Special envoy Mar铆a Senovilla spoke on Onda Madrid's "De cara al mundo" programme to analyse the current situation of the war in Ukraine

The fear that if Bakhmut falls, so does Kramatorsk

photo_camera IMAGEN/FILE - Aerial photograph of Bajmut

Bakhmut is currently the centre of attention during the course of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There are fears that if this enclave falls, Kramatorsk could also fall. Mar铆a Senovilla, special envoy to the Ukrainian country, stopped by the microphones of Onda Madrid's "De cara al mundo" programme to analyse the current situation in the war on Ukrainian territory. 

Mar铆a, where are you?

Right now I'm in Kramatorsk, just 30 kilometres from the disputed city of Bakhmut, which is making all the headlines today.

What are your first impressions of the last few days in the area?

When I arrived in Dombas, when I arrived in Kramatorsk, the first thing I found was a completely militarised city. In fact, I arrived here by train and practically all the passengers on the train were soldiers. I think I was the only civilian in my carriage. When you walk down the street you constantly see military and very few civilians. Those who remain here are anxious, uncertain about what is going to happen in the coming weeks because if Bakhmut falls, the next big city in the path of the Russian troops in their advance through the north of Donetsk province is precisely Kramatorsk, and that is where the next big battle of the Russian spring offensive is supposed to be.

What can you tell us about the situation in other cities like Kharkiv or the Kupiansk front?

Shelling has intensified in several cities. I think Russian missiles have fallen in as many as seven provinces, but in Kharkiv in particular, 10 missiles have been fired. Most of them were stopped by anti-aircraft defences, but others did manage to hit and are hitting residential areas in the centre. The brunt, however, was borne by the Dombash. In Bakhmut alone, five people were killed and ten wounded as a result of the shelling. Here in Kramatorsk the anti-aircraft sirens do not stop, I am told from Kharkiv that they are in the same situation.

One point of hope is that in the south of the province of Kharkiv, right on the Kupiansk-Kreminna axis, Ukrainian troops seem to be making advances. Last week we were talking about a kind of grey zone, that the Russian troops were pushing and their artillery was constantly shelling, and it seems that the Ukrainians have militarily reinforced the whole of that front on the eastern bank of the Oskil River. They are fighting back, they are responding and it seems that they have managed to stabilise the southern part of the province of Kharkiv, which is good news.

Other fronts that also deserve attention include Kherson and the Belarusian border. Its president has said he has 75,000 troops and could mobilise up to half a million if there is war.

That's right. They're dressing it up now as military manoeuvres, but the truth is that there is a lot of military movement on that northern Ukrainian border with Belarus. There doesn't seem to be undue concern that they might launch an offensive like the one Russia launched last year, but what these military movements do do is force Ukrainian troops to disperse their action force. Instead of concentrating right now in the area of Dombas and south of Kharkiv, which is where they are most needed, they will have to send units to the northern border with Belarus to secure their positions. Even if nothing happens, the fact that they are fragmenting the Ukrainian army's operational forces is already a bad thing at this stage of the war.

In Kherson, more or less the same thing happened. There was an exchange of artillery and several explosions in the still occupied area of Kherson, which means that Russian troops are active on that southern front and it also means the same thing, that units and troops will have to be redeployed, taken out of Dombas, which might be needed more now, and put at various points. I suppose this is also part of the Kremlin's strategy to try to move forward.

What were your impressions? Have you talked to the Ukrainians over the last few days, how is morale and have you noticed any kind of difference?

They are still resisting, but where I have seen the change more than in time is in space. I was leaving Odessa on a train bound for Kramatorsk and I left a very resilient, very active and very hopeful city, waiting for those tanks to come in and ready not to give in because they don't trust the Russians and that they will come to an agreement at a negotiating table and then the Kremlin will respect it. But as that train moved towards Dombas I shared the compartment with people who were getting on in Dnipro and I talked to them about the situation. I spoke to a man from Sloviansk, who got off the train a little bit before me, and we were talking about how worrying it was for them that the Russian troops were advancing, even if it was just metre by metre in Bakhmut, because they saw themselves as lost, they see themselves as the next ones. And I was telling them that what happened in the autumn in Kharkiv could happen, that the army could take the counter-offensive and regain territory. The poor man's eyes filled with tears, saying that they were ready to resist to the end, but that they saw it as very difficult. So of course, Dombas is like another country within Ukraine, here hope is hard to find. Here people are willing to resist, but hope is hard to find. We talked about it in a report when I had the opportunity to go to Liman. Bear in mind that these provinces, Donetsk and Lugansk, have been at war since 2014. The wear and tear is much greater than in the rest of Ukraine and I think that is unfortunately taking its toll on the civilian population as well.