Outgunned but defiant, Ukrainian twin cities’ defenders ready for Russian attack

KRAMATORSK, Ukraine: In the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, mechanic-turned-soldier Artchk helps shore up defences against imminent Russian attack while, nearby, farmer Vasyl Avramenko laments the loss of crops supplanted by mines.

Shells are raining down steadily on Kramatorsk and its twin, Sloviansk, and they are poised to become the next frontline in Moscow's offensive in the heavily industrialised Donbas.

Their defenders are outgunned, but Ukrainians have repelled Russian-backed forces here before, the cities having been seized by pro-Kremlin separatists in April 2014 and recaptured three months later.

"Of course we're already prepared. We're ready," Artchk, identifying himself by his nom-de-guerre, told Reuters.

"It's their (Russians') fantasy to occupy these cities, but they don't expect the level of resistance – it's not just the Ukrainian government, it's the people who refuse to accept them."

Their streets eerily deserted as excavators dig trenches on their outskirts to prevent the advance of Russian tanks, the cities are of huge symbolic importance to Moscow, which sees them as the cradle of the separatist insurgency it supported in 2014.

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Once hubs of the Soviet machine-building industry, they are located in the Donetsk region, and fully in Russia's crosshairs after the Kremlin's forces claimed control of the neighbouring Luhansk region – also part of Donbas – last weekend.

On Tuesday, as incoming shells sounded in the distance, Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told reporters he was making preparations to evacuate both cities.

Military analysts say Ukraine could fare better defending its new front line after its forces fell back from a pocket they had defended for months in which Russia was able to pound them with artillery from three sides.

Artmotion Asia

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