European Council chief Michel says justice must be served in Ukraine for possible war crimes

Ukraine’s military says Russian forces have launched ‘aggressive actions’ along almost the entire frontline in eastern Ukraine, in what President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said was the start of the long-awaited offensive in the eastern region of Donbass.

Ukraine says Russian forces have launched attacks across the eastern frontline as Moscow opens a new phase of its unprovoked invasion while accusing the West of prolonging the conflict by supplying arms to kyiv .

Live briefing: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

RFE/RL Live briefing gives you all the major developments on the invasion of Russia, how kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians and the Western reaction. For all of RFE/RL’s coverage of the war, click here.

Ukraine’s General Staff said on April 19 that thousands of Russian troops are deploying their offensive on the 480-kilometre-long front line to the east in what President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the start of the “battle of Donbass”. “.

Ukrainian media reported heavy shelling in the Donetsk region in Maryinka, Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, and officials said Russian forces were trying to break through Ukrainian defenses “along almost the entire front line of the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kramatorsk regions.” Kharkov”.

After nearly two months of unsuccessful attempts to seize major strategic cities despite intense and indiscriminate bombardment, which killed many civilians and caused massive destruction, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced on April 19 that “another phase of this operation begins now”.

Russia avoided calling its invasion of Ukraine a war, instead using the term “special military operation”.

In Moscow, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the Russian military had “systematically implemented the plan for the complete liberation” of eastern Ukraine and blamed the United States and other Western countries to supply arms to Ukraine so that the fighting continues “to the last Ukrainian”.

Shoigu aired on Russian TV channel Rossiya 24, but it was unclear whether the footage was broadcast live or pre-recorded. If confirmed, it would be the 66-year-old Shoigu’s first public appearance in days amid reports he may have serious health issues.

In a video address on April 18, Zelenskiy vowed to push back Russian troops despite their overwhelming manpower and weaponry advantage.

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed on April 19 that its forces struck 1,260 targets in Ukraine overnight and shot down a Ukrainian MiG-29 aircraft in the Donetsk region. The allegation could not be independently confirmed.

On April 18, a series of Russian missile strikes on military infrastructure in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv killed at least seven people.

Smoke rises above the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol in this still image obtained from recent drone video posted on social media.

Smoke rises above the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol in this still image obtained from recent drone video posted on social media.

A hotel housing Ukrainians who had fled fighting in other parts of the country was among the severely damaged buildings, Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy said.

Russia said the strikes on Lviv destroyed a major foreign arms depot recently delivered to Ukraine and an ammunition storage facility in the Kyiv region.

People watch Ukrainian rescuers put out a fire at a car service center after Russian shelling in the western city of Lviv on April 18.  According to the authorities, seven civilians were killed.

People watch Ukrainian rescuers put out a fire at a car service center after Russian shelling in the western city of Lviv on April 18. According to the authorities, seven civilians were killed.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on April 19 that no humanitarian corridor had been agreed with Russia for a third consecutive day, leaving thousands of people trapped in several cities, including the besieged port of Mariupol.

“Unfortunately, there are no humanitarian corridors. Intense shelling continues in Donbass,” Vereshchuk said in a statement.posted on his Telegram channel April 19.

“We are continuing difficult negotiations on the opening of humanitarian corridors in the Kherson and Kharkiv regions,” she added.

The continued siege of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine has caused “significant” civilian casualties and destroyed “large areas of infrastructure”, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said.

About 100,000 people remained in the city – out of a pre-war population of 450,000 – trapped without food, water, heat or electricity, according to Ukrainian officials.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Ukrainian forces defending Mariupol would fight Russian troops to the bitter end and denied the city had fallen.

The Russian army claims to control almost all of Mariupol, while the Ukrainian Azov battalion is still resisting in the vast Azovstal steelworks.

Meanwhile, Western nations and their allies continue to discuss ways to increase pressure on Moscow to end its aggression.

US President Joe Biden has called a virtual meeting of allies on April 19 to discuss the Ukraine conflict, the White House said.

The videoconference brought together the leaders of France, Britain, Germany, Romania, Poland, Italy, Canada and Japan. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also took part in the call, as well as the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres denounced Russia’s new offensive in eastern Ukraine and called for a four-day truce to mark Orthodox Holy Week.

“Instead of a celebration of new life, Easter coincides with a Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine,” António Guterres told reporters at the UN in New York.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced on April 19 that an embargo on Russian oil at the European Union level was being prepared, adding that President Emmanuel Macron was in favor of such a decision.

“I hope that in the coming weeks we will convince our European partners to stop importing Russian oil,” Le Maire told Europe 1 radio.

Ukraine’s leaders have pushed for a Russian energy embargo, saying money European countries pay for Russian oil and gas funds Moscow’s war machine.

Germany, a major importer of Russian gas and oil, has so far resisted an immediate shutdown but said it planned to phase out Russian oil by the end of the year and the most Russian gas by mid-2024.

A sticking point has been Hungary, where right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban enjoys friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On April 19, officials in Budapest reiterated that their country would not support sanctions against Russian oil and gas, saying it would hurt the country.

With reporting from the AP, AFP, Reuters and BBC

Elna M. Lemons