Ukrainian unit digs in for Russian assault on eastern city

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian soldiers are strengthening their positions around the eastern city of Sloviansk ahead of another Russian attempt at the hotly contested strategic point Donetsk region.

While heavy ground fighting on the frontline continues just miles east, southeast and north of Sloviansk, members of the Dnipro-1 regiment are digging in after a week of relative calm. The last Russian attack on the city took place on July 30.

Although the silence gave the remaining inhabitants of Sloviansk a respite after regular shelling between April and July, some unit members say it could be a prelude to renewed attacks.

“I don’t think it will be quiet for long. Eventually there will be an attack,” Colonel Yurii Bereza, the head of the voluntary National Guard regiment, told The Associated Press on Friday, adding that he expected the area to become “hot” in the coming days.

Sloviansk is considered a strategic target in Moscow’s ambitions to conquer the entire Donetsk provincea largely Russian-speaking area in eastern Ukraine where Russian troops and pro-Moscow separatists control about 60% of the territory.

Donetsk and the neighboring Luhansk province, which Russia has taken almost completely since Ukrainian forces withdrew from the remaining cities under their control in early July, together form the industrial region of Donbas. The separatists have claimed the region as two independent republics since 2014, and Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized their sovereignty before sending troops to Ukraine.

Taking Sloviansk would put more of the region under Russian control, but it would also be a symbolic victory for Moscow. The city was the first to be taken by the separatists during an outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine in 2014, although it was later brought back under Ukrainian control.

In addition, the Russian military wants to take control of nearby water treatment plants to serve Russian-occupied cities such as Donetsk in the southeast and Mariupol in the south., Sergeant. maj. Artur Shevtsov of the Dnipro-1 regiment said.

The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, said in a review Friday that Russian forces had increasingly transferred personnel and equipment from the Donbas to southern Ukraine to counter a Ukrainian counter-offensive around the occupied port city of Kherson. to push.

Those efforts to secure Kherson are “at the expense of the (Russian) attempts to take Sloviansk … which they seem to have given up,” the institute’s analysts said.

But Colonel Bereza said he thought the muddy conditions after the recent rainy weather in the region, and not leaving Sloviansk as a target, were responsible for the interruption of Russian artillery attacks.

“In two or three days, when it’s dry, they’ll move on,” he said.

Only about 20,000 residents remain in Sloviansk, down from more than 100,000 before the Russian invasion. The city has been without gas or water for months and residents can only manually pump drinking water from public wells.

From a position on the edge of townsoldiers of the Dnipro-1 regiment expanded a network of trenches and dug bunkers against mortar attacks and phosphor bombs.

At the outpost, Sgt. maj. Shevtsov said supplies of heavy weapons from Ukraine’s western allies, including multiple US-supplied rocket launchers, had helped keep some Donbas cities like Sloviansk relatively safe since their delivery in June.

But such weapons likely only bought time for Ukrainian troops, he said, adding that the lack of strikes over the past week “worries me.” In his experience, a lull means the Russians are preparing to attack.

Another officer, Cmdr. Ihor Krylchatenko, said he suspected the silence could be broken within days.

“We were warned that an attack could take place on August 7 or 8,” he said. “We’ll see, but we’re ready.”

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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