Ukrainian forces offering ‘strong resistance’ to Russian invasion

Western officials fear use of ‘indiscriminate violence’ if Putin is frustrated in hopes of swift victory

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 25 February 2022 18:43
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<p>Civilian is seen trying to block convoy of Russian troops in Ukraine</p>

Civilian is seen trying to block convoy of Russian troops in Ukraine

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Ukrainian military forces are continuing to offer “strong resistance” to Russian forces attempting to seize cities on the second day of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, according to Western sources.

Russian tank units which have entered Ukraine from multiple directions appear to be attempting to encircle capital Kyiv, and there are fears that a bloody and protracted battle for the city may develop with use of indiscriminate violence from the invading forces.

After vilification of leading figures of the Ukrainian government as “Nazis” by the Russian president, there is grave concern that individuals such as Volodymyr Zelensky are now targets for special forces infiltrating the city.

There are indications of the continued operation of Ukrainian air defences against Russian jets, in a sign that Putin’s key objective of obtaining total dominance of the skies on day one has failed.

Western officials are increasingly confident that the Russian mission is falling behind on its timetable for the invasion, with Putin’s forces still confined largely to rural areas while Ukraine concentrates its troops in urban areas in order to mount a determined defence against the expected assault.

But there are concerns that if they find themselves frustrated in their efforts to swiftly overwhelm the cities, invading force commanders may resort to indiscriminate use of artillery or “thermobaric” high-temperature weapons with the potential for mass civilian casualties.

The UK’s chief of defence intelligence Lt-Gen James Hockenhull told reporters: “Russian forces continue to advance on two axes towards Kyiv. Their objective is to encircle the capital, to secure control of the population and change the regime.

Russia continues to conduct strikes across Ukraine. Overnight, Russia launched a concerted series of strikes on targets in Kyiv. Rocket launchers have been employed in Chernihiv and Kharkiv.

“Ukrainian armed forces continue to offer strong resistance focusing on the defence of key cities throughout Ukraine.”

As the second day of the invasion drew to an end, Ukrainian forces retain control of all the country’s major cities.

While Russian forces progress towards Kyiv from the north and east, key Hostomel airfield north of the capital has changed hands several times over the past 36 hours amid significant fighting.

The bulk of the invading force is still around 50km away from Kyiv, but there have been some reports of clashes in the northern suburbs as well as indications that Russian special forces and saboteur units are engaging with Ukrainian troops in the outskirts of the city.

So far, it has appeared that Russian troops are reluctant to leave their armoured vehicles to engage in “unmounted infantry” fighting which would leave them more vulnerable to Ukrainian troops.

Ukrainian forces have mounted delaying operations both by engaging with the Russian columns and by blowing up bridges on key routes through the country.

Fighting has been reported along the “line of contact” marking the borders of rebel-held breakaway republics in the eastern Donbass region, as well as around the city of Kherson and the Black Sea port of Mariupol, which is reported to have seen amphibious landings by Russian troops.

Russian forces which entered Ukraine from occupied Crimea to the south are moving northwards towards Melitapol with a view to link up with troops pushing in from the east.

One Western official said that Ukrainian resistance had been stiffened by the unity shown by the country’s political and financial elites.

“It's notable that we've seen a real strengthening of Ukrainian political unity and seen that the political system and the individuals of high net wealth have come together,” said the official.

“That unity is undoubtedly helping in terms of keeping the focus on the Ukrainian military seeking to offer that strong resistance, which they're able to do in some of those key cities at the moment.”

The official said it was increasingly apparent that the invasion was not proceeding according to the plans laid down by Putin, who was expecting a swift and relatively bloodless victory.

“From our understanding of Russia's plans, it's clear that their intent certainly was, in their planning, to move as quickly as they possibly could,” said the official.

“The conflict in in the Ukraine is the choice of President Putin. It was his choice to do this. The problem now is that having committed himself in the way that he has, this is now not a war of choice for him, but a war of necessity.

“He will see this as that he must win this conflict. And my fear is that in order to win that conflict, he would resort to any means necessary with the force he has assembled in the Ukraine.

“And if we do end up with significant urban fighting, then I have a significant concern for the way in which Russia would use sort of indiscriminate force.”

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