Kupyansk, eastern Ukraine — For almost a year, Russian President Vladimir Putin has sold a distorted version of his war on Ukraine to his people based on lies about how it started and what his military is fighting for and against. The speech he delivered Tuesday in Moscow, just less than a year after he ordered the full-scale invasion of the neighboring nation on Feb. 24, 2022, was no exception.
In his annual state of the nation address, the Russian autocrat yet again accused Western nations and the NATO alliance of drawing him into a war with the intention of destroying Russia and obtaining “unlimited power.” He claimed the Russian people unanimously back his assault on Ukraine, despite thousands of young men fleeing the country to avoid fighting in it, and he insisted that his military had all the resources needed to continue the onslaught.
The reality is that Putin’s war machine has been locked for months in a grueling fight against Ukrainian forces who have proven far more determined to defend their nation’s sovereignty than the Russian leader either expected, or has been willing to acknowledge since launching invasion.
The front line that stretches from the north to the south of eastern Ukraine has barely budged in weeks, but both sides are believed to be preparing for spring offensives — with the Ukrainian forces hoping for a major boost in firepower from their Western partners.
In the battered eastern city of Kupyansk, less than 10 miles from Russian-controlled territory, Ukrainian soldiers seem to outnumber civilians.
The city was liberated in September from its Russian occupiers amid a ferocious Ukrainian counteroffensive, but the city once home to around 30,000 people has been reduced to a shell of its former self.
Some of the few residents still living in Kupyansk told CBS News there had been an increase in the number of explosions heard over the past few days — and defense officials told us that Russia may be intent on recapturing the city.
Attacks on the Ukrainian defenders holding the town have increased, and once again, it is under threat.
Volunteer soldier Nazariy said the Russians were using all the weapons they had at their disposal.
“Everything. Every day, everything,” he said. “But we’re used to this, and we keep the defense.”
They’re holding the line, but it’s a grim existence for the civilians left in the city.
With the local economy in tatters, some families have been struggling to afford food, relying on volunteers who serve one warm meal a day. Resident Valentyna Chalaya told CBS News that for many people in the city, it was the only opportunity to get food.
“We have no gas, we are being bombed,” she said. “There were eight missile attacks on our city the day before yesterday.”
Her neighbor Halyna’s house was destroyed. She came back to collect some belongings, including some warmer clothes, but she wasn’t about to hang around.
Asked if she was worried that the Russians would try to take Kupyansk again, she said she hoped it wouldn’t happen, “but we are afraid.”
“It’s very loud here. They are shelling, shelling and shelling,” she said. “Always they are shelling.”
In recent days, Russian troops have seized control of small villages around the city, getting ever closer.
Ukraine’s forces may be dug in, and even better equipped than they were last time to hold onto Kupyansk if the Russian’s do mount a new assault on the city. But residents once again face a stark decision: Evacuation and homelessness, or hunker down and try to ride out the approaching storm.