KYIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday that the defense of Donbass was “vital” as the outcome of the battle for the eastern region would determine the course of the war.
“It is crucial to cling to Donbass. Donbass is the key to deciding who will dominate in the coming weeks,” Zelensky said on Telegram in his daily address to the Ukrainian people.
Russian forces have advanced into the Donbass and control most of the Lugansk region, with particularly intense fighting in the city of Severodonetsk, the largest city in Ukrainian-controlled Lugansk.
Capturing Severodonetsk and its twin city of Lysychansk would allow Russia to target Sloviansk further west in the Donetsk region.
Battles are also raging near Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, and Kherson in the south. Zelensky said Ukrainian forces were suffering “painful” losses in the area northeast of Kharkiv.
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“The fighting continues there and we must continue to fight for full security in the Kharkiv region,” he said.
“We continue to pressure the enemy in the south. Our main objective is to liberate Kherson.”
The regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which make up the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbass, had already been partly controlled by pro-Moscow separatists since 2014.