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'The Whole Country Is United': Fighting Intensifies In Ukraine's Southeastern Zaporizhzhya Region

By Yegor Maksimov April 24, 2022

More than 60 percent of the settlements in Ukraine's southeastern Zaporizhzhya region are occupied by Russian forces, says Oleksandr Starukh, the head of Ukraine's military administration of the region. Yet Starukh is convinced Moscow's military is stymied in the region, and has made little progress controlling it since the early days following Russia's February 24 invasion.

"At the beginning, there was a danger [of complete occupation]," he told Current Time. "But now the people of our cities are united. The whole country is united. We are building barricades from logs brought from the Carpathian forest [in western Ukraine]. Using bulldozers and other construction equipment sent from [the northwestern city of] Rivne."

"The whole country is bolstering our lines," Starukh added. "And we will make lines that no enemy will be able to cross."

The Zaporizhzhya region, which includes the occupied Azov Sea port of Berdyansk, has been in Moscow's crosshairs since the invasion was launched on February 24 and is a key objective as Russia seeks to create a land bridge between Crimea -- the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014 -- and the parts of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russia and Moscow-backed separatist formations.

On April 22, the acting commander of Russia's Central Military District, Rustam Minnekayev, was quoted by state media as saying that full control of southern Ukraine was a strategic goal for Moscow and that it would even aim to link up the area to Moldova's pro-Russian breakaway Transdniester region.

"The front lines haven't shifted from more than six weeks," Starukh said. "There is constant fighting, and it has intensified in the last few days, particularly in the east."

Starukh added that Russian occupation had been difficult in places like Melitopol and Berdyansk, where he alleged Russian forces were "terrorizing the local population."

"More than 150 leaders, public figures, and journalists have been kidnapped, abducted," he said. "It has become a widespread phenomenon. They have also set up their own broadcast towers throughout the whole region and are trying to brainwash people with their television channels. We aren't talking about authorities, but about terrorists who are trying to seize power."

Starukh said Russia was attempting to "manipulate public opinion" through "terror."

"They do not allow humanitarian corridors," he said. "They don't allow food or even medicines to be brought in.... These are simply acts of genocide being carried out by means of terror."

He dismissed concerns that Russia was attempting to pave the way for an independence "referendum" in the Zaporizhzhya region and the neighboring Kherson region, as it did in 2014 in Crimea and the parts of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbas.

"What sort of elections or referendums has Russia conducted over the last quarter-century?" he said. "Were they honest and open? Let them learn how to hold their own competitive elections and referendums, and then they can have an opinion."

Starukh added that Ukraine had learned difficult lessons from 2014.

"Probably we should have fought to the end, although in 2014 that was a difficult thing to do," he said. "We can't ever give even one square meter of our land to anyone. They will take another bite and another and will keep eating those bites until they have eaten everything."

Robert Coalson contributed to this report

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-fighting- zaporizhzhya-abductions/31818755.html

Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.



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