Alexey Shapoval talks about his experiences in the basement of his home when the Russians took over his small village of Mala Rohan, Ukraine, on May 19. Mala Rohan is a small village retaken by the Ukrainian forces, after Russia's attack on Ukraine. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo
May 28 (UPI) -- President Vladimir Putin on Saturday signed a law dropping the upper age limit to enlist in the military as Russian troops have suffered staggering losses in Ukraine.
Putin's change to the law came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address that Ukrainian forces faced "indescribably difficult" conditions amid heavy Russian assaults on the eastern cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in the Donbas region.
Before the law was changed, enlistment in Russia's armed forces were limited to citizens between the ages of 18 and 40 and foreigners between the ages of 18 and 30.
Putin signed the law after it was passed by the State Duma on Wednesday, according to Russian state media.
Despite heavy losses, Russia has edged closer to seizing control of the key city of Sievierodonetsk in Luhansk, one of the two Ukrainian oblasts that make up the Donbas region which has largely been held by Russian-backed separatists since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
Before the start of the invasion on Feb. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the two oblasts as independent republics. Experts have said that President Vladimir Putin will try to annex the Donbas region into Russia in coming months.
If successful in seizing Sievierodonetsk, Russia will be closer to occupying all of the Luhansk region.
Denis Pushilin, the head of the Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk, said Thursday that a referendum will be held to annex Donbas if Russia captures the entirety of both oblasts.
"If Russia did succeed in taking over these areas, it would highly likely be seen by the Kremlin as a substantive political achievement and be portrayed to the Russian people as justifying the invasion," the British Defense Ministry said in an intelligence update Saturday.
"However, the Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to conduct a well-organized defense of the sector and continue to impose a high level of casualties on Russia."
Zelensky in his update Saturday night called the situation in Donbas "very complicated" and said that the Russian army "is trying to squeeze at least some result for themselves."
"But our defense holds on. It's indescribably difficult there and I am grateful to all those who withstand this onslaught of the occupiers," Zelensky said.
"We work every day to strengthen our defense. This is primarily a supply of weapons. Every day we are bringing closer the time when our army will surpass the occupiers, technologically and by fire power."
Zelensky said that Russian forces launched a "barbaric" attack on the border town of Sumy. Russian officials told state media Saturday that Ukrainian forces intend to blow up chemical tanks "in order to pin the blame for a chemical weapons attack on Russia."
Russia is known to make such allegations as false flags to justify the actions of its own military.
"Ukrainians of the Sumy region, as well as any other region of our state, have already understood everything about Russia and it will not be able to add anything by the new terror," Zelensky said of the mortar attacks Saturday.
"And even more so, it will not be able to intimidate."
More than 6.7 million refugees have fled the war in Ukraine for neighboring countries, data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees shows.
The vast majority, 3.6 million, have fled to Poland though many of them may have since moved on to other countries within Europe. Poland is a member of Europe's Schengen Area which allows for easy travel between countries.
More than 671,000 have departed for Hungary and more than 454,000 have fled for Slovakia, both of which are also in the Schengen Area. Another 989,357 have fled for Romania and more than 477,000 have fled for Moldova.