Russian forces have seized the town of Kreminna in eastern Ukraine and Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from it, according to the regional governor.
Kreminna, which had a population of more than 18,000 before the war with Russia, appears to be the first town confirmed to have been taken by Russian forces since they launched a new offensive in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
“Kreminna is under the control of the ‘Orcs’ [Russians],” Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, told a briefing on Tuesday.
“Our defenders had to withdraw. They have entrenched themselves in new positions and continue to fight the Russian army.”
He did not say when the Russian forces established control over Kreminna but said they had attacked “from all sides”.
“It is impossible to calculate the number of dead among the civilian population. We have official statistics – about 200 dead – but in reality there are many more,” he said, without making clear what period the estimated death toll covered.
Russia, which launched what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, denies targeting civilians. It ratcheted up its battle for control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland on Tuesday, assaulting cities and towns along a boomerang-shaped front hundreds of miles long in what both sides described as a new phase of the war.
Russian Defence Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said that air-launched missiles destroyed 13 Ukrainian troop and weapons locations, while the air force struck 60 other Ukrainian military facilities, including missile warhead storage depots.
The assaults began on Monday along a front that stretches more than 480km (300 miles) from northeastern Ukraine to the country’s southeast.
Russia said it struck several areas with missiles, including the northeastern city of Kharkiv as well as areas around Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro west of the Donbas.
Russian advances ‘repelled’
Despite the increased Russian air raids, the British Ministry of Defence said in a Twitter post that Ukrainians had repelled numerous attempted advances by Russian forces in the Donbas.
In an intelligence update, the ministry said “Russia’s ability to progress continues to be impacted by the environmental, logistical and technical challenges” as well as “the resilience of the highly-motivated Ukrainian armed forces”.
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 19 April 2022
Find out more about the UK government's response: https://t.co/U0gwg8S3av
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) April 19, 2022
Russia launched its offensive to capture the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region after its initial push to overrun the Ukrainian capital failed.
If the Donbas push is successful, it would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a vital piece of Ukraine and a badly needed victory in the now seven-week-old war that he could present to the Russian people amid mounting casualties and economic hardship caused by Western sanctions.
It would also effectively slice Ukraine in two and deprive it of the main industrial assets concentrated in the east, including coal mines, metals plants and machine-building factories.
The seizure of Kreminna takes Russian forces a step closer to the much larger city of Kramatorsk.
The coal- and steel-producing Donbas has been the focal point of Russia’s campaign to destabilise Ukraine since 2014, when the Kremlin used proxies to set up separatist “people’s republics” in Luhansk and Donetsk.
Capturing Donbas and the southern port city of Mariupol would help Russia establish a land link between territory it controls in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea region that Moscow seized and annexed in 2014.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence said earlier on Tuesday that the aim of Russia’s new military offensive in the east is to grab land, establish an overground link between territories in the east and Crimea, and crush Ukraine’s armed forces.
Ministry Spokesperson Oleksandr Motuznyak said Russian forces were attacking along the entire front line in eastern Ukraine, pressing their siege of Mariupol in the south and trying to encircle cities in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that massive numbers of Russian troops were committed to the campaign.