War in Ukraine live: the bombardments of the Russian army are approaching several major cities in the East and the South – Le Monde

What is the Donbass, this Ukrainian industrial basin that Moscow wants to “liberate”? Donbass is an industrial region located in eastern Ukraine, at the heart of a bloody conflict since 2014 between kyiv and pro-Russian separatists. After suffering setbacks in western Ukraine since the start of the invasion on February 24, the Russian army announced at the end of March that it was changing its plan to focus on the “liberation of Donbass”. Ukraine has since been preparing for a massive offensive on the part of the region it controls, with the bombardments there intensifying since Monday. Two unrecognized “people’s republics” With the support of Moscow, the pro-Russian separatists took partial control of this predominantly Russian-speaking mining basin, proclaiming there in 2014 the two separatist “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk whose independence is still not recognized by the international community. Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized their independence on February 21, three days before launching the invasion of Ukraine in the name, among other things, of the “defense” of Russian speakers discriminated against, according to him, by kyiv . Of the approximately 6.6 million people who lived in the Donbass until then, according to Ukrainian statistics, many then left, either to Ukraine or to Russia. The exodus has accelerated since the beginning of the Russian invasion. No reliable figures are available on its current population. An industrial and mining basin The Donbass, whose name is a contraction of “Donets basin”, is a territory of nearly 55,000 km2 – about twice the size of Belgium -, without administrative existence, which includes the two regions Ukrainians from Donetsk and Luhansk. It was for centuries a largely uninhabited territory, shared between Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian Cossacks. Its economic development dates back to the 19th century, under the Russian Empire, with the discovery of the first coal deposits. This region bordering Russia harbors immense reserves of coal and metal ores, which made it an industrial heart of the former USSR. Until the 2014 war, the agglomeration of Donetsk, the largest city in Donbass, was the main metallurgical center of Ukraine. The highly urbanized region is still dotted with factories and mines with very difficult working conditions. The presence of many Russian speakers there is particularly linked to the sending of Russian workers after the Second World War.