KIEV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military is on the verge of launching an assault to take back the separatist bastion of Donetsk, a military spokesman said Saturday.
Government troops are currently battling rebels in the nearby town of Horlivka and have blocked all roads leading out of Donetsk to prevent the insurgents from replenishing supplies and fighters or escaping, said Andriy Lysenko of the Ukrainian Security and Defense Council. Once Horlivka is under Ukrainian control again, he said, the army will move to retake Donetsk, a city where pro-Russian separatists have held sway for months while declaring it the Donetsk People’s Republic. The Ukrainian military has ousted rebels from 10 surrounding villages and towns in the past week.
“The next one will be Donetsk,” he said. “The city will be liberated.”
Lysenko denied rebel claims that government troops are shelling the city. Rather, he said, the rebels are launching mortars into residential neighborhoods to frighten the local population and blame it on Ukraine.
Government forces are now in the process of locating and destroying explosives seeded throughout territory vacated by the insurgents. The area around an electric power substation in Donetsk was mined, Lysenko said. The pumping station near Horlivka has been severely damaged and no longer works. Artillery has been found in forests. Explosives have been planted in schools.
The Russian military presence along the border is being strengthened every day, both in troops and equipment, he said, and a “massive” amount of artillery has been directed at Ukrainian troops from Russian territory. Four Russian surveillance drones have been spotted flying over the combat zone of eastern Ukraine in the past 24 hours, Lysenko said, followed by a series of grenade launcher and mortar attacks at Ukrainian border redoubts.