Ukraine said Russian forces were seeking to form “occupation administrations” in Moscow-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine as President Volodymyr Zelensky warned of “powerful strikes” on the region.
The Ukrainian military said on Friday that Russia was trying to set up governance structures in the “temporarily occupied” districts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and parts of Zaporizhzhia.
The statement followed days of warnings that Moscow was preparing to intensify its attacks. Russia has increased the number of troops in the Donbas region while continuing its military assault in the south of the country. UK intelligence services said Russia was redeploying forces from Georgia to fight in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s military said: “In the temporarily occupied territories, the Russian enemy continues its illegal actions, restricting the movement of civilians, using the houses and apartments of local residents to accommodate personnel, and holding local residents and activists hostage. Marauding and violence against Ukrainian citizens continues. ”
Ukrainian and Russian military claims cannot be independently verified.
Zelensky also said he had stripped two generals of their military ranks. The Ukrainian president called the former internal security chief at the SBU, Ukraine’s intelligence service, and a general previously in charge of security for the SBU in the Kherson region, “traitors” and “anti-heroes”.
Ukrainian forces have prevented Russia from capturing any big cities, including Kyiv, where Moscow has pulled out some troops that were fighting near the capital. But the war is raging in the east and the south, where Russian forces are pounding the besieged port of Mariupol despite pledges that it would implement a ceasefire.
Moscow has said it was moving into the “final phase” of operations after “achieving all the main tasks” in northern Ukraine and would focus on the Donbas region in the east, where it has already taken over territory.
On Thursday, a US official said Russia had stepped up its air strikes in Ukraine, casting further doubt on Moscow’s claims that it was de-escalating and relocating forces in Ukraine. The strikes were concentrated around Kyiv, Chernihiv, Izyum, Mariupol and the Donbas. “For all this talk of de-escalation and moving away, Kyiv is very much under threat from air strikes,” the official said.
“The situation in the south and in Donbas remains extremely difficult,” Zelensky said in a video address early on Friday. “In Donbas, in Mariupol, in the Kharkiv direction, Russian troops are accumulating the potential for strikes. Powerful strikes. We will defend ourselves. ”
Zelensky has urged Charles Michel, president of the European Council, to provide more support, including the imposition of more sanctions on Moscow, economic help for Ukraine and fast-tracking the country’s accession to the EU. “We need more support from our partners right now. When the Russian military is concentrating additional forces in certain areas, ”Zelensky said.
Australia said on Friday that it would provide armored vehicles to Ukraine a day after Zelensky addressed the country’s parliament for more help.