‘Fierce street fighting’ continues in eastern Ukraine amid grain concerns in occupied areas

The last:

  • Zelensky calls for a new round of “even stronger” EU sanctions against Russia.

  • Ukrainians from the occupied southern regions handed over Russian passports.

  • Nearly 800 children were killed or injured during the war, according to Ukraine.

  • Civilian killed in Odessa beach blast amid growing concerns over landmines.

Ukraine retains control of the Azot chemical plant in the eastern city of Severodonetsk – where hundreds of civilians are sheltering amid fierce fighting – the region’s governor said on Saturday, after a separatist backed by Russia claimed that 300-400 Ukrainian fighters were also trapped there.

Weeks of fighting for Severodonetsk, a small town in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, have pulverized sections of the city and been among the bloodiest since Moscow began its invasion on February 24. Lugansk and neighboring Donetsk make up Donbass, a region that has become the center of Russia’s advance into eastern Ukraine.

“The information about the blockade of the Azot plant is a lie,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on the Telegram messaging app. “Our forces hold an industrial area of ​​Severodonetsk and destroy the Russian army in the city.”

Ukraine said some 800 people were hiding in several bomb shelters under the Azot plant, including around 200 employees and 600 residents of Severodonetsk.

Smoke billows from the Severodonetsk Azot plant in this still image obtained from video distributed Thursday. (Luhansk region police/Reuters)

Rodion Miroshnik, a Russian-backed representative of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic, said on Saturday evening that some civilians had started to leave and that Ukrainian forces may be holding several hundred civilians “hostage”.

Earlier, he said 300-400 Ukrainian fighters were stuck on the factory grounds along with civilians.

Gaidai said earlier that Russian forces controlled most of the city, although Ukraine controls the Azot plant.

In a short video address on Saturday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that while “fierce street fighting continues in Severodonetsk”, the Ukrainian army is gradually liberating territory further west in the Kherson region and has also achieved some success in Zaporizhzhia.

“We are definitely going to prevail in this war that Russia has started,” he told a conference in Singapore via video link earlier in the day. “It is on the battlefields in Ukraine that the future rules of this world are decided.”

Reuters could not independently verify reports from the battlefield.

The battle for Severodonetsk recalls weeks of bombardment of the southern port city of Mariupol, which was reduced to rubble before Russian forces took control of it last month.

Moscow has turned to expanding control in the eastern Donbass region, where pro-Russian separatists have already held some territory since 2014, after being forced to scale back its initial, more ambitious campaign goals.

He calls his actions a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. Kyiv and its allies call it an unprovoked war of aggression to capture territory.

Zelensky calls for more EU sanctions against Russia

During a visit to Kyiv by the top European Union official, Zelensky called for a new round of “even stronger” EU sanctions against Russia.

Zelensky called for the new sanctions to target more Russian officials, including judges, and hamper the activities of all Russian banks, including gas giant Gazprom’s bank, as well as all Russian companies helping Moscow “in any way.” any way”.

He spoke during a brief press appearance with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the heavily guarded presidential office in the Ukrainian capital. Von der Leyen was on his second visit to Ukraine since Russia invaded its neighbor.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, right, is seen with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Kyiv on Saturday. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)

The two men discussed Ukraine’s aspirations for EU membership. Zelensky, speaking through a translator, said Ukraine “will do everything” to integrate into the bloc.

“Russia wants to divide Europe, wants to weaken Europe,” he said.

Von der Leyen said the EU’s executive arm was “working day and night” on an assessment of Ukraine’s eligibility as an EU candidate. The aim is to have the review ready to be shared with the bloc’s 27 existing members by the end of next week.

Zelensky and some EU supporters want Ukraine quickly admitted to the EU. Von der Leyen described the accession process as “a path based on merit” and called on Ukraine to strengthen its rule of law, fight corruption and modernize its institutions.

She hailed Ukraine’s “strength and resilience” in the face of Russia’s “horrible and atrocious” invasion and said the EU would help rebuild the country.

Russia sets up a company to sell Ukrainian grain

Russian officials based in the Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine have set up a company to buy local grain and resell it on behalf of Moscow, a local official told the Interfax news agency on Saturday.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of stealing grain from Ukraine and causing a global food crisis that could lead to millions dying from starvation.

Yevgeny Balitsky, the head of the pro-Russian Interim Zaporizhzhia Administration, said the new state-owned grain company had taken control of several facilities.

On Saturday, anti-tank obstacles were seen on a wheat field in southern Ukraine, Mykolaiv. (Genia Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

He said “the grain will be Russian” and “it doesn’t matter who the buyer is.”

It was unclear whether farmers whose grain was sold by Russia were paid. Balitsky said his administration would not forcibly appropriate the grain or pressure producers to sell it.

The head of the Ukrainian presidential office accused the Russian army of bombing and burning grain fields before the harvest. Andriy Yermak claimed that Moscow is “trying to repeat” a Soviet-era famine that claimed the lives of more than three million Ukrainians in 1932-33.

WATCH | Ukrainian grain exports hampered by Russian invasion:

Ukrainian grain exports blocked by Russian invasion

More than 20 million tonnes of harvested Ukrainian grain are stuck inside the country due to the Russian blockade of major ports.

“Our soldiers put out the fires, but [Russia’s] ‘Food terrorism’ must be stopped,” Yermak wrote on Telegram on Saturday.

The accuracy of his claims and those of Balitsky could not be independently verified.

Russian passports for Ukrainian residents

Russian forces occupying parts of southern Ukraine began distributing Russian passports to local residents on Saturday.

In the Kherson region, 23 residents accepted Russian passports, including the new Moscow-based governor, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

“For me, this is a truly historic moment. I have always believed that we are one country and one people,” the news agency quoted Governor Volodymyr Saldo as saying.

WATCH | Residents of Kherson describe strict conditions:

Residents of Russian-controlled city of Kherson describe strict conditions

Tens of thousands of residents of the Russian-held city of Kherson in southern Ukraine have fled since Moscow’s invasion began. Those who remain say there are consequences to challenging Russia.

Russian forces have also started issuing passports in the occupied city of Melitopol, according to Russian news agency TASS. A Telegram message by TASS cited a local official based in Russia as the original source of the information.

He did not say how many residents had applied for or obtained Russian citizenship.

Melitopol is located outside Donbass in the Zaporizhzhia region, which is still partly owned by Ukraine.

Child death toll

Nearly 800 children have been killed or injured in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian authorities announced on Saturday.

According to a statement from the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine, at least 287 children died as a result of military activities, while at least 492 others were injured.

The statement stressed that the figures were not final and were based on investigations by juvenile prosecutors.

The office said children in Ukraine’s Donetsk province suffered the most, with 217 dead or injured, compared to 132 and 116, respectively, in Kharkiv and Kyiv regions.

Civilian killed in beach blast

Odessa city officials said on Saturday a man was killed by an explosion as he walked to a beach on the Black Sea, where landmines are a growing concern.

The city council said via Telegram the man was there with his wife and son, despite warnings to stay away from beaches in the area. He was testing the temperature and depth of the water when the explosion happened.

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of laying mines in the Black Sea.

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Post expires at 10:11pm on Wednesday June 22nd, 2022