Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian forces have “completely destroyed” the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.
“In Donbas, the occupiers are trying to increase pressure. There’s hell, and that’s not an exaggeration,” he said in his Thursday night address. “Donbas is completely destroyed. All this doesn’t and cannot have any military explanation for Russia.”
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The Ukrainian leader accused Russian forces of a “deliberate and criminal attempt” to murder as many Ukrainians “as possible” and to “destroy as many houses, social facilities, and enterprises as possible.” He added, “This is what will be qualified as the genocide of the Ukrainian people and for which the occupiers will be brought to justice."
Russian forces are focusing their efforts on capturing the Donbas region, which includes two eastern Ukrainian regions along the Russian border. Ukrainians and pro-Russian separatists have been fighting there for about eight years.
There was intense fighting reported around the city of Severodonetsk, which is in the Donbas, on Thursday. Twelve people were reportedly killed in the "brutal and absolutely senseless bombardment."
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There have been hundreds of Ukrainian fighters trapped in Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant. The Kremlin said on Wednesday that it detained over 900 Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol who had surrendered.
The city is further south than the Donbas region and is on the coast of the Sea of Azov. Mariupol holds strategic significance for the Russians because gaining control of it would provide them with a land bridge from the Crimean Peninsula, which the country annexed nearly a decade ago, and the Donbas region.