Ukrainian forces dug in while Russia lined up more firepower and tapped a decorated general as war commander ahead of a potentially decisive showdown in eastern Ukraine that experts said could start within days with a full-scale offensive.
Maxar Technologies on April 10 published satellite images showing a Russian military convoy stretching some 13 kilometers headed south in Ukraine toward the Donbas region as the Kremlin shifts its fighting strategy.
The convoy may be headed toward Izyum, a town in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region that Russian forces control. Izyum is located near the border with the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Russia is refocusing its military attack on the Donbas, which encompasses Ukraine’s eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, after facing setbacks in other areas of the country, including Kyiv and Sumy.
Ahead of the expected offensive, the Kremlin tapped Army General Aleksandr Dvornikov, who commands Russia’s forces in the southern military district, to lead the war in Ukraine.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said last week that Russia is preparing for a battle in the Donbas that will resemble fighting in World War II, with thousands of tanks, armored vehicles, planes, and artillery.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions — which he called historical Russian lands — just days before he launched his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Putin initially sought to unseat the democratically elected government of Ukraine as part of a larger strategy to pull Ukraine back into Russia’s sphere of influence.
However, the invasion faltered as Ukrainian forces, backed with Western military aid, put up tough resistance, beating back Russian attacks in some areas.
Putin may now be trying to concentrate forces to take control of the Donbas by early May, ahead of a national holiday that celebrates the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, according to U.S. officials.
His decision to appoint Dvornikov, 60, as the new commander of the Ukraine campaign may be a further indication that Russia plans a large-scale offensive in the east, analysts said.
The general has a notorious reputation for his conduct of the war in Syria, where Russia bombed civilian districts. Putin awarded Dvornikov the Hero of Russia medal, one of the country’s highest awards, for his work in Syria.
Dvornikov has been “the kind of executioner that we’ve seen prosecute these kinds of campaigns [in Chechnya and Syria], where there is an awful lot of civilian attacks, civilian destruction,” retired U.S. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling said in an interview with CNN.
U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN in an interview on April 10 that the United States will continue to deliver weapons to Ukraine to help it beat back Russian forces.
Ukrainian officials reiterated on April 10 that they are willing to negotiate a peace agreement with Russia. Ukraine and Russia have held a few rounds of talks since the invasion began but with little progress.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer will fly to Moscow to meet Putin on April 11, the Russian leader’s first face-to-face meeting with a European Union counterpart since the start of the invasion.
Putin will meet with Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka on April 12. Lukashenka has allowed Putin to use Belarus as a launching pad for the invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy renewed his plea for more weapons ahead of the expected surge in fighting in the country’s east. Zelenskiy said on Twitter on April 10 that he had spoken on the phone with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to discuss fresh defense and financial support for his country, as well as the possibility of additional sanctions on Russia.
But the president has also said that he is committed to pressing for peace despite Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilians that sparked outrage in the world.
“We have to fight, but fight for life. You can’t fight for dust when there is nothing and no people. That’s why it is important to stop this war,” Zelenskiy said in an interview with the Associated Press on April 9, a day after at least 52 people were killed in a Russian rocket strike on a train station in the city of Kramatorsk, packed with civilians trying to flee.
Russia has turned some Ukrainian cities, including Mariupol in Donetsk, largely into rubble, dropping bombs on civilian as well as military targets.
“No one wants to negotiate with a person or people who tortured this nation. It’s all understandable. And as a man, as a father, I understand this very well,” Zelenskiy said. But “we don’t want to lose opportunities, if we have them, for a diplomatic solution.”
Zelenskiy said he is confident that Ukrainians would accept peace despite the horrors they have witnessed in Russia’s unprovoked war in their country.
Those included gruesome images of bodies of civilians found in yards and streets and buried in mass graves in the town of Bucha near Kyiv after Russian troops withdrew.
Ukrainian and Western leaders have accused Moscow of war crimes. Russia has denied responsibility.
A Ukrainian official said on April 10 that a mass grave containing dozens of bodies of civilians has been found in the village of Buzova near Kyiv.
WATCH: A Current Time correspondent asked people on the streets of Moscow and Arkhangelsk what Russia had achieved after six weeks of war in Ukraine. Most repeated the Kremlin line, as they hear it on Russian media, but a few offered radically different answers.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on April 10 that Kyiv had agreed the use of nine humanitarian corridors to help people to escape heavy fighting in the east of the country.
“All the routes for the humanitarian corridors in the Luhansk region will work as long as there is a cease-fire by the occupying Russian troops,” Vereshchuk said in a statement on her Telegram channel.
Residents of the besieged region of Luhansk would have nine trains on April 10 to use for evacuations, the region’s governor, Serhiy Hayday, announced on Telegram.
On April 9, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in Kyiv in a surprise visit to meet with Zelenskiy in what Downing Street called a “show of solidarity” as fears grow of a possible new Russian offensive in the east.
Standing next to Zelenskiy at a joint news conference, Johnson said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “permanently polluted” his reputation and that of Russia with Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, including deadly attacks on civilians in what many people are calling war crimes.
“What Putin has done in places like Bucha and Irpin is war crimes that have permanently polluted his reputation and the reputation of his government,” Johnson said.
During his meetings, Johnson pledged to provide an additional 120 armored vehicles and new anti-ship missiles for Ukraine as he praised the performance of Kyiv’s military and its civilian defenders.