Ukrainian forces dug in and the Russian army readied more fighting power on Sunday ahead of an expected showdown in eastern Ukraine that could become a defining period in a war that has leveled cities, killed possibly thousands and isolated Moscow economically and politically.
Experts say a full-scale offensive in the east could begin within days, though questions remain about the ability of Russia’s demoralized and depleted forces to conquer much ground after inspired Ukrainian defenders repulsed their attempt to capture the capital, Kyiv.
Britain’s Defense Ministry reported on Sunday that Russia’s armed forces are seeking to offset mounting casualties by increasing the number of troops with personnel who had been discharged from service since 2012.
Ukraine has most of its military forces in the east: estimates vary, but put it in the tens of thousands. Russian-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine since 2014 and control parts of Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking industrial region.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, its troops have bombarded government-controlled territory.
The anticipated offensive in the east and south could end up excising a vast swathe of Ukraine’s land. On Sunday, Russian forces shelled Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the northeast, and sent reinforcements toward Izyum, in the southeast, to breach Ukraine’s defenses, the Ukrainian military command said.
The Russians also held the siege of Mariupol, a key southern port, under siege for nearly a month and a half.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for greater military and political support from the West, including NATO members who have funneled weapons and military equipment to Ukraine since Russia invaded.