Zelensky calls Russian army 'inhuman' as Moscow increases attacks on eastern Donbas

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says the Russian military is throwing everything it has at Ukraine, with most of its combat-ready forces now concentrated in the country and just across its border in Russia.

Russia has sent more troops into Ukraine as it concentrates its efforts in eastern heartland

A woman cries in front of an apartment building in the southern port city of Mariupol Tuesday, destroyed during Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The latest:

  • Zelensky calls Russian army 'barbaric' and 'inhuman.'
  • Russian forces attacking along wide swath of eastern front, Ukraine says.
  • Ukrainian soldiers hole up in Mariupol steel plant in city's last major pocket of resistance.
  • Russian troops seize control of town of Kreminna in the Donbas, governor says.
  • Canada announces additional sanctions, including on Putin's daughters.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says the Russian military is throwing everything it has at Ukraine, with most of its combat-ready forces now concentrated in the country and just across its border in Russia.

"They have driven almost everyone and everything that is capable of fighting us against Ukraine," he said in his nightly video address to the nation.

And despite Russian claims of hitting only military sites, Zelensky said the army continues to target residential areas and kill civilians.

"The Russian army in this war is writing itself into world history forever as the most barbaric and inhuman army in the world," the Ukrainian president said.

A man tries to extinguish a fire following a Russian bombardment at a residential neighborhood in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday. (Felipe Dana/The Associated Press)

Zelensky's latest comments came hours after Russia redoubled its assault on cities and towns along a boomerang-shaped front hundreds of kilometres long and poured more troops into the country Tuesday in a potentially pivotal battle for control of Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland of coal mines and factories.

After a Russian push to the capital failed to overrun the city, the Kremlin declared that its main goal was the capture of the eastern Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years.

If successful, that offensive would give President Vladimir Putin a vital piece of Ukraine and a badly needed victory that he could present to the Russian people amid the war's mounting casualties and the economic hardship caused by the West's sanctions that followed Russia's invasion on Feb. 24.

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.

More hospitals hit 

The eastern cities of Kharkiv and Kramatorsk came under deadly attack Tuesday, and Russia also said it struck areas around Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro west of the Donbas with missiles. 

Multiple explosions were heard early Wednesday in the southern city of Mykolaiv, the regional governor said. A hospital was reported shelled earlier in the nearby town of Bashtanka.

In Mariupol, the now-devastated port city in the Donbas, Ukrainian troops said the Russian military was dropping heavy bombs to flatten what was left of a sprawling steel plant and hit a hospital where hundreds were staying.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview that "another phase of this operation is starting now."

WATCH | Russia may have the upper hand in Donbas, says U.S. military expert: 

Russia has early advantage for Donbas fight, says military expert

10 months ago
Duration 7:44
Daniel Davis, a retired U.S. lieutenant-colonel, says Russia's firepower and maneuverability appear to give it the upper hand in the Donbas.

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to announce a new weapons package in the coming days that will include additional artillery and ammunition, according to a U.S. official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

European and American arms have been key to bolstering Ukraine's defence, helping the under-gunned country to hold off the Russian force. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Zelensky on Tuesday by phone that the Netherlands would send "heavier material" to Ukraine, including armoured vehicles.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will send heavy artillery to Ukraine, with more details to follow in the coming days. 

A woman walks next to a damaged building after a Russian bombardment in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday. (Felipe Dana/The Associated Press)

Canada also announced a round of new sanctions Tuesday, targeting individuals with ties to the Russian government, including Putin's daughters.

Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova are among 14 individuals being added to Canada's sanctions list. The move to sanction Putin's adult daughters comes after the U.S. and the U.K. made similar announcements earlier this month.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Germany will continue to enable weapons deliveries to Ukraine, with one possibility being systems from eastern European nations that would be easily and quickly usable.

Scholz has faced increasing pressure from within his own governing coalition and the main opposition party to deliver heavy weapons such as German Leopard tanks.

