The Pentagon announced earlier this week that Russian forces fully withdrew from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and its northern neighbor, Chernihiv, within just 24 hours.
A senior government official, who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, cautioned that Russian forces may have left behind mines or other explosive devices as traps before their departure. The Pentagon said it is currently assessing all that the Russians may have left behind.
The departure comes as the Ukrainian-Russian military conflict is quickly becoming focused on eastern Ukraine, where public support levels for the Russian Federation are higher than in other parts of the country. Several Moscow-backed separatist groups in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region are fighting for that region’s independence, which President Putin has stated as one of his government’s primary goals.
“The enemy’s main effort is on preparing an offensive to establish full control over the [Donbas] region,” Ukraine’s General Staff said on Wednesday.
On Tuesday night, the U.S. State Department announced it would send an additional $100 million in aid to Ukraine to bolster the war effort against Russia. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that the funds had been issued as part of a drawdown. This process allows U.S. presidents to issue emergency military aid to foreign countries without waiting for Congressional or budgetary approvals.
This is the sixth drawdown issued by the U.S. government and brings its total contribution to the Ukrainian war effort to over $1.7 billion.
“The world has been shocked and appalled by the atrocities committed by Russia’s forces in Bucha and across Ukraine. Ukraine’s forces bravely continue to defend their country and their freedom, and the United States, along with our Allies and partners, stand steadfast in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Secretary Blinken.
In response to the withdrawal of Russian troops and anticipation of those troops eventually being redirected to the eastern front, Ukrainian officials are urging civilians in the east, particularly those in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two provinces that make up the Donbas region, to depart for their safety before escalation begins.
“You need to evacuate now, while this possibility still exists,” Ukraine’s deputy prime minister and minister for occupied territories, Iryna Vereshchuk, said in a televised statement on Wednesday. “Later, people will be under fire and under threat of death. We won’t be able to help because it will be practically impossible to ceasefire.”
Western officials also estimate that largely due to the intense resistance the Russian military faced from Ukrainian residents in and around Kyiv, twenty-nine of the 125 Russian battalions have been rendered incapacitated. Those troops will need time to heal, repair equipment, and replenish troop counts before heading to Donbas, a process that those officials estimate could take as long as 30 days.
That 30-day estimate is yet another indication that the current conflict in the region may not be coming to an end any time soon.