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“Russians almost prepared, waiting when rain ends” – battlefront governor on impending “epic fight” for Donbas

Serhiy Haidai, Luhansk Oblast Head
“Russians almost prepared, waiting when rain ends” – battlefront governor on impending “epic fight” for Donbas
Translated by: Denys Dratsky, Bohdan Ben
Since the first days of April 2022, Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia plans to amass troops in Donbas, in the east of Ukraine, and start a new big battle there, after their initial plan to capture Kyiv failed. However, these preparations don’t mean there is a pause in hostilities. Every day there are roughly a dozen local attempts to break through the Ukrainian defense line in Donbas. Also, constant shelling of Ukrainian towns close to the frontline continues. The Luhansk Oblast head told about the situation in Donbas ahead of Russia’s big battle in his interviews for Ukrainska Pravda and for Suspilne, the excerpts of which are translated below.

Given the constant danger of shelling, and the approaching fierce fighting, Ukrainian officials urged people from Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts to evacuate as soon as possible to other Ukrainian regions. However, people are not always eager to leave their homes, even when shelling was almost constantly continuing in residential areas. Some just fear leaving the relatively safe basements. Others hope that in the coming weeks the war will finally end.

“Some hotspots are under constant bombardment. There is not a single settlement that hasn’t been shelled. They’re throwing everything at us: heavy artillery, mortars, guided missiles, aerial bombardment. It’s horrific. They started shelling Sievierodonetsk where all of the hospitals have been hit. Many houses have been completely destroyed, while countless others have been damaged. We can’t even assess the situation because of the shelling being so severe. We’re continuing to evacuate civilians by rail. However, Russians are now shelling even the rail lines. So it’s becoming harder and harder,” Haidai said.

As of 15 April 2022, Russian troops killed 153 civilians in Luhansk Oblast, mainly by shelling. This number includes only officially confirmed deaths. Russian shelling has been further intensifying over the last several days and it becomes more and more difficult to evacuate people.

For example, on 15 April only three people managed to leave the town of Popasna. Half of the town is occupied by Russian troops, heavy street fighting is going on every day. Russians constantly shell residential areas and roads which makes it very dangerous for civilians to evacuate.

Haidai says there are several thousand people who remain in Popasna and 70,000 not yet evacuated from the Ukrainian-controlled part of the Luhansk Oblast in total.

The police has been doing a great job, escorting, gathering and even sometimes driving the evacuees in cases where the drivers have fled. The infrastructure had been destroyed beyond repair. Gas piping is totally burnt out, power lines are lying on the ground and water services are down. Cars don’t last very long, with every explosion they’re pierced by shrapnel. The best case scenario is when the tires get shredded, instead of the body or the engine. So the situation is very hard. We understand that an offensive is coming soon, that there will be an epic fight for the Donbas,” Haidai comments about the state of infrastructure and the reality of evacuation.

According to him, all of the hospitals have been shelled in Donbas and suffered damage. However, in Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk, hospitals are still operational, even with broken roofs, damaged walls, but they’re still working.

Schools in Luhansk Oblast have also experienced all kinds of damage because of Russian shelling. Haidai is especially emotional when speaking about the swimming pool in Sievierodonetsk where he himself learned to swim in childhood and where his mother had worked until recently. His administration repaired the pool last autumn fully but it was destroyed by shelling.

What is this pool guilty of?”  Haidai asks, adding: “But we can reconstruct it after our victory. What is really a pity are lost human lives.

No matter what the Russians say, they don’t care about the people, they don’t care about the hospitals, they need a hole, a cave, that’s it. If they were stealing washing machines from Bucha, what else can you say? They’re hungry for new territory,” he concludes.

Planned Russian offensive at the big Donbas battle

Before the full-scale invasion, Russian troops were controlling about 30% of the Luhansk Oblast, which they occupied in 2014, including the biggest city of Luhansk. Today the number rose to about 80% because Ukrainian troops had to live in the north-eastern corner of the oblast where Russians were easily advancing from the rear. However, over the past month, Russians could make little progress getting through Ukrainian defense which is now built around the second-biggest city of the oblast Sievierodonetsk.