Vera Ptitsyna, 63, right, stands with her daughter Olena, 45, as she mourns at her husband's grave during his funeral in Bucha, in the outskirts of Kyiv, on Tuesday. Yuriy Ptitsyn, 74, died due to lack of medical care during the month-long Russian occupation of the town. (Emilio Morenatti/The Associated Press)
A Ukrainian soldier inspects a Russian tank after recent battles at the village of Moshchun, close to Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday. (Efrem Lukatsky/The Associated Press)

Russians claim key Donbas town

Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson Maj.-Gen. 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.

Russian artillery hit 1,260 Ukrainian military facilities and 1,214 troops concentrations over the last 24 hours, Konashenkov said Tuesday. The claims could not be independently verified.

WATCH | Kyiv mayor warns residents not to return yet amid new attacks: 

Kyiv mayor warns residents not to return yet amid new Russian airstrikes

10 months ago
Duration 2:38
Mayor Vitali Klitschko says that despite the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Kyiv area, the threat of airstrikes looms large.

The assaults began Monday along a front that stretches more than 480 kilometres from northeastern Ukraine to the country's southeast.

A European official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said Russia has 10,000 to 20,000 foreign fighters in the Donbas. They are a mix of mercenaries from Russia's private Wagner Group and Russian proxy fighters from Syria and Libya, according to the official.

Associated Press journalists in Kharkiv said at least four people were killed and three wounded in a Russian attack on a residential area of the city, which is near the front lines and has faced repeated shelling. The attack occurred as residents attempted Tuesday to maintain a sense of normalcy, with municipal workers planting spring flowers in public areas.

An explosion also rocked the eastern city of Kramatorsk on Tuesday, killing at least one person and wounding three, according to AP journalists at the scene.

Local residents walk past a tank destroyed during heavy fighting in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol Tuesday. (Alexei Alexandrov/The Associated Press)
People walk past a residential building that was heavily damaged amid Russia's invasion in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on Monday. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Witness accounts and reports from officials have given a broad picture of the extent of the Russian advance. But independent reporting in the parts of the Donbas held by Russian forces and separatists is severely limited, making it difficult to know what is happening in many places on the ground.

Moscow's troops seized control of one town in the Donbas on Monday, according to Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai. Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's national security council, said that the defensive line had held elsewhere.

The breakthrough in Kreminna, a town of 18,000 people, takes the Russians one small step closer to their apparent goal of encircling Ukrainian troops in the region.

Retired British general Richard Barrons told the BBC that "in this particular battle the Russians will be approaching the Ukrainians from the east, but also from the north and the south to try and get behind them, and so this is a more complex military problem for the Ukrainians."

People wait for food and medicine distribution in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk on Tuesday. (Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press)

Mariupol steel plant bombarded

A few thousand Ukrainian troops, by the Russians' estimate, remained holed up in the sprawling steel plant targeted by Russia, representing what was believed to be the last major pocket of resistance in the shattered city.

Civilians are also believed to be sheltering at the plant, which covers the territory of about 11 square kilometres.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser said on Tuesday that Russia was hitting the Azovstal steel plant with bunker-buster bombs.

"The world watches the murder of children online and remains silent," adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.

A rescue worker stands in front of a destroyed residential building in Mariupol, Tuesday. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Serhiy Taruta, the former governor of the Donetsk region and a Mariupol native, also reported the bombing of the hospital, where he said 300 people, including wounded troops and civilians with children, were sheltered.

The reports could not be independently confirmed.

On Tuesday, Russia issued a new ultimatum to the Ukrainian defenders to surrender, saying those who come out will "keep their lives," and said a ceasefire was being declared in the area so the combatants could leave the Azovstal steel plant. The Ukrainians have ignored previous such offers, and there was no immediate confirmation a ceasefire occurred.

In his nightly address to the nation, Zelensky said that the situation in Mariupol remained unchanged and that the Russian military was blocking attempts to establish a humanitarian corridor out of the city and "save people."

"It is as tough as possible," he said.

The Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, whose forces have taken part in the fighting in Mariupol, said on a messaging app that Russian forces would root out the Ukrainian resistance within hours and take full control of the steel mill on Tuesday. Kadyrov is known for his bluster and has repeatedly predicted the city's fall in the past.

Securing Mariupol would free Russian troops up to move elsewhere in the Donbas, deprive Ukraine of a vital port, and complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, seized from Ukraine in 2014.

With files from Reuters and CBC News