Russia launches all-out assault on east Ukraine

STORY: The "Battle of Donbas" has begun, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday (April 19) as Russia unleashed thousands of troops in the east of the country.

Speaking in an overnight video address, Zelenskiy said Ukraine would withstand the all-out assault.

“Every life lost is an argument for Ukrainians and other free peoples, generation after generation, to perceive Russia exclusively as a threat. And any infrastructure can be restored. And we will definitely do it."

The coal- and steel-producing Donbas has been the focal point of Russia's campaign to destabilize Ukraine since 2014, when the Kremlin used proxies to set up separatist "people's republics" in parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.

Despite the looming threat, residents in Sloviansk, located in the Donetsk region, say they’re staying calm - for now.

SLOVIANSK RESIDENT, ANYA, SAYING: "Right now it’s mostly calm here. Comparing to other cities, it is still good here. A lot of people have moved out, the city is empty, you can see it yourself. Sirens are on all the time, you can hear some explosions. But the town is intact."

SLOVIANSK RESIDENT AND COFFEE SHOP OWNER, IVAN, SAYING: "We were actually prepared for this. We received information of a planned mass attack and we are ready. For that reason we were not shocked. We believe in our army and our victory, and that the combat operations won’t reach Sloviansk.”

In the first reported success of the new assault, Ukraine said the Russians had seized Kreminna, a frontline town of 18,000 people in Luhansk.

Moscow demands Kyiv cede the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces fully to Russian-backed separatists.

It has given few details about its new campaign, but Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that "another stage of the operation is beginning."

"The operation in the east of Ukraine is aimed, as was announced from the very beginning, to fully liberate the Donetsk and Luhansk republics. And this operation will continue."

Russia denies targeting civilians in what it calls a special operation to demilitarize Ukraine.

It has bombed cities to rubble, and hundreds of civilian bodies have been found in towns where its forces withdrew. It says, without evidence, that those and other signs of atrocities were staged.

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