Haidai confirms allegations by the Ukrainian Foreign Minister that the new Russian offensive would be massive, like in the battles of WWII. Russians are almost prepared and are waiting for better weather, when the rain ends and the ground dries a little bit, to start:

“Sometime around 3-4 AM there will be a massive artillery barrage using heavy mortars, large caliber artillery, aerial bombardment, guided missiles, howitzers — they will put to use everything they have. This will last for a few hours before the ground troops attack with enormous numbers of tanks and infantry. However, Russians won’t be able to make progress from the south at the same time due to lack of reinforcements. They don’t have enough strength to attack from all sides.”

The Russian government needs to present any kind of victory to its own people. That is why they will try to conquer the entire Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.

“Of course they can tell their own people that they’ve landed a man on the Sun, North Korea style, and won the FIFA World Cup final against Brazil by 24 points. They still need some victory, however. Hence they’re looking to conquer all of the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts. That’s why they are massing their armor, to penetrate the line of defense and envelop the area.”

“They talked on the phone until his father’s heart stopped.” How Russia’s invasion destroyed my world

Haidai also says that there are almost no men left on the streets of the cities Donetsk and Luhansk, which Russia occupied in 2014, creating the proxy Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics,” “LNR” and “DNR.” Some of them have already been mobilized, others are hiding so as not to go to war with Ukraine because they see how many bodies are being trucked back in.

Usually, the mobilized men from occupied Donetsk and Luhansk are sent as cannon fodder in the first lines. The regular Russian army follows them, Haidai describes:

“First, there is the cannon fodder. It’s the raw recruits that know nothing about how to fight. The second echelon includes the ‘L/DNR’ fighters with military experience and Kadyrov’s troops. And the third one has the regular Russian troops.”

According to Haidai, his administration in the last years put much effort into developing the Ukrainian-controlled part of Luhansk Oblast and create a strong visible difference with the Russian puppet “LNR.”

“There is a stereotype: ‘pro-Russian Luhansk Oblast.’ That could be 8 years ago. When Russians entered the territory of Starobilsk, Svatovo, people went out to protest. I was pleasantly surprised. I have been working as the head of the administration for two and a half years. We have done a lot, built dozens of playgrounds, schools, kindergartens, offices of public services, roads. Military bases were not built, people saw it. They believed that live could change for the better, that something is changing [for the better]. They were going to protests in occupied towns until the Russians started firing at them.”

Consequences of Russian shelling in Popasna, published on 15 April 2022.

In the “LNR,” instead, the propaganda about the alleged “protection” of Russian speakers against the “Ukrainian Nazi regime” was more important than real quality of life.

“To put up billboards that say ‘Don’t be afraid to speak Russian.’ It’s just ridiculous in Luhansk Oblast,” Haidai comments about the actions of Russians. “They’ve completely lost touch with reality. Where is anybody afraid to speak Russian in the Luhansk Oblast? I myself was born in Sievierodonetsk. Before I came to Lviv, I hadn’t spoken a word of Ukrainian for 10 years because I didn’t know the language. You can speak any language in this country.”

He also takes the Russian affinity for special dates seriously. They had seized the dates of the “Day of the Soviet Army” of 23 February to attack Ukraine, and since Victory Day on 9 May is a huge one for them, it is very likely Russians will try their best to do something for this occasion.

“We’re talking about a sick man stuck in a basement, albeit a fancy one, obsessed with special dates. Look, 23 February was a day to commemorate the Russian armada, and on the morning of 24th they attacked. 9 May is also a sacred date for them, so they’ll try. If the people are enjoying the fact that their country is at war with another country and they’re saying great, let’s kill all of the Ukrainians — this is a sick nation.”

Read also:

Translated by: Denys Dratsky, Bohdan Ben
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