Russia has begun its "big revenge" for Ukraine's resistance to its invasion, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as Russian forces have claimed a series of incremental successes in Ukraine's east.
Zelenskyy has forewarned for weeks that Moscow intends to intensify its assault on Ukraine after nearly two months of virtual stalemate along the front line in the south and east.
Denis Pushilin, the administrator of Russian-controlled sections of Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, stated that Russian troops had established a footing in Vuhledar, a coal mining town whose ruins had been a Ukrainian bulwark since the beginning of the conflict.
Yan Gagin, an adviser to Pushilin, reported that members of the Russian mercenary unit Wagner had seized partial control of a supply line heading to Bakhmut. This city has been the target of a Russian operation for months.
A day earlier, Wagner's commander reported that his forces had secured the settlement of Blahodatne, located immediately north of Bakhmut.
Kyiv reported it had resisted assaults on Blahodatne and Vuhledar. The news agency Reuters could not independently verify the situation, but the said places of combat indicated clear, albeit incremental, Russian victories.
Despite high fatalities on the Russian side, Zelenskyy stated that Russian strikes in the east remained unrelenting, characterizing them as vengeance for Ukraine's success in pushing Russian forces back from the capital, northeast, and south early in the conflict.
"I believe that Russia truly seeks retribution." "I believe they have already begun," Zelenskyy stated.
"Every day they either send in more of their regular troops or we see a rise in the number of Wagnerites," he told reporters in Odesa, a port city in the south of Ukraine.
Vuhledar is located south of Bakhmut, close to where the eastern front line guards rail lines under Russian control that supply Moscow's forces in southern Ukraine. Mykola Salamakha, a colonel and military analyst from Ukraine, told Ukrainian Radio NV that Moscow's assault would be extremely costly.
"The town is perched on a bluff, and a formidable defensive hub has been established there," he explained. This is a repeat of the event in Bakhmut, where the Ukrainian military defeated several waves of Russian troops.
Weapons deliveries months away
In recent weeks, Western nations have committed hundreds of modern tanks and armoured vehicles to equip Ukrainian soldiers for an attack in 2023 to recover territory.
However, the arrival of these weapons is months away, forcing Kyiv to continue fighting through the winter in what both sides have described as a "meat grinder" of brutal attrition warfare.
Moscow's Wagner mercenary force has dispatched thousands of convicts recruited from Russian jails to a fight near Bakhmut, allowing Russia's regular military time to rebuild battalions with hundreds of thousands of reservists.
Zelenskyy urges the West to expedite the delivery of the promised weaponry so that Ukraine can launch an offensive.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, stated that Western countries giving armaments leads to "NATO countries becoming more and more directly involved in the conflict, but this cannot and will not alter the course of events."
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank located in the United States, stated that "the West's failure to provide the necessary equipment" was the primary cause for the cessation of Ukrainian gains since November.
As a result, Russia was able to exert pressure at Bakhmut and prepare the front against a possible Ukrainian counterattack, according to a report by its researchers. However, Ukraine could still retake land once the promised weaponry is delivered.
Monday in Mykolaiv, Zelenskyy met with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, a rare visit by a foreign leader close to the front. The city, where Russia's advance in the south was halted, was bombarded continuously until November when Ukraine drove the front line back.
The office of Zelenskyy published footage of the president shaking hands with Frederiksen on a cold street before entering a hospital to see wounded soldiers.
While Kyiv has obtained armaments from the West, Moscow has turned to friends, including Iran, which Kyiv and the West allege has supplied Russia with hundreds of long-range "suicide drones" deployed to target Ukrainian cities.
According to an American official, an Israeli drone attack seems to have targeted an Iranian military factory over the weekend. Israel has been silent.
Kyiv claimed that the strike on Iran was retaliation for Iran's assistance of Russia's military. Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to Zelenskyy, tweeted, "Explosive night in Iran." "Did warn you."
Iran summoned the Ukrainian embassy's charge d'affaires in response to Podolyak's remarks. Russia stated that the Iranian attack "could have unforeseeable repercussions for peace and stability in the Middle East."
Unlike many Western nations, Israel has refrained from overtly supplying Kyiv, but it is frightened by Russia's dependence on Iranian drone technology, which it perceives as a regional security danger.
Ukraine, which has received substantial supplies of uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) from its allies, plans to spend about $550 million on drones this year, with 16 supply contracts signed with Ukrainian manufacturers.
France stated that it had agreed with Australia to manufacture "several thousand" shells for Ukraine.
Russia's invasion, which it launched on February 24 of last year, claiming it was essential to protect itself from its neighbour's connections with the West, has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands and the displacement of millions.