President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday said Russian Federation (RF) attacks in the Donbas sector were putting defenders under heavy pressure, telling viewers in a national television address “It’s Hell there, and that’s no exaggeration.”

Zelensky’s comments, made public early in the morning on May 20, were the highest-level official Ukrainian confirmation yet that Ukraine Armed Forces (UAF) units are struggling to contain RF assaults towards the city of Severodonetsk and the town of Popasna, both important objectives in the Kremlin’s ongoing Donbas offensive.

RF artillery and air strikes killed twelve civilians in Severodonetsk and injured “dozens more”, Zelensky said. He claimed RF forces were targeting homes and businesses as part of a campaign to destroy Ukrainian civilian infrastructure and break the Ukrainian public will to resist. Ukraine would fight on and eventually defeat the Kremlin’s forces, Zelensky said.


A May 20 morning situation report made public by Ukraine’s Army General Staff (AGS), confirmed Zelensky’s description of the Severodonetsk-Popasna line as the epicenter of heavy fighting, and the site of fierce RF combined arms assaults against UAF defenses.

RF forces were using mortars, tube artillery, rocket artillery, and air strikes against Ukrainian positions with the goal of demolishing UAF fortifications along the full length of the line of defense, the situation report said. It was not possible to evacuate civilians from villages in and around the firing line due to nearly continuous artillery strikes, said Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional defense command, in a May 20 YouTube statement.

UAF defenders repelled RF attacks at all locations, but a key supply road running from Bakhmut to UAF positions west of Popasna was under regular RF artillery fire, and a UAF bridgehead on the north bank of the Siviersky Donets River, near the town Lyman, was under attack from three sides, the ACS statement said.

Deeper RF attacks seemingly aiming to break through UAF lines and encircle UAF troops in the Donbas pocket struck the Donetsk region villages Vesele, Novomyhailivka, and Oleksandrivka, and were turned back, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional defense command, in a May 19 television interview.


The AGS statement said that RF units in fighting across the front, over the past 24 hours, lost 8 tanks, 14 infantry fighting vehicles, and six trucks. RF sources made no reference to losses and claimed that the Kremlin’s strategy of using heavy firepower and limited infantry attacks to gain ground in the Severodonetsk and Popasna sectors was succeeding at most locations.

Kremlin-controlled news platforms on May 20 morning said that to the south, in the Azov Sea port city Mariupol, more than 2,000 UAF fighters holding the Azovstal steel mill have laid down their arms since early this week. Mariupol’s Azovstal steel factor, a heavily fortified facility with deep tunnels and Soviet-era bomb shelters, has been the center of the Ukrainian defense of the city, which RF forces encircled and began a siege on Feb. 28.

As of midday on Friday, however, the Azovstal premises were still in UAF hands and negotiations reportedly were still in progress between RF authorities and a group of UAF fighters inside the factory, the Readovka Telegram news feed said. “At least half” of the Azovstal defenders were still under arms and had not yet handed themselves over to RF troops, the news feed said. UAF sources made no mention of the surrenders or the numbers or plans of the hold-out defenders but confirmed the talks were taking place.

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