Ukrainian forces can ‘surrender or die’ in key industrial city, say pro-Russian separatists

Ukraine said on Monday its forces had been pushed back from the center of the key industrial city of Severodonetsk, where President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described a struggle for “literally every yard”. The cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, separated by a river, were targeted for weeks as the last areas still under Ukrainian control in the eastern region of Luhansk.

Regional Governor Sergiy Gaiday said Monday that Russian forces were “gathering more and more material” to “encircle” Severodonetsk.

Troops from Moscow have “repelled our units from the center and continue to destroy our city”, he said.

The local Azot chemical plant, where hundreds of civilians are believed to have taken refuge, was “heavily shelled”, Gaiday added.

Severodonetsk was “de facto” blocked after Russian forces blew up the “last” bridge connecting it to Lysychansk on Sunday, Eduard Basurin, a representative of pro-Russian separatists, said on Monday.

Ukrainian forces in the region have two choices, he said, “surrender or die”.

Ukrainian soldiers speak during heavy fighting against Russia on the front line in Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region of Ukraine, June 8, 2022.
Ukrainian soldiers speak during heavy fighting against Russia on the front line in Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region of Ukraine, June 8, 2022.

AP Photo/Oleksandr Ratushniak

Moscow-backed forces were also waging an offensive on the key city of Sloviansk, “from the west, north and east”, Basurin said.

Taking Severodonetsk would open the road from Moscow to Sloviansk and another major city, Kramatorsk, in their bid to conquer all of Donbass, a predominantly Russian-speaking region held in part by pro-Kremlin separatists since 2014.

Ukrainian forces were fighting for “every town and village where the occupiers came”, Zelenskyy said Monday in a message to mark the eighth anniversary of the liberation of Mariupol in the 2014 conflict.

The southern Ukrainian port city was captured by Russian troops in May after a week-long siege.

“We are once again fighting for him and for all of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said.

Presidential adviser Mikhaylo Podolyak said Monday that Kyiv needed more arms deliveries to stop the conflict.

“To be frank, to end the war, we need heavy weapons,” he said on Twitter.

He listed the items the Ukrainian army needed, including hundreds of howitzers, tanks and armored vehicles.

Currently, Russia’s massive artillery in the Severodonetsk region has given it a tenfold advantage, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army, Valeriy Zaluzhny, said on Sunday.

“Every meter of Ukrainian land there is covered in blood – but not only ours, but also that of the occupier.”

In Lysychansk, Russian shelling killed three civilians, including a 6-year-old boy, Lugansk Governor Gaiday said on Monday.

While in the city of Donetsk, separatist authorities said three people were killed and four injured in Ukrainian shelling at a market in the city’s Budonivskyi district.

On Monday, Amnesty International accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine, saying attacks on the northeastern city of Kharkiv – many of which used banned cluster bombs – had killed hundreds of civilians.

“The repeated shelling of residential areas of Kharkiv are indiscriminate attacks that have killed and injured hundreds of civilians, and as such constitute war crimes,” the rights group said in a report on the second most major city in Ukraine.

Far from the battlefield, members of the World Trade Organization gathered in Geneva on Sunday, with the threat to global food security posed by Russia’s war high on the agenda.

Tensions rose during a closed session, where several delegates took the floor to condemn Russian aggression, WTO spokesman Dan Pruzin told reporters.

Just before Russia’s Deputy Economic Development Minister Vladimir Ilichev took the floor, about three dozen delegates “came out”, the spokesperson said.

At a farm near the southern city of Mykolaiv, harvesting has been delayed by the need to repair damage caused by Russian troops who crossed the area in March.

“We planted very late because everything had to be cleaned up first,” including the bombs, Nadiia Ivanova, 42, told AFP.

The farm’s warehouses currently hold 2,000 tons of grain from last season, but there are no takers.

The railways have been partially destroyed by the Russian army, while any ship that sails is at risk of being sunk.

Russia’s invasion of its neighbor prompted Finland and Sweden renounce decades of military non-alignment and seek to join the NATO alliance.

But Turkey is blocking their candidacies and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday the issue may not be resolved in time for an alliance summit later this month.

The United States and Europe sent arms and money to help Ukraine halt Russia’s advance, while punishing Moscow with unprecedented economic sanctions.

Russian forces said on Sunday they struck a site in the western Ukrainian town of Chortkiv stockpiling weapons supplied by the United States and the EU.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the strike destroyed a “large depot of anti-tank missile systems, man-portable air defense systems and shells supplied to the Kyiv regime by the United States and European countries”.

The strike – a rare attack by Russia in relatively quiet western Ukraine – injured 22, regional governor Volodymyr Trush said.

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Post expires at 5:42pm on Friday June 24th, 2022