, Colonel Yuri Bereza, head of the Volunteer National Guard Corps, told The Associated Press on Friday, adding that he expects the area to change in the coming days.” hot”.

Slovensk is considered a strategic target for Moscow to seize all areas of Donetsk province, a predominantly Russian-speaking region in eastern Ukraine where Russian troops and pro-Moscow separatists control about 60 percent of the region territory.

Donetsk and the neighboring province of Luhansk (which Russia has almost completely occupied since Ukrainian troops withdrew from the remaining cities under its control in early July) together make up the industrial Donbass region. Since 2014, separatists have claimed the region as two separate republics, and Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized their sovereignty before sending troops into Ukraine.

Taking Slovensk would put more of the region under Russian control, but it would also be a symbolic victory for Moscow. The city was first seized by separatists during hostilities between Russia and Ukraine in 2014, but has since been brought back under Ukrainian control.

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

Russian troops are increasingly moving personnel and equipment from the Donbass to southern Ukraine in response to a Ukrainian counteroffensive near the occupied port city, the Washington-based Institute for War Institute said in its assessment on Friday. Kherson.

Attempts to protect Kherson ‘at the expense of [Russian] Efforts to seize Slovensk … they seem to have given up,” analysts at the institute said.

But Colonel Bereza said he believed the muddy conditions in the area after recent rains, rather than abandoning Slovensk as a target, were what caused the suspension of Russian shelling.

“After two or three days, when it dries out, they move on,” he said.

Only about 20,000 inhabitants remain in Slovenia, down from more than 100,000 before the Russian invasion. The city has been without gas and water for months, and residents have to manually draw drinking water from public wells.

Soldiers of the 1st Dnipro regiment expanded the trench network from a position on the outskirts of the city and dug cover to defend against mortar and phosphorus shells.

At the outpost, Sgt. Major Shevtsov said heavy weapons from Ukraine’s Western allies, including U.S.-supplied multiple rocket launchers, have helped keep Donbas cities such as Slovensk relatively safe since delivery in June.

But he said the weapon may have just bought time for Ukrainian troops, adding that the lack of a strike last week “worries me”. In his experience, a standstill meant that the Russians were preparing to attack.

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

“We were warned that there could be an attack on August 7 or 8,” he said. “We’ll see, but we’re ready.”

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