(CN) — The war in Ukraine on Monday was moving toward what could be a decisive battle over the Donbas region and Russia, angry over the sinking of its Moskva warship in the Black Sea, launched more missiles at Lviv.
At least seven people were killed and 11 wounded by several long-range missiles that hit Lviv on Monday, Ukraine said. Russia said it hit military targets, but civilian buildings were struck too, including a tire repair shop and garage. Lviv is in western Ukraine near the Polish border and far from the front lines in eastern Ukraine.
With the sinking of the Moskva late Friday, the rhetoric coming from Moscow increasingly portrays the war in Ukraine as a war with NATO. The Moskva was a prized missile cruiser and the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
The cause of what destroyed the Moskva remains unclear, but on Monday Russian sources began linking its sinking to a NATO missile. Last week, Ukraine said it hit the vessel with two Ukrainian-made missiles but the Kremlin said a fire erupted aboard the vessel.
Sergei Markov, a Moscow-based political scientist and former close adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, claimed on BBC Radio 4 that the Moskva was hit by a NATO missile moved into Ukraine in January. He said Russia was fighting “a coalition” of large nations including the United States.
The war is set to be defined by what military experts say is a large buildup of troops and equipment for a major battle in Donbas, the eastern regions of Ukraine.
On Monday, there were reports that Russian forces and pro-Russian separatists had launched attacks in what could be the opening phases of this major battle. The Russian Ministry of Defense said hundreds of artillery strikes were launched in the past day against Ukrainian forces in the east.
There were reports of street fighting in a town called Kreminna in the Luhansk region. Ukrainian regional administrators reported that Russian troops had taken Kreminna and declared that “the offensive has already begun.” They urged people to evacuate amid Russian shelling and ground attacks.
It is unclear how many Ukrainian troops are positioned in the Donbas but there are at least 44,000 soldiers there and possibly even a much larger force. The Ukrainian forces are at risk of being encircled, but they could also try to go on the counteroffensive and try to seize Luhansk and Donetsk, the capitals of two self-declared republics that have been waging a war against Ukraine for the past eight years.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington military think tank, said in its most recent report that it is doubtful Russia can “amass the cohesive combat power necessary for a major breakthrough.” The think tank said reports suggest Russia is sending in “low-quality proxy conscripts” and that Russian troops appear demoralized.
Meanwhile, the last of Ukraine’s troops in the bombarded city of Mariupol were coming under heavy attack on Monday. They were given an ultimatum to surrender on Sunday, but they have kept on resisting.
“The city still has not fallen,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told ABC News on Sunday. “There [are] still our military forces, our soldiers, so they will fight until the end. And as for now, they still are in Mariupol.”
Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers – many affiliated with the far-right Azov Regiment – are holding out inside the grounds of a massive steelworks plant with an extensive underground network.
Hopes for an end to combat anytime soon have disappeared. Over the weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed that Ukraine would win the war. He said CIA warnings about Russia potentially resorting to a nuclear attack must be heeded by the entire world.
In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Zelenskyy said Ukraine must win the battle over the Donbas to stop Russia from advancing on Kyiv, the capital. Russia initially attacked Kyiv and tried to surround it, but facing stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces it retreated from areas around Kyiv at the end of March and apparently abandoned its plans to capture the capital.
“This is why it is very important for us to not allow them, to stand our ground, because this battle ... it can influence the course of the whole war,” Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy and his government say they will not give up any Ukrainian territory to Russia.
The European Union is ramping up its economic punishment of Russia with bans coming into effect on Russian-owned ships and trucks into the bloc. There were reports of very long lines of Russian trucks trying to flee the EU at the Polish-Belarusian border or face getting seized.
The West is funneling arms into Ukraine and Monday’s missile strikes in western Ukraine were reportedly targeting the supply of Western weapons.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.Follow @cainburdeau
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