“It’s no secret” that the Russian army is preparing a new wave of attacks for February 24, Secretary of the Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov told Radio Svoboda. Russian troops have recently stepped up their attacks in eastern Ukraine.
Particularly massive attacks are reported in the two cities of Wuhledar and Bachmut; Both sides reported heavy fighting around Wuhledar on Friday. Only recently did Russian soldiers and fighters from the Wagner mercenary group take over the small town of Soledar, north of Bakhmut. It was the first notable victory for Russian forces and their allies after several setbacks in recent months.
According to a Ukrainian soldier, Russian soldiers are also advancing on Bakhmut, which they have been trying to control for months. “There is constant fire, day and night, they are trying to find weak points in our defence,” Yuri told the AFP news agency as he stood in a trench in Bakhmut.
According to the US-based Institute for the Study of War, Moscow is trying to disperse outnumbered Ukrainian forces with attacks to “create the conditions for a decisive offensive campaign”.
Russia has mobilized hundreds of thousands of reservists and convicts to try to break through the Ukrainian lines and take over all of Donbass, a vast industrial and coal area in eastern Ukraine.
However, according to the United Nations, the currently raging Russian rocket attacks have not triggered new large movements of refugees from Ukraine. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, told the German Press Agency in Kyiv on Friday. During a visit to the neighboring Republic of Moldova, authorities confirmed to him that there are currently no more people leaving Ukraine.
However, because of winter, fewer people have returned to Ukraine than before Russian missile attacks on Ukraine’s power system began last October. “Winter is very hard with conflict in some regions,” said the UNHCR chief. This is not very encouraging for many people. The 65-year-old Italian was in Ukraine for a total of six days and visited the cities of Odessa, Mykolaiv, Dnipro, Zaporizhia, Kharkiv and Poltava.
The United Nations estimates the number of people fleeing Ukraine at nearly eight million, 92,019 of whom have found refuge in Austria. There are also around 6.5 million internally displaced people. “You can make a comparison with Bosnia and the Balkans, but the flow of refugees was not so great, despite the conflict lasting several years”, emphasized the UN diplomat.
Grandi found words of praise for Germany, which has taken in the second highest number of Ukrainian refugees after Poland. “It’s obviously very well organized,” he said. According to the German government, more than a million Ukrainians have found shelter in Germany. Germany is also a major donor to the commission. “I think Germany has given UNHCR more than €80 million since the start of the war,” said Grandi. The United Nations is very grateful for this. During a visit to Vienna the previous year, Grandi also praised Austria. This increased his payments to UNHCR “and he is now one of our biggest supporters”, he said in an interview with the APA. Grandi went on to say that Austria should be “proud” of the high number of refugees it has taken in since 2015.
During his visit to Kyiv, Grandi also criticized Russia. This violates wartime child protection principles, Grandi told Portal news agency. “Giving them (Russian) citizenship or adopting them goes against basic principles of child protection in war situations.” The refugee organization cannot estimate the number of children affected because access to them in Russia is extremely restricted. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters that Grandi had not commented on children who died in Ukrainian bombings in Donbass. She also wished that “these United Nations officials had taken notice of the colossal humanitarian aid that Russia has provided to residents of the region”.