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News   Defense News

Battle in Eastern Ukraine Heats Up as Russians Are Driven Back East of Capital

March 24, 2022 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

Ukrainian soldiers have forced Russian invaders back from the east side of Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. Russians to the northwest of the city have begun digging defensive positions, a senior defense official said yesterday. 

Airmen load vehicles onto an aircraft.
Loading Cargo
Airmen load cargo for delivery to Ukraine onto a C-17 Globemaster III at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Feb. 14, 2022.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Karla Parra
VIRIN: 220214-F-DU706-1234C
                       

The Russians do appear to be stepping up operations in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, the official said. 

Kyiv is still in danger, but the fighting there has changed. "The Russians are about 15 to 20 kilometers away from city center. So, no movement," the official said.  

But the Russians are digging in and establishing defensive positions, which is a change. "They're actually not trying to advance right now. They're taking more defensive positions," the official said.  

To the east of the capital, Ukrainian forces were able to push the Russians back to about 55 kilometers east and northeast of Kyiv. Tuesday, the Russian forces were about 20 to 30 kilometers away from the city.  

Paratroopers and Polish soldiers engage targets during a combined live-fire training event.
Training Event
Paratroopers assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, and Polish soldiers assigned to the 18th Mechanized Division, engage targets during a combined live-fire training event in Nowa Deba, Poland, March 15, 2022. The 82nd Airborne Division is currently deployed to Poland at the invitation of Polish allies to enhance readiness and strengthen the NATO alliance.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Claudia Nix
VIRIN: 220315-M-LT196-1033

In Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkiv, the Russians are outside the ring road and are about 15 to 20 kilometers away from the city center, the official said. This is despite heavy fighting for the city, the official said.  

In the Donbass region, "we still believe that the Russians are trying to basically cut it off and, therefore, pin down Ukrainian forces," he said. The idea is the Russians will move south and north out of Mariupol to isolate Ukrainian forces fighting in the region. "What I would say is that this is the area which has become much more active for Russian forces … they have applied a lot more energy in the area," the official said. 

Russian forces are prioritizing eastern Ukraine even as forces around Kyiv start to dig in.   

Mariupol is contested with the Russians bombarding the city with artillery and other long-range fires. The official said there are Russian forces inside the city, but the Ukrainians continue to fight very hard for Mariupol. 

An Air Force pilot flying a F-16 Fighting Falcon fly alongside two Romanian F-16s.
Joint Flyover
Two Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft assigned to the 480th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, fly alongside two Romanian F-16s over Romania, March 14, 2022. Airmen routinely train with NATO partners and allies to ensure safety and stability within the European theater.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Ali Stewart
VIRIN: 220314-F-FW957-0001A

Odesa remains an enigma, and Western officials wonder if Russia is not feinting towards Odesa to tie down Ukrainian forces. "It's not entirely obvious to us that they actually will make a move on Odesa," the official said. "So, we're just kind of watching that to see to see where it goes." 

There is no major change in the air environment, with Russian pilots remaining risk-averse in the face of Ukrainian defenses.  

"We continue to see the Russians look at options for reinforcements, and we do believe they're moving in that direction to reinforce some of their forces from outside Ukraine," he said. 

The official noted the last deliveries of the $350 million U.S. security package will be arriving in the region shortly. The first deliveries from the $800 million package should arrive within days. "It'll be a series of more multiple flights over many days," he said. "We're going to prioritize the kinds of … defensive systems that we know that (the Ukrainians) are using in the fight."