Ukraine preparing for new Russian offensive in the east, Zelenskyy says

Russia's invasion is now in its fifth week and has driven around a quarter of Ukrainians from their homes

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Ukrainian forces are preparing for new Russian attacks in the east of the country as Moscow builds up its troops there after suffering setbacks near the capital Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday.

Russia's invasion of its neighbour, now in its fifth week, has driven around a quarter of Ukrainians from their homes and brought Russian-Western tensions to their worst point since the Cold War.

Tough resistance by Ukrainian forces has prevented Russia from capturing any major city, including Kyiv, where a Russian armed column was held back for weeks. At peace talks this week in Istanbul, Russia said it would curtail operations near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv to build trust.

But Ukraine and its Western allies, including the United States, dismissed Russia's pledge as a ploy to stem its losses and prepare for other attacks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during an address, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 30, 2022 in this still image taken from video. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/via Reuters TV/Handout via REUTERS.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during an address, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 30, 2022 in this still image taken from video. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/via Reuters TV/Handout via REUTERS.

The head of Britain's GCHQ spy service said new intelligence showed some Russian soldiers had refused to carry out orders, sabotaged their own equipment and accidentally shot down one of their own aircraft.

Russia says its forces are regrouping to focus on "liberating" the breakaway eastern Donbas region.

Ukrainians who recently arrived to Mexico after fleeing the Russian invasion of their homeland are organized by a fellow countryman as they wait for their turn to try to get into the U.S. near the San Ysidro Port of Entry of the U.S.-Mexico border, in Tijuana, Mexico March 30, 2022. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
Ukrainians who recently arrived to Mexico after fleeing the Russian invasion of their homeland are organized by a fellow countryman as they wait for their turn to try to get into the U.S. near the San Ysidro Port of Entry of the U.S.-Mexico border, in Tijuana, Mexico March 30, 2022. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

In an early morning video address, Zelenskyy referred to Russian troop movements away from Kyiv and Chernihiv and said that was not a withdrawal but rather "the consequence of our defenders' work."

Zelenskyy added that Ukraine is seeing "a build-up of Russian forces for new strikes on the Donbas and we are preparing for that."

The Donbas region encompasses two self-proclaimed "people's republics" that Russia says it is helping to free from Ukrainian control.

The leader of the Donetsk People's Republic, Denis Pushilin, said on Wednesday that offensive operations were intensifying.

Donetsk includes the besieged port city of Mariupol, which has seen some of the war's heaviest fighting and bombardment and where about 170,000 people are trapped with scarce food and water.

"We cook what we find among neighbours. A bit of cabbage, a bit more of potatoes, we've found tomato paste, some beetroot," said former steel worker Viktor from Mariupol. They cook using a rudimentary barbecue and sleep in a basement, which he termed their "peaceful oasis."

Russian forces have taken half of the strategic port city, an adviser to Zelenskyy said on Wednesday. Russia's defence ministry said it was prepared to observe a ceasefire in Mariupol on Thursday, Russian news agencies reported.

Kyiv has accused Russia of not fully respecting earlier such commitments. Moscow denies targeting civilians.