Russia achieving success in Ukraine's Donbas region, MoD says on war's 100th day

In 100n days of war, Russia has razed parts of Ukraine to the ground. Credit: AP

Russia is achieving success in Ukraine's Donbas and appears "to hold the initiative" in the battle for the region, according to the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Marking 100 days since Moscow invaded its neighbour, the MoD said that "measured against Russia’s original plan, none of the strategic objectives have been achieved".

"Russian forces failed to achieve their initial objectives to seize Kyiv and Ukrainian centres of government," the MoD said, adding this was because "staunch Ukrainian resistance and the failure to secure Hostomel airfield in the first 24 hours led to Russian offensive operations being repulsed".

The MoD added it believes that in "order for Russia to achieve any form of success will require continued huge investment of manpower and equipment, and is likely to take considerable further time".

Fighting has intensified in Ukraine’s east as Russia seeks to “liberate” all of the Donbas.

It comes as Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia will continue in Ukraine until all goals are achieved.

In a video message marking the war’s first 100 days, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy indicated that his country would not submit easily to Russian aggression after showing it could withstand months of attacks from a larger adversary. “We have defended Ukraine for 100 days already. Victory will be ours,” he said.

On Thursday, Mr Zelenskyy conceded that Russia now controls 20% of Ukraine.

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When Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine in late February, the Russian president vowed his forces would not occupy the neighbouring country. But as the invasion reached its 100th day on Friday, Russia seemed increasingly unlikely to relinquish the territory it has taken in the war. The ruble is now an official currency in the southern Kherson region, alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia. Residents there and in Russian-controlled parts of the Zaporizhzhia region are getting offered Russian passports. The Kremlin-installed administrations in both regions have talked about plans to become part of Russia. The Moscow-backed leaders of separatist areas in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, which is mostly Russian-speaking, have shared similar intentions. Mr Putin recognised the separatists’ self-proclaimed republics as independent states two days before launching the invasion.

The Kremlin has largely kept silent about its plans for the cities, towns and villages it has bombarded with missiles, encircled and finally captured. Spokesperson Mr Peskov said it was up to people living in seized areas to decide where and how they want to live.

Mr Peskov told reporters on Friday that Russian forces have “liberated” parts of Ukraine and “this work will continue until all the goals of the special military operation are achieved”.

Annexing more land from Ukraine was never the main goal of the invasion, but Moscow is unlikely to let go of its military gains, according to political analysts. Mr Putin has said the invasion was aimed at the “demilitarisation” and “denazification” of Ukraine. It was widely believed that the Kremlin intended initially to install a pro-Moscow government in Kyiv that would prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, and taking other steps away from Russia’s sphere of influence.

The war in numbers

Russia captured much of Kherson and neighbouring Zaporizhzhia early in the war, gaining control over most of Ukraine’s Sea of Azov coast and securing a partial land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. They completed the takeover last month with the capture of the port city of Mariupol following a three-month siege of the Azovstal steel works where 2,000 fighters and several hundred civilians were holed up. Residents of the cities of Kherson and Melitopol took to the streets to protest the occupation, facing off with Russian soldiers in plazas. Ukrainian officials warned that Russia might stage a referendum in Kherson to declare the region an independent state. Petro Kobernyk, 31, an activist with a non-governmental organisation who fled Kherson with his wife, said Russian security services threatened and held pro-Ukrainian activists or forced them out of the region. His claims could not be independently verified. Russian forces keep people in an “an information vacuum,” with Ukrainian websites no longer available, Mr Kobernyk said.

But some in captured areas of Ukraine have welcomed a Russian takeover. Vadim Romanova, a 17-year-old from Mariupol, said it made one of his dreams come true. “I’ve wanted to live in Russia since I was little, and now I realise I don’t even have to move anywhere,” Mr Romanova said. In Russian-occupied cities in southern Ukraine, people with pro-Kremlin views replaced mayors and other local leaders who disappeared in what Ukrainian officials and media said were kidnappings. Russian flags were raised, and Russian state broadcasts that promoted the Kremlin’s version of the invasion supplanted Ukrainian TV channels.

An office of Russia’s migration services opened in Melitopol, taking applications for Russian citizenship through a fast-track procedure Mr Putin expanded to residents of the captured southern regions. The rapid procedure was first implemented in 2019 in the rebel-controlled areas of the Donbas, where more than 700,000 people have received Russian passports. Top Russian officials started touring the regions, touting the territories’ prospects for being integrated into Russia. Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin visited Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in mid-May and indicated they could become part of “our Russian family.” Members of the pro-Kremlin administrations in both regions soon announced that the areas would seek to be incorporated into Russia. While it remains unclear when or if it will happen, Russia is laying the groundwork. Oleg Kryuchkov, an official in Russia-annexed Crimea, said this week that the two southern regions have switched to Russian internet providers; state media ran footage of people lining up to get Russian SIM cards for their mobile phones. Mr Kryuchkov also said that both regions were switching to the Russian country code, +7, from the Ukrainian +380. Senior Russian lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, a member of the Russian delegation in stalled peace talks with Ukraine, said that referendums on joining Russia could take place in the Donbas, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions as early as July. Mr Peskov was evasive when asked on Friday whether Russian authorities planned to hold votes in those areas, saying that it would depend on the course of Russia’s offensive. Ukrainian experts say it will not be easy for the Kremlin to rally genuine support in Ukraine’s south. Volodymyr Fesenko, of the Kyiv-based Penta Center think tank, said most residents of the southern regions identify as Ukrainians much more strongly than the people in areas closer to Russia or have been led by the Moscow-backed separatists for eight years. Olga Romanova, a hairdresser in Mariupol, said she wonders if Ukraine’s people “deserved the war,” if they were somehow being punished for not displaying enough solidarity during the eight-year separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine that preceded the invasion. Romanova is now sharing her basement with her neighbors to use as a bomb shelter, And even though her son dreams of becoming Russian, she said Ukrainians are clear about what transpired on their land in the past 100 days, no matter the Kremlin’s rhetoric. “Whatever they want to call this combat activity - special operation, defensive, offensive - whatever they want to call it, it was war,” she said.

“It was war, and people were dying, buildings were being destroyed, a city was being destroyed. A city where somebody was happy once.”